How you apply essential oils is often more important than the oils you chose to apply.
In my new book, Essential Oils to Boost the Brain & Heal the Body, I share clinical and research findings on the best application strategies for supporting mental, physical and emotional health. My favorite, most effective application strategy is what I call the “panic attack hack” that literally nips an anxiety attack in the bud.
Inhaling an essential oil through the left nostril is the fastest way to alleviate anxiety and calm a panic attack. Anxiety is linked to over-activation of the right frontal lobe of the brain, located behind the forehead.
Inhaling an essential oil through the left nostril (which travels directly to your left forehead) helps to stimulate the left frontal lobe and create balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which then balances the over-activity of the right frontal lobe and leads to feelings of calm.
Panic Attack Hack
To better understand why this application strategy is so effective, it helps to understand how the different regions and hemispheres of the brain impact your mood and cognitive function.
Your prefrontal cortex (PFC), the area behind your forehead, receives messages and hormonal signals from the other areas of your brain and helps to overlay logical thinking to serve as a check and balance to ensure an appropriate response to any potential threat. When your prefrontal cortex is functioning optimally, it helps you act with forethought and wisdom.
The Prefrontal Cortex, which This is Your Brain on Joy author Dr Earl Henslin notes “operates like the Presidential Control Center of your brain, also has two “wings”—just like the White House. They are the Left PFC and the Right PFC.” Henslin notes that the two hemispheres of the brain perform different functions:
The Lighthearted Left Lobby (Left PFC Lobe) – The left side of the prefontal cortex is filled with lighthearted, pleasant thoughts. “When you turn the lights on in this room (or, in brain imaging terms, when the red dye lights up this area), everything is just peachy. So remember that the L in the Left prefrontal cortex stands for “Lighthearted.” Ideally, you want more lights turned on in this room to get the biggest bang out of the happy part of your brain,” according to Henslin.
The Ruminating Right Lobby (Right PFC Lobe) – The right side of the prefontal cortex tends to ruminate or over-think, contributing to feelings of overwhelm, anxiety and panic.
“When the lights are too bright here, it goes from being a nice logical balancer (that helps you see potential problems) to a runaway ruminator that can go on rants and, simply put, ruin your day. So we just turn a couple of lamps on in this room and avoid that overhead bright light switch because too much light in this room in the brain usually means we have a troubled, worried, and unhappy person on our hands. So remember, the R in the Right prefrontal cortex stands for “Ruminating”, according to Henslin.
In Essential Oils to Boost the Brain & Heal the Body, I note that:
“Anxiety can be triggered by overactivity and dominance of the right frontal lobe of your brain. The right brain processes the emotional aspects of the human experience, giving you empathy and compassion, but in overdrive, the right brain can contribute to heightened emotions and anxiety.”
Henslin shares research that “in people who are generally happy and at peace, there is more activity in their left PFC than in their right PFC.”
In his book “The Science of Happiness: How Our Brains Make Us Happy – and What We Can Do to Get Happier”, Stefan Klein, PhD, found that people who have more activity in the right half of their brains have less control over negativity and tend to be more paranoid, get depressed more easily, and find that happiness often eludes them.
Those with more activity in the left prefrontal cortex “usually prove to be self-confident, optimistic, and often in high spirits.” Those with an active left prefrontal cortex tend to be more social and joyful.
In fact, often when someone has a severe injury to their left PFC, the capacity to feel and express joy is numbed to a tragic degree. Interestingly, when the right PFC has been injured, people can still feel a lot of joy and happiness but often lack the reasoning to be realistic about their blissful state of mind. They are gullible and impressionable, and if you tell them they have no arms, for example, they may believe you; but the upside is, they’ll think being suddenly armless is delightful.
All in all, if you have to have a bad blow to the right or left PFC, you’ll be happier if you lose right PFC functioning. But you’ll probably be annoyingly, illogically giddy for those who have to care for you.
Stimulating Prefrontal Cortex
In addition to calming anxiety, essential oils can be used to stimulate the prefrontal cortex to support enhanced cognitive function. For example, your prefrontal cortex plays a critical role in your ability to:
Focus: Your prefrontal cortex enhances your ability to pay attention, not jump from subject to subject and comprehend a topic and/or conversation.
Evaluate: Your prefrontal cortex supports forethought and helps you consider the impact of words and behavior before they are expressed.
Control your Impulses: In addition to helping you think before saying or doing something, your prefrontal cortex helps you “just say no” to impulsive actions or decisions. People with poor prefrontal cortex problems prioritize immediate gratification – think impulsive spending or food choices — that might seem like a good idea in the moment.
Planning: Your prefrontal cortex helps you to take a complex goal and break it down into manageable and achievable steps.
Organization: Your prefrontal cortex helps you maintain order in your environment, like your car, home or office. Poor PFC functioning can result in problems organizing and planning days or unrealistic expectations about what can be accomplished in a given amount of time.
Judgement: Your prefrontal cortex helps you exercise common sense. It supports healthy choices and decisions and offers access to your critical thinking skills.
Empathy: Your prefrontal cortex helps you empathize with what another person is going through and articulate that in a manner such that the other person feels cared for or understood. Self-centeredness is a problem when the PFC isn’t working well, seeking own needs and desires first without sufficient consideration of the consequences to others.
Emotional Control: Your prefrontal cortex helps you stay in touch with feelings and control responses and reactions. Poor PFC functioning results in an impulsive expression of thoughts and feelings that tends to cause distance or undermine intimacy in relationships.
Insight/Intuition: Your prefrontal cortex helps you pick up on social cues and sense of how another person is feeling. People with injury or poor functioning in the PFC area will have difficulty reading faces and emotions and often have trouble with intuiting subtleties and picking up on nuances that normally signal “something isn’t right.”
Learning from Mistakes: When entering familiar situations, a healthy prefrontal cortex can help you recall past experiences and add new information and to avoid repeating a mistake. Poor prefrontal cortex functioning can impair your ability to learn from mistakes. When entering similar situations, those with damanged prefrontal cortexes may repeat the same undesirable behavior
Stimulating Specific Brain Hemispheres
As mentioned above, the two sides – or two hemispheres or lobes – of the brain play different roles in the processing of information. Essential oils can be strategically inhaled on one side only or topically applied to stimulate the specifically side of the brain and help to activate and balance function.
Left Hemisphere: Also called the digital brain as it is more focused on logic, language skills, and academic subjects like math and science. The left hemisphere of the brain is known to support the following:
- Verbal and non-verbal communications.
- Reading and Writing
- Computations, Sequencing, Logic and Mathematics
- Thinking in words, converting sounds to language and translating meaning.
- Critical and linear thinking and analysis
- Involves the movement of large muscles, plays an important role in maintaining balance and fine motor skills.
- Responsible for emotional functions and regulates avoidance behavior.
- Supports your ability to pay attention to details and maintain order
- Stimulated by new experiences.
- Can sense smell, taste, and sound.
Right Hemisphere: Also called the analog brain as it is more visual, creative and intuitive. The right hemisphere of the brain is responsible for some cognitive functions such as attention, processing of visual shapes and patterns, emotions, verbal ambiguity, and implied meanings. The right hemisphere of the brain is known to support the following:
- Creativity and Arts
- Reasoning and problem solving
- Attention, memory and the ability to learn new information
- Social communication (not interrupting) and non-verbal cues (like shrugging)
- Organization, logic sequencing and planning
- Daydreaming and Imagination
- Emotions ‘Holistic thinking
Essential Oils to Stimulate the Left Prefrontal Cortex
For Anxiety: You can strategically inhale essential oils through your left nostril to activate your left frontal lobe and balance the over-activity of the right frontal lobe. This creates balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which then leads to feelings of calm and helps halt panic attacks. Simply plug your right nostril and inhale essential oil, I like Adrenal blend, through the left nostril.
To Stimulate Left or Right Brain Hemispheres: Inhaling or topically applying essential oils can increase perfusion, or blood flow, to the prefrontal cortex. This blood flow helps to stimulate the prefrontal cortex. This is the principal on which the pharmaceutical drug Adderall helps to calm ADHD. It increases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex. Research has found that blood flow to the prefrontal cortex is compromised in those diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. The lack of stimulation and blood flow might play a role in poor ability to focus, concentrate and control impulses which are all a function of the prefrontal cortex. By way of contrast, Research shows that increasing blood flow to the prefrontal cortex can boost attention and working memory as well as prevent the reduction of brain function in the elderly. Focus blend, Brain Boost and Attention blend can all be inhaled or topically applied to help stimulate the prefrontal cortex.