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My Daily Battle with Anxiety and Grief

by Jodi Cohen

I recently received a well-intentioned email from a fellow Seattle mother whose son “knew your late son well. They played on the same sports teams, I think, and if I’m not mistaken, I think they went to school together. He told me, recently, that he still thinks of him, often, and still has his phone number in his phone.”

She went on to compliment me for “the way you have joyfully carried on with your good work and life after trauma.”

The email struck a deep cord on several levels.

On one hand, I love that people remember Max.  Max loved the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, which ironically focuses on the aftermath of a young man’s untimely death.  My favorite line from that musical is “No one deserves to be forgotten.  No one deserves to fade away.”  I do worry that Max died at such a young age that he will be forgotten.  That his sister and I will be the only ones that continue to carry him in our hearts through the years.  So the random acknowledgement of his impact during his brief lifetime was so appreciates.

I was also surprised by the categorization as “joyful” as that would not be one of the words I would use to describe myself.

Anxious, always.

Overwhelmed, often.

But Joyful?

How is it possible that this is the image I project into the world when on the inside I am such a hot mess?

And then it struck me.

I have become incredibly adept at living with chronic anxiety and grief.

It is not that I don’t feel tremendous pain and grief on a daily basis. 

It’s that I have figured out coping strategies that allow me to be incredibly high functioning and experience moments of joy throughout the day.

In short, I have developed strategies for resilience that I employ every day, multiple times a day to help me surf the waves of anxiety and grief without drowning.

Over the next few months, I will be sharing these strategies in the hopes that they might help others

 

My Daily Routine

There are days when I wake up in the morning and need help to lift my head.  But instead of falling into despair, I try to default into a routine that always helps me to feel better

A routine is a sequence of actions that you do regularly or at specified intervals I find that routines help give my day structure and help me feel safe and calm, providing a reliable anchor in the storm even when my external environment feels uncertain and unpredictable.

Understanding that there is no one size fits all, I have been asked to share my routine and am doing so in the hopes that it might inspire your own daily rituals to help you navigate anxiety and grief

Get Up and Make the Bed

I literally force myself to get out of bed  lying in bed all day might seem appealing, but it never goes well, so I have just resided myself to get up  the second ritual is to make the bed, complete with fluffy pillows and all.  It makes the room look pretty and gives and early win on accomplishment  You’ve only been awake for a few minutes and you’ve already achieved something.

Lemon Water, Coffee and Oils

I try to drink lemon water first thing upon rising. Lemons contain both Vitamin C and the compound naringenin that is believed to calms liver inflammation and support healthy liver function.

Vitamin C has also been shown to reduce oxidative stress which contributes to liver disease.  A study published in “Nutrition Journal” in 2003 found that Vitamin C “reduced oxidative stress and markedly inhibited the development” of liver disease. One lemon contains 40 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C. Squeezing an actual lemon into warm water is preferable to using Lemon essential oil as pressed Lemon essential oil at best contains only trace amounts of Vitamin C at best.  Distilled Lemon oil would not contain any vitamin C as the heat would destroy it during the distillation process.

Coffee has long been another treasured morning ritual.  As a third generation Seattle girl, I make no excuses for my love of coffee.  I love the smell.  I love the feel of the warm cup in my hand.  I love the taste and I don’t mind the caffeine jolt.  Also there is a nice ritual to brewing my coffee, pouring it in my favorite cup and enjoying a moment to myself to collect my thoughts and prioritize my day before the rest of the house wakes up and needs my attention.

In combination with my morning coffee, I tend to apply my favorite Parasympathetic™, applied behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone, and Adrenal™, applied on the low back, to help calm anxiety and support healthy energy levels.

Exercise

No matter how exhausted, anxious, overwhelmed or depressed I am feeling, exercise, or any kind of movement, always makes me feel better.

Exercise offers numerous health benefits – enhancing the flow of blood and lymph, releasing endorphins, and strengthening your body. It also helps route blood flow to your brain to increase your physical and mental energy levels. The routine of walking, in particular, helps calm the mind due to the meditative repetition of steps…left, right, left, right…helps lower stress and improve your mood.

Exercise also enhances circulation, which is critical for delivery of oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the body and the brain, while simultaneously carrying toxins and waste to the kidney and liver to be eliminated. Essential oils can help improve circulation by relaxing the blood vessels and improving the health of the blood vessels.  This helps more blood circulate through them, improving circulation in the process.  Essential oils can also be used to help the veins contract, stimulating blood flow.  Essential oils may also help alleviate some of the triglycerides that can form and restrict blood flow.  Essential oils can also be used to improve lymphatic system functionality which can help flush out toxins and reduce inflammation of the blood vessels, improving blood flow throughout the body.

In particular, Circulation™ blend is formulated to support healthy circulation to deliver oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the body and the brain, while simultaneously carrying toxins and waste to the kidney and liver to be eliminated.  Apply 2- 3 drops on the sides or back of the neck, over the left clavicle, on the wrists or ankles to support energy, brain endurance and warmth of the distal extremities, like the fingers and toes.

Lymph™ also helps to move energy through the body and enhance your workout.  For example, Spearmint helps stimulate blood circulation which increases energy.  Palmarosa helps stimulate cellular regeneration and support nervous exhaustion morning fatigue, and basic irritability and Ylang Ylang helps relieve mental fatigue  Apply 2- 3 drops each to sides of neck, lymph nodes under arms and around inguinal ligament (bikini line area – think where your leg creases when you lift it).  Lymph blend is designed for liberal usage.

Gratitude

I try to include my gratitude practice either before or after exercise.  It helps calm stress and release anxiety.  Here’s why – when you are feeling grateful, and focusing on positive things, your mind shifts out of a state of worry and fear where anticipatory stress over potential future scenarios no longer trigger anxiety or overwhelm.

A gratitude practice can be as simple as starting your day by focusing on 1 – 3 things that you are grateful for, which can be as simple as having the ability to move and breathe.  In her 2016 commencement address for UC Berkeley, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg noted that “People who take the time to list things they are grateful for are happier and healthier. It turns out that counting your blessings can actually increase your blessings”

Research back this up, noting that “In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events”.  Similarly, “a daily gratitude intervention resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy”

Heart™ blend helps amplify feelings of love and gratitude, helping to increase the amount of love in your life. Every moment of our life we have the opportunity to see the glass as half empty or half full. How we envision each moment helps paint a picture of our actual experience, so why not choose to be happy, to think of and move toward things that bring us joy.   Essential oils are a wonderful tool for cementing in that positive frequency.  Apply 2-3 drops of Heart™ directly over the heart (left side of chest). During times of intense stress and fatigue, use as often as is needed (every 20 -30 minutes).  During times of normal stress, use 2-3 times daily to calm and uplift the heart and the body.

 

Enhance Your Focus to Calm Anxiety

Anxiety is correlated with your ability to concentrate.  When you are under stress, your brain prioritizes survival over your need to think rationally.  The more you can engage your ability to think rationally, the more you can calm your anxiety.

Your ability to respond to stress and calm anxiety and depression is controlled by the relationship between 2 areas of your brain:

  1. Amygdala which identifies potential threats
  2. Prefrontal cortex which assesses threats and determines your response

Your prefontal cortex, located in the front part of your brain behind your forehead, helps you reason, sustain focus and suppress impulses. Its ability to help your brain sort through stimulation and decide what information is relevant and what to ignore is the mechanism for calming your emotional response and improving your emotional intelligence.

Your amygdala is your threat assessment center.  It monitors incoming signals from your 5 senses.  When it senses potential danger, it connects to your prefrontal cortex to help interpret and assess and respond to the potential threat.

If your amygdala is aggressively firing danger detection signals and your prefrontal cortex is under-functioning and not properly inhibiting those fears, it can present as anxiety or panic attacks, both of which  keeps you on alert to potential or imminent danger.   In essence, you don’t feel safe.

 

Calming your Emotional Response

Depression and anxiety present when your prefrontal cortex is under-firing and your amygdala is over-firing.  To calm both systems and enhance your emotional state, you need to down-regulate your amygdala and up regulate your hypothalamus.

When you use stimulatory essential oils to improve blood flow and the healthy function of your prefrontal cortex, while simultaneously calming your amygdala and your fear response, you are able to enhance your mental and physical function, calm anxiety and depression and accelerate healing.

Research shows that increasing blood flow to the prefrontal cortex can prevent the reduction of brain function in elderly people, especially in attention and working memory.

Applying essential oils, like Focus™Brain Boost™ or Attention™ on the forehead helps to draw energy to the prefrontal cortex.  This is because your prefrontal cortex contains several reflex points that can be stimulated with essential oils to help with emotional release.

Focus™ may help enhance concentration and alertness, especially when applied over the forehead to the prefrontal lobe.  Focus includes several individual oils that help keep the mind thinking clearly and focused on the task at hand. For example, research shows that 1.8-cineole, one of the main compounds in Rosemary essential oil, results in improved speed and accuracy on cognitive tests.

Similarly, research from the University of Cincinnati found that inhaling peppermint oil increases the mental accuracy by 28%.  Apply 1- 2 drops across brow, back of neck, collar bone or on temples and wrists to increase mental focus.

READ THIS NEXT: Essential Oils for Focus

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About The Author

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.

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