Essential Oils and the Vagus response of "Freezing"

If you were following my facebook posts last week, you will know that I was busy watching an online "Trauma Super Conference" put on by Alex Howard, founder of Conscious Life. There were many fascinating speakers being interviewed from a variety of aspects of healing trauma. The common theme running through the whole series was the idea that illness is as a result of trauma occurring in the person's life, and how the body responds to it.

One of the biggest trauma's that a body can go through is being separated from it's mother at birth. Can you imagine it? It is well known in the animal kingdom that if you separate a kitten from it's mother too early, the kitten is likely to exhibit inappropriate behaviour, struggle to interact with other cats and even have long term health implications. And yet we do this to babies on a fairly regular basis in our modern medical world. And it was done to me when my mother decided that she didn't want to bring me up, and abandoned me on the day I was born, possibly at the moment of my birth. That act by her, has left me with a rather odd nervous system which doesn't respond like most people's. Most people have a nervous system that for the most part keeps them nice and relaxed until they get stressed, and then they go into the parasympathetic state where the body is ready to either "fight or flight". The adrenaline levels are ramped up in preparation to survive the oncoming danger. But what happens if the stress continues? Imagine the kitten taken too early from it's mother, it meows and meows calling for it's mother until she returns. In the case of the baby separated from it's mother when an adoption is going to take place, the chances are she is never coming back. And so what happens?

The vagus nerve goes into what is considered the "freeze" mode. When the baby realises that it's mother is not coming back, then the next thing to do is to become silent, don't move, don't make a sound, play dead. We are talking survival mechanisms here.

When I was nursing and doing my stint on paediatrics I recall the question about which toddler you would be worried about the most.

a) the toddler who was into everything, exploring

b) the angry toddler who is throwing toys and having a temper tantrum or

c) the silent non-moving toddler.

 The answer being "c" the toddler who has learnt that remaining still and silent is the way to keep out of danger. I was that child. screaming and crying for days on end as a baby, trying to get my mother's attention so that she would take care of me, but she never came, so my nervous system adapted to take care of me.

Fast forward 20-30-40-50 years even, and I have been operating from that "frozen" state. When my trauma gets triggered, my survival mechanism is to freeze because the world has told me it's not a safe place. The frozen state involves the reptilian part of our brain. Emotions are in the mammalian part, the reptile has none of these. You may recognise the reptilian state in people, they stare blankly, they are disengaged with the world, they seem distant. It happens whenever they are reminded of their trauma. In my professional life my expereince is that most people do not know that they have been triggered as the triggers are so subtle, but imagine if you can the feelings that are felt by the adult in the run up to Mother's day, when their expereince is that mother abandoned them. Imagine people around you wanting to celebrate the day you were born, when their reality is, it is the day their mother walked out on them. Imagine going to see a doctor or consultant and being asked if their are any heriditary illnesses in your family, and you have absolutely no idea, because you are adopted. The triggers can be constant, and so the adoptee can be in an almost permanent state of freeze, detached or disassociated from the world around them. I don't think it is only the relaity of the adoptee, but is the reality of anyone who felt threatened long term and the freeze has become their survival mode rather than the fight/flight mode for dealing with danger, or potential threats.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Do you ever feel that you have switched off from your surroundings, detached from people around you, you may even feel as though you are not in your body. My husband will take a look at me and say "you've gone haven't you?" If you recognise this in yourself or others around you, then you may be interested in trying this tip to see if it helps you. When you recognise that you have gone into the ""Freeze state, then applying stimulating essential oils to the vagus nerve is a way of bringing it back into equilibrium.

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The vagus nerve is a large nerve in the body which originates in the base of the brain. It is closest to the surface of the skin just behind the ears. This is the easiest point to apply a stimulating blend of essential oils.

There are a number of stimulating oils some I would say are best avoided unless you are working with a qualified professional as they can be too stimulating ie cinnamon, clove amongst them.

  • Essential oils that I would recommend are basil, orange, peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus, black pepper, ginger. For an adult I recommend choosing no more than 3 oils and making up a blend in a roller ball bottle. This is an easy convenient way to apply the oil behind the ears or on the pulse points at the wrists.

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If you try it, I would love to know how you get on. You can contact me via my facebook page @alignedwithjoy  

These essential oils and our full range are available from our shop, uk orders only.