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5 Steps to Using Essential Oils to Help You Move Through Grief and Emotional Stress

7 min read

Going through the distress of loss—whether it be a person, a relationship, a job or a home—surely takes its toll on our health and wellness. As we long to be released from our pain, our bodies can actually pull us deeper into it. 

My worst experience with heartache left me despondent and weepy and completely disconnected from my body. I felt as if I was on a spaceship, aimlessly shooting out into the void. My chest collapsed and my breathing became shallow and stuck.

Of course, this compromised posture denied me much needed oxygen and left me both fatigued and sleep deprived. I had difficulty concentrating. My confidence was shot. Everything I would have done to feel good didn’t work anymore. Massage felt too invasive and I cried through yoga. My body awareness was so deeply skewed that even stretching felt out of the question. And each day began with this unbearable feeling of being untethered.  

What Grief Can Feel Like In Your Body

Symptoms of grief, loss and heartache can be different for everyone. While some feel untethered like me, others disassociate, feel numb or shut down. But for many, the most common symptom I repeatedly observe in my clients is the collapsed posture and shallow, stuck breathing. It is not easy to get out of this harmful shape: shoulders hunched, back rounded, head dropped. As we protect ourselves from further hurt, we collapse into ourselves to shield our hearts.

If we get stuck like this, we can develop chronic pain, a weakened immune system, poor sleep and it can take forever to feel like ourselves again. It takes a global approach to move through this phase.  Each person has to find what works for them. For me, the key was using my mind to reconnect to my breath and my body while working intuitively with essential oil blends. 

Breaking Out of Harmful Habits Using the Alexander Technique

As a holistic practitioner, I devised a method that combines the healing power of my therapeutic essential oil blends with the Alexander Technique (AT). If you are unfamiliar with the Alexander Technique, it is a relaxing way to stay mindful of posture, breath and everyday movements as you break free of harmful habits. Often, we are not aware that our unconscious body patterns, like the way we sit at the computer, are the underlying cause of pain and discomfort.

The AT has a 100-year track record of providing long-term solutions for people with back problems, neck injuries, chronic pain or repetitive strain injuries. Performing artists swear by it. To experience and ultimately learn the method, you need to take a series of private sessions that include bodywork and being guided as you move. Instead of deep tissue manipulation, the session is subtle and corrective and frees you from years of habitual misuse. This mind/body reprogramming leaves you with a lifelong skill and can be very useful for moving through grief, loss or heartache.

5 Steps to Using Essential Oils to Move Through Grief

Essential oils are a perfect match for the AT process because they also affect the mind, the nervous system and the muscles—all at once, helping us shift quickly out of stuck emotional states.

When my dad died it was a cold, windy winter in New York City. Normally I would handle the weather by wrapping my neck tightly in a warm scarf and scurrying to the subway as quickly as possible, skittering over the ice. But this winter I found I couldn’t layer enough. I think I actually wore two coats. A wool hat, pulled down to my eyebrows, stayed on all day as my head hung low on my chest. My grief therapist remarked, “Are you sure you need all those layers?”

But of course, it was the same pattern of shielding my heart as I buried myself in wool and down. What I learned from moving through this grief has become my method for any period where I feel vulnerable or stuck. Here are the essential oils and techniques I still use when I need them.

1. Breath deeper with essential oils.

For the compressed, unsustainable posture, I turn first to inhaling my essential oil blends—a superior method to jump-start deeper breathing. You can create an easy, on-the-spot inhalation blend by putting one drop each of two to three oils in your palm or on a tissue or cotton ball. Now, slowly inhale. To make your breathing more relaxed, exhale completely before you inhale the oils.

I use sandalwood, neroli and mandarin in my Meditation blend to relax the diaphragm, ground me back into my body, soothe the anxiety and to promote a mindful state. You could also use frankincense and myrrh, the classic spiritual companions used by the ancients as well as most modern-day healers. Chamomile or vetiver are also very soothing and grounding (found in my Jaw Clenching and Stress remedies). Comfort your heart area by applying a circle of rose (rose otto) essential oil: Just a few drops diluted in jojoba to the center of your chest. (Rose geranium is also a less costly substitute). 

2. Breathing into your back in Child’s Pose.

I get down on the floor on a rug or yoga mat and do a comfortable version of Child’s Pose (a sitting posture where, kneeling, you sit back on your heels and then lie forward with your head on the ground or lie over a cushion placed on your thighs). The beauty of this pose is that it forces more air into your lower lungs, which are closer to the back of the body. And laying with your heart supported on a cushion, or on the floor, feels safe.

Day by day, I was gradually able to move my breath more deeply into my lungs and get more oxygen and blood moving around my heart. 

3. Opening the chest.

Next, I sit up crossed-legged on a chair, or stand up in a comfortable position. I practice bringing my head up and back, dropping my chin slightly and letting the back of my neck feel a slight stretch. Keeping the back of my neck long, my chest will finally start to lift.

Next, I lift my elbows up to my side, shoulder height. As I exhale, I pull my elbows back, squeezing my shoulder blades together until all the air rushes out. As I repeat this four to five times, I gradually expand my chest and feel more upright. I continue this into my morning routine. 

4. Decongesting with essential oils in the Shower.

In the shower, I apply my essential oil blend, Chest Remedy, to my chest. Atlas Cedarwood is calming but still uplifting, and wonderfully detoxifying when combined with a needle oil (pine, spruce, fir). These are the oils most commonly used for grief in the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine—the lens through which I trained in aromatic healing. 

Depending on my mood that day, I may alternate a blend of bay laurel and eucalyptus—in my Sinus Remedy—for inhalations. If I need more support, I re-apply Chest Remedy, after toweling dry, all over my neck and shoulders, lower back and chest. 

5. Create an aromatic cocoon.

I continue to keep my inhalation blends with me, to be ready for anytime I need the extra comfort and support throughout my day. It is my own personal, aromatic cocoon. Another technique to feel more grounded in my cocoon would be to go on mindful walks by imagining my breath coming in through the crown of my head and exhaling out my feet and going down into the center of the earth. 

Ultimately, you not only want to deepen your breath, but you also want to get your head back up where it belongs and your chest floating freely, as you regain your full stature. Letting go of your wounded stance will do wonders for a feeling of wellbeing as you heal.

Interested in other ways essential oils can support your wellness? Read why peppermint is the new lavender—and get a DIY recipe for a blend that will reduce stress ASAP.

About The Author

Hope Gillerman

Hope Gillerman

Hope Gillerman is the author of Essential Oils Everyday, Rituals and Remedies for Healing, Happiness and Beauty (HarperCollins/Harper Elixir, 2016). Drawing on her background in dance and her professional work as an Alexander Technique Teacher, aromatic healer and a spa educator, she created The Hope Gillerman Method and H. Gillerman Organics, a line of essential oil remedies, skin and spa products. Her products are available in wellness and green/clean beauty boutiques including Anthroplogie & Co, The Detox Market, Credo Beauty and top spas in the U.S. and the Caribbean. Hope offers her method as means for greater awareness, self-knowledge and self-healing in one-on-one sessions with private clients and in all of the work she does to help people discover the full healing potential of essential oils.

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