Routines have been a saving grace during the most challenging periods of my life. After my 12-year-old son Max was killed in a car accident, a friend advised that I focus on 3 simple things – Eat, Sleep and Move.
Being prone to anxiety and overwhelm even on my good days, the eat-sleep-move paradigm added structure to my day and allowed me to create achievable goals and set clear routines. As shock subsided into grief, these routines became even more valuable in my healing. No matter what how anxious or grief stricken I felt on any given day, I could always fall back into the auto pilot of my daily routine and that alone often helped me feel better.
What is a Routine?
A routine is a sequence of actions that you do regularly or at specified intervals. You might think of them as daily habits or rituals, like brushing your teeth or enjoying your morning cup of coffee.
Routines can become automatic defaults, like remembering to take your supplements or exercise. They help give your day structure and help you feel like you have control over your life even in times of deep grief or uncertainty. Routines help you feel safe and calm, providing a reliable anchor in the storm even when our external environment feels uncertain and unpredictable.
How Do Routines Support Health?
Routines lay the groundwork for big changes in your health and your life. For example, when you improve your sleep, reduce your stress, increase your circulation and improve your ability to eliminate toxins, your health can vastly improve.
If that sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t worry.
The introduction of small routines, or Tiny Habits as my friend and colleague, Stanford University professor BJ Fogg calls them, can have a big impact on your health.
Through his work as a Behavior Scientist, Fogg identified three key elements necessary to change behavior:
- Motivation to change
- Ability to change
- Prompt, or a trigger, to incite change. I find that essential oils or other sensory stimulation are the best triggers.
Fogg further observed that is easier to shift behavior when are able to break down the desired behavior (or end health goal) into small, manageable, easy to achieve baby steps. Routines help you achieve these baby steps or small successes that can empower you to accomplish big things. The small repeated actions can have an exponential effect.
How to Use Essential Oils as Prompts
A prompt is an easy trigger or call to action that triggers your desired behavior. In order to change behavior, you have to prompt the behavior. Without a prompt, you can be very motivated and have the ability to perform the behavior, but there’s simply no call to action.
Ideal prompts should be noticeable and actionable. This means you should be able to spot the prompt, ideally with one of your senses like your sense of sight or sense of smell, and you should know what to do when seeing the prompt. A traffic light is a common prompt. You visually recognize that you have to stop when the light turns red, and know you can drive when the light is green.
Essential oils can be used as powerful behavioral prompts, for a number of reasons. Your brain responds to smell based stimuli like essential oils within seconds. In fact, research estimates your sense of smell to be 10,000 times more acute than your other senses. Once registered, scent stimuli travel more quickly to the brain than do either sight or sound.
Scent has direct access to the emotional center of your brain that controls your hormones and motivation levels, known as you limbic system. On a physical level, only two synapses separate your amygdala from your olfactory nerve. No other sensory system has this kind of direct and intense contact with the neural substrates of your brain’s emotional control center. Your other four senses, including sound, sight, taste and touch must travel to other regions of the brain first, before reaching your limbic system.
This makes essential oils an incredibly powerful prompt for triggering desired behavior. Fogg advises that you have to “put hot triggers in the path of motivated people”. Essential oils are my favorite hot trigger to prompt routine and behaviors.
How to Make Routines Easier
The easier and simpler you make any new routines or desired behavioral changes, the easier it will be for you to comply with those routines.
Your brain prefers simplicity. Simpler tasks require less ability to complete, so the more you can simplify your routines, the more likely you are to adhere to them. When your motivation is high, you can do hard things. But once motivation drops, you are more like to only do easy things. That said, it is significantly easier and more productive to make the desired behavior or routine easier instead of trying to increase your level of motivation.
I have listed five of the factors that contribute to the level of difficulty or simplicity of a task.
- Time: If a routine requires time and you don’t have time available, then the behavior is not simple. Essential oils require very little time to apply.
- Money: If financial resources are limited, a target behavior that costs money is not simple. While essential oils are not inexpensive, they are quite valuable in that they can last an incredibly long time when properly stored in dark glass bottles away from direct sunlight and pack a powerful bang for the buck.
- Physical Effort: Behaviors that require physical effort may not be simple. Inhaling or topically applying essential oils requires very little effort.
- Brain Cycles: If a routine requires a lot of concentration or mental effort, it might not be simple. This is especially true if your mind is consumed with other issues, contributing to cognitive overload. This is one reason many people avoid meditation—because it feels like too much mental work. Inhaling or topically applying essential oils requires limited mental focus.
- New Routine: Once habits become a routine it is considered easy as you can do them almost on autopilot. When you are attempting to create a new routine, it may seem harder. This is one reason I recommend linking a new routine to an old habit. For example, if you are new to essential oils, leave them by your toothbrush and apply when you brush your teeth after waking and before bed.
My Essential Oil Routine
As explained above, I have found that essential oils can be used as a powerful prompt to help create healthy routines, which in turn helps lift my mood and calm my overwhelm.
Fogg’s research finds that people tend to change their attitudes to be consistent with the behavior they have performed. In other words, if you can trigger certain behavior or routine, you can change your attitudes and your mood.It is hypothesized that this has to do with your brain’s continuous effort to lower cognitive overload. Routines is a powerful mechanism to help calm overwhelm.
When life feels overwhelming or my mood dips in a negative direction, I rely on the following morning routine to help me feel like my best self again.
I start my day by grounding and calming my energy. Grounding helps you connect to the healing energy of nature and the Earth. Grounding brings you into a state of balance, both mentally and physically.
On a physical level, grounding helps you reduce inflammation, optimize organ function and improve detoxification by allowing toxins to flow out of you and into the Earth. On the emotional level, grounding allows your thoughts and emotions to move through you more easily. On a spiritual level, grounding enhances your connection to your intuition and spiritual guidance. This connection results in clearer thinking and better decision making.
When you connect with the Earth, or plants that have grown from the earth, you connect to the balance of nature. The tides, the seasons, the circadian rhythm of day and night, along with the cycles of the moon all ebb and flow in balance. Your body is designed to maintain a similar natural rhythm.
When you connect to nature by consuming a plant based diet, applying essential oils derived from plants, hiking in the woods, walking barefoot on the grass or dirt, you allow your body to align with the natural rhythm of the planet.
Essential oils and the energy of nature, especially oils from grounded plants like trees or grasses, help you ground and return your body to the state of balance to enhance your ability to change in response to your body’s demands.
Essential oils, especially those derived from grounded plants like trees which are intrinsically grounded through their root structure into the Earth. Essential oils comprised from barks, roots, grasses, needles and resin of plants also help you pull your energy centers down into the Earth. Plants that grow under earth entrain with earth’s energies. This is why stones, root vegetables or essential oils from root plants that share space with the Earth, match the frequency of the Earth and can be used for grounding. Rock, crystals and minerals, in particular, are able to hold a solid vibration so when you hold one in your hand or place it near your body, you have to change your frequency to match that of the rock or mineral. This is one reason that crystals are so popular for grounding.
Natural scents, like essential oils derived from plants, also carry a vibration and smelling essential oils forces you to entrain your energy with the plant and helps connect you to nature and ground you.
Calming your nervous system helps the body ground.The Lime oil in the Parasympathetic™ blend can help promote emotional grounding, encouraging a balance between the heart and mind, the connection of which helps you ground. Apply Parasympathetic™ over the vagus nerve (behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone).
Attention™ blend was designed to support children with ADD/ADHD and it works because it helps ground these kids into their bodies and when they are grounded, they are less distracted, impulsive and more focused. Attention™ contains Vetiver, a perennial bunchgrass with very deep roots that help ground it to the Earth. Vetiver essential oil is extracted from these deep roots and is known to grounds you mentally, physically and emotionally, often helping you explore the root of your emotional issues. Attention™ also contains Frankincense and Cedarwood which helps us ground and feel connected to the planet and each other. Apply 2- 3 drops of Attention™ on the bottom of the feet and back of the neck to help with grounding.
2. Heart Centering
My favorite strategy for resetting my mood is focusing on intentionally moving awareness from the head or mental and intellectual focus to the heart and emotional center for love and joy. When presented with a challenging situation, I always try to view the situation through the lens of the heart. Prior to Max’s untimely death, I lived more in my head where I attempted to maintain control with my intellect, which felt safer. But it turns out that opposite is true.
Looking at the world through your heart center allows the kindest, most genuine response and helps you access inner strength, resiliency, courage, integrity and authenticity. Heart centered focus allows you to bear witness and hold space for others and validate their experience without judgement, allowing you to be kind and supportive witness and validate the experience of others without the need to carry their pain for them or diminishing own your voice.
Your heart connects you to feelings of love, balance, and connection to others. When you process things through your heart (as opposed to your head) you are better able to be kind and compassionate and avoid conflict. Your heart also helps to support feelings of self-acceptance, self-love, compassion, openness, and unconditional love of others.
Out of the all the chakras, your heart is the only one that cannot be externally manipulated or controlled. You have complete control over your heart and it holds immense power to support your mood, energy and healing. Your heart also helps you connect to your higher self and your higher power. Connecting to your heart helps you let go of any fears related to survival or power struggles, and allows you to process and re-integrate trauma. Living from the heart is the key to healing!
Strengthening your heart with essential oils can help enhance your ability to step into your heart space. To help shift your heart into coherence and align with your healthy heart resonance,
start by locating your heart center, the area behind your breastbone, up toward the jugular notch, and back to between the shoulder blades. This whole area is your Heart Center. This area encompasses your physical and emotional heart, along with your connection to your Higher Self. I then apply Heart blend and intentionally breathe energy into that space and focus my intention there.
Initially, this may stir a negative inner dialogue or strong emotions. Acknowledging these feelings allows you to release them. Smelling essential oils like Lavender, Adrenal™ or Parasympathetic™ during this process can help keep your body grounded and feeling safe as your mind revisits scary territory.
Heart™ helps to balance and open your heart, helping you to access feelings of compassion and inner-calm. Heart™ blend contains a proprietary blend of organic and/or wild crafted essential oils that helps you show love to others and yourself, including Blue Tansy and Jasmine. Blue Tansy helps lift physical and mental stagnation, relieving congestion along with anger, anxiety, depression and nervousness agitation to help open your heart and move out energy that no longer serves you. A report in the Journal of Biological Chemistry examined the impact of hundreds of fragrances on the brain and found jasmine to be “as good as Valium at calming the nerves with none of the side effects.”
Once you are grounded and centered into your heart, it is easier to access your gratitude. Practicing gratitude is one of the fastest and easiest ways to calm stress and help you connect to your higher cognitive function so you can make better more thoughtful decisions.
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”
After completing my grounding, heart centered and gratitude rituals, I get out of bed to begin my physical rituals, which requires energy. I brew some fresh coffee and topically apply essential oils to help enhance my energy.
Essential oils offer a natural way to increase physical and mental energy. Research has shown that essential oils keep your body and mind focused and energized throughout the day by affecting various biological factors in the body including heart rate, stress levels, blood pressure, breathing, and immune function that can return the body to optimal balance and energy levels. When inhaled or topically applied, essential oils can directly influence areas of the brain that control feelings of tiredness and stress, helping you to feel more awake, focused, and energized.
Essential oils have been shown to increase circulation and blood flow to the brain. For example, essential oils can help relax and improve the health of your blood vessels. This helps more blood circulate through them, improving your circulation and increasing brain oxygen levels in the process. When inhaled, oils directly communicate with the brain, which in turn signals the body to respond with elevated energy levels.
Essential oils also help your veins contract, stimulating blood flow which helps increase energy, boost memory and ward off fatigue. Essential oils may help reduce some of the buildup of 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.
What’s more, essential oils that are high in a component called sesquiterpenes—including cedarwood, vetiver, spikenard, sandalwood, black pepper, patchouli, myrrh, ginger, and frankincense—may help oxygenate your brain. Sesqueterpines are carbon chains that do not contain oxygen molecules but seem to pull oxygen in. This may be one reason why essential oils high in sesqueterpines increase oxygen levels in the brain when inhaled or topically applied to the skin around the head.
My favorite essential oils for energy that I apply daily are:
Adrenal™: This blend helps to address the underlying causes of fatigue which often relate to depleted adrenal glands. Chronic stress depletes the adrenal glands. The adrenals were designed to deal with stress in small spurts rather than in periods of days or months (or even years). Chronic stress overworks the adrenal gland to the point of exhaustion and eventually they become too fatigued to meet the needs of the body. Symptoms of exhausted adrenals include fatigue, sugar or salt cravings, low blood sugar, a history of low blood pressure, skin rashes, allergies, poor sleep, depression and anxiety. Unlike adrenal stimulants, this blend is designed to balance and heal the adrenals. To use, either smell or topically apply 1- 2 drops on the adrenal glands (on the lower mid-back, one fist above the 12th rib on each side).
Lymph™: Helping the lymph system to flow helps to move energy through the body and keep us awake. It includes several oils that help to boost energy. 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. For Aromatic Usage, hold the bottle under nose for 3 or 4 breaths.
Exercise played a critical role in my eat-sleep-move routine. In addition to always making me feel better, exercise or any kind of movement 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.
Ready to get started? Click the links below to order today:
- Adrenal™ available here
- Attention™ available here
- Circulation™ available here
- Frankincense available here
- Heart™ available here
- Lavender available here
- Lymph™ available here
- Parasympathetic™ available here