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Emotions, the Brain, and Oils: Part 1

Emotions, the Brain, and Oils: Part 1

You've probably heard that oils can help you de-stress and relax.

You've probably heard that de-stressing and taking time to relax is important.

And you've probably heard that your stress, thoughts, and emotions all have an effect on your health.

(That last one is worth an entire blog series.) Certain emotional patterns that are recurring or emotions that are buried usually manifest physically! Of course, we are pretty familiar with that concept already. We say things like:

  • "Quit worrying about it- you'll give yourself an ulcer." 
  • "If he doesn't cut back on his hours and his stress, he could have a heart attack."
  • "If you keep being so anxious about getting sick, it will probably happen."

The correlation between those emotional states and those physical problems is a real one. Man - must be rough to be that kind of person...all high-strung and emotional. Good thing I'm not like that.  Heh-heh.

Coasting in Negativity (or Burying it) Affects your Body

Now, lest your personality type be one that prides itself in NOT reacting emotionally to things, turns out- that can become a problem too! The book Feelings Buried Alive Never Die by Karol Truman has been a life-altering tool for me.  That low-grade, chronic frustration you repress, the loss you barely grieved, and the survival mode you've been coasting in are buried in your body and subconscious, waiting to be released. And, if they have to wait too long...they often show up as a physical ailment.

You don't have to be a high-strung basket-case for these subtle emotions of anxiety, fear, frustration, resentment, and bitterness to work their subterfuge in your spiritual life and relationships. They will. But they most assuredly will weaken and damage your physical body if not processed and released.

YIKES! If that's not a motivator for taking seriously the directive, "Don't worry - be happy" or "Be anxious for nothing..." I don't know what is!

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But...come on now. No offense, Bobby McFerrin, but that's a lot easier sung than done.

I mean, if you're anything like I was 2 years ago, you're thinking, "Got it. 1. Relax, 2. Think happy thoughts, 3. Let it go.  Check-Check-Check."

But as far as a practical application? "Well...I've been thinking about how I should be more relaxed... Surely that counts."

Logically, I knew to be anxious was unhealthy. But real-ly, in real life, there was a major disconnect.

Logically, I knew to "cast my cares" and even did it, spiritually. But real-ly, in real life, there was still a disconnect. My racing heart, my clenching teeth, my stress-dream-producing mind...they just didn't get the memo that I'm supposed to not be anxious. Or frustrated. Or afraid.  Oh the patterns. Why are they so stubborn?

Negative Programming & Our Amygdala

Why the disconnect between our logical conclusions and our functional reality? Let's have a little science lesson.

Whether you consider yourself a balanced, rational, non-emotional person or not, most of your decisions and actions are heavily influenced by a tiny part of your brain known as the "seat of our emotions"  - the "amygdala".

Our prefrontal cortex (shown in purple below) is a different part of the brain, the place where we make rational, logical decisions. It helps us distinguish the right from the wrong, the better from the best, and helps us stay socially appropriate. It's responsible for higher thinking, strategizing, and rational decision-making.

Our amygdala though (shown in orange), found in our Limbic System, is the emotional part of our brain.  It is responsible for our fight/flight/freeze response. And, it is more primal and instinctive than our prefrontal cortex. It makes automatic, physiological changes in the body in response to what it perceives.  

 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ptsd-brain.png

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ptsd-brain.png

Our amygdala lets us feel pleasure, and helps us associate sights and smells like cross-stitched hand towels and cinnamon rolls with previous good experiences like staying at Grandma's house.

And, the amygdala also sounds the alarm when there is danger, or when you encounter something that reminds you of danger encountered in the past...such as the sudden sound of metal crunching, or "trigger words" yelled by a loved one that make you fly off the handle.

The amygdala often takes over in far less-intense situations, making us hold to something we feel is true like our life depended on it, when the person we're arguing with thinks we're being "illogical" and "stubborn".

The amygdala is far too often programmed by our past experiences and our current patterns to perceive danger where there is none anymore.
 
Choices become reactionary, in an attempt to avoid what we once experienced as "bad". 
 
If this continues long enough, in enough areas of our life, true joy and peace become elusive.

Now, remember the purple part of the brain? That prefrontal cortex is supposed to work harmoniously with your amygdala to help you respond appropriately to a stressor, especially if the danger isn't really dangerous. It's supposed to help you think objectively and strategically.  But when you've been through trauma, or grief, or physical or emotional pain, your amygdala can react very strongly...even to the point of hijacking your logical, rational brain!

Physiological Effects of "Amygdala Hijack"

When our amygdala perceives something as really threatening, our blood starts pumping, our prefrontal cortex is repressed (and thus logic is put on hold), and all our energy resources are used for escaping or attacking.  

Now...you may THINK you're being perfectly logical. But you're being deceived. Fear is the underlying motivator for your "decisions".

As a physical consequence, if your amygdala is in control and cortisol is firing, there's very little energy  left to do other highly important physical stuff, like balance your hormones, fight off sickness, or digest anything well.  This can even happen if you don't think you're an emotional person.

This is because low-grade frustration and anxiety can have the exact same effect as crazy physical trauma.

It drives the bad stuff (like inflammation and high blood sugar) up and the good stuff (like feel-good happy hormones of dopamine and seratonin) down.

Chronic Stress Effects.png

In other words - when the amygdala takes over all the time - it puts the rest of our basic functions on hold! Geez!!!  Talk about the brain-body connection...

(Sidenote: if just looking at that graphic has your heart racing right now, and you're local, then you're welcome to come to my class this weekend on "Managing Stress and Caring for your Adrenal Glands!" Just email me and I'll give you the details!)

The Modern Problem

Though we as a society are not fighting off saber-toothed tigers or invading armies (which our amygdala was created to alert us to), our brains have been conditioned as though we were.  We have been conditioned to act in a stress-and-fear-driven, knee-jerk, highly responsive survival-mode by things like demanding work hours, unhealthy relationships, overstimulating video games/phone notifications/television/wifi waves, and caffeine. 

Furthermore, one of the most damaging, powerful exacerbators to our amygdala is the buried traumas or negative emotions that we either:

  • A. mentally choose to ignore and repress, or
  • B. act upon, hard-wiring our brains and bodies for even more unhealthy patterns.

Our amygdala makes cortisol and adrenaline course through our body, which shuts down our physical functions.  And we wonder why we all seem to suffer from digestive issues, fatigue, infertility/ crazy PMS, or being prone to every sickness that comes along. 

Of course, chemicals in our food and homes cause toxicity that create these problems.

But negative emotions in our minds and hearts cause toxicity that create the exact same problems.

So what is one with an amygdala and a less-than-perfect-life to do??

Click here for Part 2, and read about some tools I've found to be incredibly effective. You guessed it...we're about to get oily.

Emotions, the Brain, and Oils: Part 2

Emotions, the Brain, and Oils: Part 2

Thai Basil Beef & Lemongrass Rice Bowls

Thai Basil Beef & Lemongrass Rice Bowls