As a licensed naturopathic doctor, essential oils have become my favorite naturopathic and functional medicine “brain hack.” Throughout the past thirteen years in practice, I have found them indispensable for promoting emotional health and supporting those with psychological disorders.
In this article, I will explore the basis of emotions and different theories on their origin. This understanding about moods will help to clarify the effects essential oils have on the psyche and why all emotions really can be influenced by a sniff from an essential oils’ bottle.
I will continue with this theme throughout the month as I provide examples of my favorite essential oils blends that inspire the feelings of hope, joy, and abundance. It is my desire these therapeutic scents will allow everyone to have a more serene holiday season.
The Origin of Emotions
The root of emotions is very complex and controversial. Psychologists have been intrigued with finding their exact origin throughout history. Recently, researchers have categorized how the brain creates mental states into several theories. (Note: I’m going into some heavy neuroscience here, if you aren’t keen on that, skip to the next section.)
A 2012 article compared two prominent models of emotion. The first is the locationist approach, which holds the belief that “discrete emotion categories consistently and specifically correspond to distinct brain regions.” This contrasts the psychological constructionist approach, which is based on “the hypothesis that discrete emotion categories are constructed of more general brain networks not specific to those categories.”
In this review paper, the authors provided a complex analysis of many brain meta-imaging studies. Their conclusion was that specific brain regions were often active and part of a distributed network of correlated emotions, but that interpretation of stimuli and context also played a role in which areas were recruited. These findings supported the psychological constructionist approach. As a result, the authors felt they provided an explanation as to why the amygdala, which is often associated with fear, is also active with other prominent stimuli, including those that promote arousal and are deemed “impactful.” (source)
A more recent review on the neuroscience of emotions determined that the patterns between brain regions and emotional expression are associated, but not in a one-to-one direct relationship. The authors state:
In particular, we propose that the structure-function relationship between brain and emotions is better described in terms of pluripotentiality, which refers to the fact that one neural structure can fulfill multiple functions, depending on the functional network and pattern of co-activations displayed at any given moment. (source)
Moving beyond neurology, context is also key in emotions and their expression, including one’s culture. According to the article, Emotional Expression: Advances in Basic Emotion Theory:
… emotional expressions are multimodal, dynamic patterns of behavior, involving facial action, vocalization, bodily movement, gaze, gesture, head movements, touch, autonomic response, and even scent (Keltner et al., 2016).
Findings reveal the joint role of social networks use and dysfunctional emotion regulation strategies on anxiety, depression, and somatization symptoms and also on cognitive and emotional alteration among traumatic symptoms.
An “Olfactory Boost” for the Holiday Season
If we understand the underlying neurology and psychology of emotions, we see even more concisely how essential oils can powerfully impact all of the interwoven factors to influence them. This is through their effects on our biochemistry, physiology, behavior, and social relationships.
In my previous post, I discussed “How Essential Oils Can Change Our Brain and Health for the Better.” It explores how essential oils impact emotions and support both neurological theories and contextual models of emotions:
On the biochemical level, essential oils can impact brain health, signaling, and function. They have been shown to modulate neurotransmitters as well as protect the brain from oxidative stress. (source, source)
On the physiological level, essential oils and certain fragrances have been shown to alter brain wave patterns, affecting concentration, focus, relaxation, and emotions. In fact, an in-depth review article has provided us with a handy chart with specific examples of this. It is important to note that individual differences in aromatic preferences and gender can affect these patterns.
Through their multi-system effects on our brain and body, essential oils can also alter our behavior which can result in more positive social connections. Studies have even supported the use of essential oils for easing the symptoms of addictive substance withdrawal. I have used them in my practice to help my clients in following through with greater self-care and to assist with the release of unwanted reactionary patterns that sabotage their relationships.
Human bonds are an often-overlooked epigenetic influencer of undue stress and physical ailments. By assisting with alleviating emotional toxicity and enhancing emotional intelligence, essential oils can help create more fulfilling, healthier, happier, and longer lives.
Why (All) Emotions Can Be Hacked by a Bottle of an Essential Oil
Previously, I have explored the science of how gratitude could be found in an essential oil bottle. Perhaps you think other emotions such as joy, hope, and abundance are a little more nuanced? Not so.
Clinical studies have provided evidence for benefits of essential oils for those with mental health diagnoses, including depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline. Below is a quick summary on why all emotions really can be “hacked” by a therapeutic bottle of essential oils:
- Smells can trigger an emotional response based on previous associations of the odor to the sniffer.
- Odors have been demonstrated to effect psychology, physiology, and biochemistry through their interactions with receptors in the body.
- The ability to detect odors has been correlated to neurological disorders and longevity, indicating how the sense of smell is intricately linked to health and well-being outcomes.
- Certain odors can also trigger memories based on one’s previous associations and evoke specific behavioral responses. These reactions can affect social interactions through the emotions they trigger. This psychological influence interacts with the odorants properties to additionally alter physiological responses.
- There are odor receptors throughout the whole body. This means that beyond smell, odorant molecules excerpt their own biochemical and physiological effects independently.
- Smell can impact emotional intelligence (EI), a determinant of social connection. (source)
In my upcoming posts, I will provide a list of essential oils that display how their synergism of constituents can combine to assist the body-mind in becoming more hopeful, joyful, abundant and overall healthier.
This is my way of supporting all my readers to have a holiday season that is more gratifying, hopeful, and joyful.
For additional safety and medical information, visit my essential oils database. It includes a full category on how to use essential oils safely and potential drug interactions that can occur.
Please be extra cautious and be sure to check with your doctor if you have a seizure disorder. The Epilepsy Society of the UK lists certain essential oils implicated for their antiseizure effect as well as those that have stimulating properties.
If you and/or your physician are interested in consulting with me to assist with supporting the integration of essential oils safely into a therapeutic protocol, essential oils consultations are available.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.