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Navigating Life Transitions

by Jodi Cohen

woman, beach, yoga, sunset

I am at a transition point in my life.

My daughter will graduate high school in June and leave for college on the other side of the country in August.

My son – who would have turned 16 on March 8 – is no longer physically here for me to care for. I am  going to be an empty nester sooner than I had planned.

The problem is I don’t have a plan.

So I am actively working on creating one, but it is hard to start over at 53. More so, perhaps, because I have spent the last 20 years prioritizing everyone else’s needs over my own to the point where I am not even sure what I want my next chapter to look like.

But I’m doing my best to figure it out and I wanted to share this vulnerable post in the event that it might help anyone else currently going through a life transition – be it children departing for college, a shift in the status of your relationships, finances, health or any unexpected challenges you might be navigating.

 

1. Calm Your Mind

It can feel overwhelming to try to make changes in your life.

When I feel overwhelmed, I often shut down and do nothing. So I have learned to calm my mind and quiet overwhelm.  I do this by stimulating my parasympathetic nervous system which is the physiological gear shift to help you move out of overwhelm so you can access your ability to think creatively and problem solve.

You may not realize it, but you can only create when you feel safe.  When your body thinks survival is at stake, it activates your sympathetic nervous system.

This then mobilizes your physical and mental response to threats by releasing stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, to help you fight or flee.

It also impacts your cognitive function, activating selective attention, a process where you identify and survive threats before dedicating your attention to anything else, helps you focus on what’s important while ignoring irrelevant, outside information.

Your vision narrows, allowing you to narrow your focus and pay close attention to the external, physical world.

Just as the sympathetic nervous system turns off all functions not critical to survival, including your ability to digest food, it also turns off your ability to focus on anything outside of the pressing danger.

When you are constantly bombarded with sensory information, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and struggle to maintain your focus on safety.  Unfortunately, when the sympathetic state locks you into a state of constantly scanning for threats, it shuts down your ability to thoughtfully contemplate different perspectives that might feel threatening to your safety.  This can also contribute to feelings of overwhelm.  The more you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system and expand your ability to focus, the more you can access your discernment and calmly observe external stimuli without being overwhelmed by it.

In your efforts to stay safe, your brain attempts to predict your future based on your past and literally limits your focus to the point where you are unable to entertain new information or ideas that clash with your historical belief system.

This hyper-vigilance can save your life when you are under threat, but also restricts your emotional regulation or receptivity to new or different viewpoints and ideas, making you more likely to engage in and amplify conflict.

Research from the University of Oregon found that “greater parasympathetic activity is a marker of increased selective attention and neurocognitive function.” In other words, you can heighten your selective attention and your ability to stay open to new or conflicting ideas by activating your parasympathetic state.  Your parasympathetic nervous system activates the relaxed physical and mental state that allows you to consider and integrate new ideas.

In the parasympathetic state, your vagus nerve releases the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, to help enhance attention, and learning.  In your brain, acetylcholine activates and inhibits communication between different brain regions to properly store information, by speeding up or slowing down nerve signals.  In your brain, acetylcholine is mainly excitatory, allowing your neurons to communicate so you can think clearly, learn new information and form new memories.

Apply Parasympathetic™ blend over your vagus nerve (behind your earlobe on your mastoid bone) to activate your parasympathetic nervous system.

READ THIS NEXT: 3 Steps to Calm Anxiety in the Middle of a Storm

 

2. Move Your Body

Moving your body helps you calm your mind and discharge stress and overwhelm

In fact, research shows that exercise can release endorphins, pain-killing chemicals that help boost mood, improve alertness and concentration, and enhance overall cognitive function.

Any kind of movement, including walking, yoga or more intense exercise, offers numerous health benefits – enhancing the flow of blood and lymph, releasing natural feel-good chemicals and strengthening your body. It also helps route blood flow to your brain to increase your physical and mental energy levels.

Movement and exercise help support healthy brain chemistry by increasing the release of happy hormones like endorphins, energizing hormones like epinephrine (adrenaline) and uplifting neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.

Movement can help increase brain circulation, which helps calm inflammation  and enhance mood.  Research has found  that exercise improved cardiorespiratory fitness, cerebral blood flow regulation, and memory function in people with mild cognitive impairment.

Research shows that exercise helps improve symptoms of attention-deficit disorder (ADHD). The study found exercise to enhance motivation for tasks requiring focused thought, increased energy, and reduced feelings of confusion, fatigue, and depression.

Similar research found that exercise reduced depressive symptoms and may boost mood by increasing a brain protein called BDNF that helps nerve fibers grow.  Walking, in particular, helps calm the mind due to the meditative repetition of steps. The left, right, left, right pattern helps lower stress and improve your mood.

Optimal circulation helps support healthy movement, especially when your legs and feet need a little boost to fight the effects of gravity.  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.

Circulation™ blend supports 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. Circulation™ is formulated with several oils known to be high in sesquiterpenes, including Black Pepper, Ginger and Frankincense that deliver oxygen to the cells.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, peppermint essential oil enhances energy, alertness and memory.  Research from the University of Cincinnati found that inhaling peppermint oil increases the mental accuracy by 28%.

Apply 2- 3 drops of Circulation™ 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.

 

3. Release what you cannot change

I attended my first funeral at age 16.  My friend Bob Kennedy was killed in a car accident.

I didn’t know how to process the grief so I just kept re-reading the Serenity prayer written on the program “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I have thought about those words innumerable times over the past decades, but they took on a new meaning a few weeks ago on what would have been Max’s 16th birthday.

I was walking my dogs in a local park and trying to envision what my best case empty nest life could look like when it occurred to me that no amount of time, energy or effort could change the past.

There was nothing I could do to change his death and no amount of grief, denial or sadness would ever change that. In other words, it was time to accept the things I could not change and focus my time, energy and courage on changing the things I can.

Easy to say, harder to execute.

Because execution required me to both come to peace with my loss and allow myself to release the sadness of the loss, the anger at how it happened and move though the fear of continuing to live without him.  Add to that the guilt and projected shame I feel for not only outliving my child, but choosing to enjoy life without him

Schadenfreude – a German term for pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others – is real and as the surviving mother of a dead child, it seems I have been perceived as an easy target which coupled with my people pleasing nature became a recipe for stagnation.

Fortunately, essential oils allow you to easily and efficiently release emotional baggage that no longer serves you, including emotions and emotional projections that you have been carrying for other people.

 

Essential Oils for Emotional Release

Essential oils can calm the intensity of the emotional flow, allowing you to chunk the release so that it feels more manageable.  In this way, essential oils help you control the duration of the pain – releasing just a small amount of the intensity at a time, much like you would slowly and carefully unscrew the top of a carbonated beverage to gently release excess carbonation and avoid an explosion.

I recommend inhaling essential oils and gently releasing intense emotions with your exhale as a powerful strategy to allow you to micro-dose emotional release.   Essential oils and the sense of smell allow you to activate and release intense emotions and sensations over brief durations – providing a small amount of stimulus to engage your body in releasing the pain without flooding and shutting down your system or keeping you stuck in denial.

Just place the bottle under your nose and breathe deeply, fully inhaling the oil for 3 – 7 breaths. It helps you breathe into and work through the emotion.  Try to extend the exhale and really allow yourself to release the painful emotion and any associated pain and intensity

Some of my favorite essential oils to release intense emotions include:

Rose  – Applying Rose over my heart was the fastest way to calm an emotional tidal wave.  It immediately helped me feel better and more calm. Research by Noble prize-winning noble laureate Linda Buck shows that rose essential oil can counteract your brain’s response to fear. Her research found that smelling rose essential oil in the presence of predator odors (or other fear stimulus) can suppress your brain’s stress responses and hormonal signals.

Lung Support™ – According to Chinese medicine, feelings of grief and loss are stored in your lungs where they can obstruct ability of your lungs to accept and relinquish, impeding their function of “taking in” and “letting go” of oxygen and feelings. Grief that remains unresolved can become chronic and create disharmony in the lungs, weakening the lung’s function of circulating oxygen around the body. Lung Support™ can help release these feelings of loss and support your ability to transport oxygen from the atmosphere into the capillaries so they can oxygenate blood – and eliminate carbon dioxide from the bloodstream into the atmosphere. Apply 2- 3 drops over the lungs, allowing yourself to deeply exhale any grief as you apply the blend.

READ THIS NEXT: Essential Oils for Grief

 

You can also use essential oils to:

Release Anger: Anger that we don’t process and release can get stored in your liver, according to Chinese medicine.  Any stagnation, congestion or compromise in the healthy function of your liver allows toxic chemicals to build up and accumulate in your body.  Frustration, rage, and anger tend to build up when toxins build up.

Liver Support™ helps support the release of anger, including frequent irritation, impatience, resentment or frustration, being critical of yourself or others, control issues, an inability to express your feelings, feelings of not feeling heard, not feeling loved, not being recognized or appreciated. Just place the bottle under your nose and breathe deeply, fully inhaling the oil for 3 – 7 breaths.  It helps you breathe into and work through the emotion.

Release Fear: Fear is the emotional response to an immediate threat.  It’s defined as an unpleasant feeling that stems from perceived danger or threat. It plays an important role in survival as it alerts you to the presence of danger and allows assess our ability to deal with situations that are perceived as threatening.  It often triggers a fight or flight response to help ensure that you are prepared to effectively deal with threats in your environment.

Fear can also be triggered by anticipated threats or even our thoughts about potential dangers. When over-activated, it can feel like anxiety, nervousness, compulsiveness. The goal isn’t to “overcome your fear” or turn it off. It’s to feel it, embrace it and learn from it.

In addition to the Parasympathetic™ blend, which helps to calm the fight or flight response, Kidney Support™, when applied over your kidneys (back of the body – your kidneys are the size of your fist and the bottom of the kidneys align with your bottom rib), back of neck, or around the outside of earlobes, can help dispel fear, and assist you in feeling safe.

Fear is often associated with your kidneys, two bean-shaped organs that sit on top of your adrenal glands and regulate the balance and flow of fluids in your body, by selectively filtering out or retaining various minerals and electrolytes.  In Chinese medicine, fear is associated with the water element, as water is symbolic of your unconscious, or that which you do not understand and therefore might fear.  These feelings of fear and paranoia can be held in your kidneys impairing function. Topically applying Kidney Support™ over your kidneys 2-3 times daily may help calm your fear response.

Release Sadness: Sadness is an emotional state characterized by feelings of disappointment, grief, hopelessness, disinterest, and dampened mood.  While sadness is something that everyone experiences, it is ideally a transient or temporary experience. Prolonged and severe periods of sadness that can turn into depression.

Like other emotions, sadness can present as an opportunity to help you become aware of a situation or a person that we have lost or are missing. Sadness allows you to become aware of and release anything that no longer belongs to you or hurts you.

As a first step to addressing sadness, it’s important to feel safe and calm.  Parasympathetic™ blend helps to calm your nervous system when topically applied over the vagus nerve (behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone).

Once you have calmed your nervous system, you can then begin to release your sadness in small doses. The only way out is through, but there is no rush to get there.  Intense feelings are painful to release and sometimes more manageable in small doses  – think eye dropper, not fire hose. 

Heart™ can helps calm any intense or overwhelming feelings by redirecting you back to a space of love and gratitude. Feelings of love and gratitude can help you pivot out of the intensity of sadness and grief and act as an instant reset.  In fact, an NIH study correlated a focus on gratitude with increased blood flow to the hypothalamus and a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol.  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.  Read More about Essential Oils for Gratitude HERE.

Small Intestine Support™ helps support positive boundaries and confidence to assist in bringing a sense of peace to our lives.  When you are struggling with negative emotions, it can be uplifting and help release and clear any residual negative emotions.  I find it best to apply around the ears for emotion related issues.  You can start on the bottom of the ear at the earlobes and gentle massage upward along the exterior of the ear, hitting many of the major reflexology points.  This article and chart show specific points on the ears for specific issues.

 

Featured Blends:

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References:

 

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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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* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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to Vibrant Blue Oils

Subscribe to Vibrant Blue Oils and receive weekly information on oils and how to use them. As a bonus, we’ll send out Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils to your inbox immediately!