"F *** it " - The four "F"s of the stress response & how aromatherapy can help

Written on 01/01/2024
Laura Stainer

This is going to sound strange, but I love to talk about stress. 

Why?  Because it wasn't until I was completely burned out (which I thought was MY fault) that I took the time to actually learn about and understand exactly why I was unable to cope instead of blaming myself for not being strong, resillient, or capable enough.  Now I can hopefully pass some of that knowledge along to help you to undestand why you feel a certain way.  So, let's get to it...

(psst...there's a bonus at the end of the article!)

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) functions as the involuntary  (or automatic) regulatory mechanism overseeing essential functions that do not require conscious intervention ( for example heart rate, digestion, breathing)

This system is divided into two primary branches: sympathetic (stress response) and parasympathetic (rest & recover), and the main goal of our nervous system is to keep us safe from harm. 

The sympathetic nervous system acts as the accelerator, engaging during situations that demand heightened alertness, physical exertion, or in any situation perceived as a threat (whether it is real or imagined). Our body is programmed to turn on our stress response, flooding our body with hormones and setting off a cascade physiological responses. For many of us, these stressful events happen so often that our bodies cannot return to baseline, therefore our responses to stress can become dysfunctional, exaggerated and perhaps even debilitating.  

The four main responses to stress are Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn.  Being able to identify what type of stress response you are experienceing can often be half the battle and along with the support of aromatherapy, I always recommend that my clients explore other strategies for coping with stress such as CBT and  counseling. 

Let's explore the ways stress shows up for us...


The Fight Response

The fight response is intended for exactly that - literally fighting off a physical threat. It mobilizes us, and gets our body primed for action. More often than not this feeling of fight comes from the desire to succeed through adversity, to overcome or “survive” a situation rather than actually having to physically fight for our lives. 

Being in fight response may show up as anger, outbursts and needing to control or "micro-manage" others. You may have expectations of perfection, being overly critical and "raging" incessantly. 

When you find yourself in fight, try inhalations of calming, cooling (think anti-inflammatory for "hot"emotions) oils that are known to help decrease cortisol levels.  

Roman & German Chamomile, Lavender, Ylang-Ylang, Bergamot, Patchouli

Also, spritzing with hydrosols of Chamomile, Peppermint, and Lavender would be another soothing solution. 



The Flight Response

Flight is part 2 of the “fight or flight” response. When a stressful event cannot be overcome, the instinct is to flee to safety. In more practical terms, flight looks a lot like avoidance, overthinking, delaying things, feeling anxious, and looking for reassurance. The heart may be racing and the body is full of “nervous energy”. 

Calming, anxiolytic oils such as Bergamot, Mandarin, Geranium, Lavender, or Frankincense paired with grounding oils like Cedarwood, Vetiver, or Patchouli are ideal by inhalation in order to trigger a relaxation response. 



The Freeze Response

This response helps conserve our energy and protect ourselves from further harm in situations where escape is not an option and is activated when we perceive a threat that is too overwhelming or beyond our control. It is driven by our instinct for self-protection and is designed to immobilize us to prevent harm. The benefits of freeze response include conserving energy and preventing unnecessary injury in situations where fighting or fleeing is not feasible.

Those in freeze may feel like being alone more, scrolling or watching TV or just having a general feeling of being switched off, and having so many things to do that it’s too overwhelming to decide so instead, they do nothing. 

All of this is okay. It is NOT laziness. The most important thing is to be gentle and show yourself compassion. 

Adding uplifting oils, especially citrus to the shower or bath routine or diffuser. Grapefruit with Spearmint or Peppermint, Lemon, Sweet Orange and Eucalyptus are a few easy and readily available choices. 



The Fawn Response

Those who are in the fawn response are often labeled “people pleasers”. Their fear of “making waves” or losing of connections (even unhealthy ones) takes precedence over their own needs.

Safety = absence of any conflicts. 

Having boundaries, saying “no”, and speaking up are so difficult and it weighs on them especially as heaviness in the chest. 

Oils to promote self-love and confidence - Rose, Ylang-ylang, Geranium, Corinader, Jasmine, Cedarwood, Sandalwood. Blends with any of these oils could be used as a pulse point roll-on and incorporated into a self-compassion affirmation. 



There is SO MUCH MORE about this topic that I want to share with you,  and there are many other helpful tools other than aromatherapy to help us manage our stress "states" including:

  • Focusing on the breath
  • Bringing awareness to your emotions - "name it to tame it" 
  • Somatic exercises - moving, strectching, making a fist and releasing, gargling or humming. All of these stimulate the Vagus Nerve which is responsible for turning the stress response off. 

More to come about all things stress, anxiety and the vagus nerve.  In the meantime, above all, speak to yourself with love and compassion when you are going through it. This will convey a feeling of safety and security which is where our nervous system wants us to be!


Want FREE blend recipes inspired by this blog sent right to your inbox? Click HERE !


Until next time, 

Laura ♥


Disclaimer - This article is intended for information purposes only and does not replace medical advice or treatment.  If you are considering using aromatherapy for health purposes, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking medications.

Photo by SHVETS production: https://www.pexels.com/photo/housewife-resting-with-crossed-legs-on-sofa-7513206/