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Physical Effects of Emotions

The Physical Effects of Emotions

Kylie Thompson




Your emotional health has a lot of influence on your physical health. In this article we explore how your emotional and mental state can affect your physical health, and just how you can apply aromatherapy to ease the physical complaints that have manifested as a result of excessive emotional demands.



Emotionally we are capable of experiencing both positive and negative emotions.  There are no such things as ‘wrong’ emotions, as negative emotions do have a purpose.  Negative emotions can spur us into productive action.  However, there can be wrong emotional responses.  In this case, emotions are unproductive and can affect how we communicate and solve problems and can lead us to develop low self esteem. Unproductive emotional function can cause emotions to become so intense that we cannot focus, use reason or consider other factors, which can lead us to make the wrong decisions.   

An important component of healthy living is not to allow our negative emotions to rule our lives or undermine our efforts.  Negative emotions can exert powerful influence over both our thoughts and behaviour and consequently affect us physically.  An individual’s negative outlook and the fears that underlie it can cause illness to manifest.  Negative mental states cause physical changes in the body.  Stress is thought to be at the heart of many diseases, causing a degenerative effect on the entire person.  Suppressing negative thoughts and feelings will also cause negative consequences.  Chronically ignoring and denying negative feelings is not a good thing to do, but spending a lot of time thinking negative thoughts can cause us to spiral uncontrollably into depression, anxiety and anger. Negative emotions can actually be a warning sign that we are not effectively dealing with issues or concerns in our life.  The trick is to recognize the difference between unproductive negative emotions that cause us to view life, the world, events and situations through a distorted, negative lens, and productive negative emotions that cause us to face concerns and conflict in our lives.

One way to help break the cycle of dysfunctional negative emotions is distraction.  Actively seeking ways to use positive emotions to cope with negative moods helps repair the mood and improve overall thinking and responses.  Positive emotions reduce the negative effects of stress on the body’s physiological systems.  Looking for ways to infuse negative, stressful situations with positive emotions improves psychological wellbeing, problem solving skills and physical wellbeing.  Going for a walk, taking a bath, having a massage, and talking to friends are all examples of ways we can invoke positive experience and emotions to change a negative mood.  Aromatherapy has a useful role in altering emotional states as it can be employed in self-soothing through massage, vaporization and bathing. Emotions, memories and aroma are linked.  Our sense of smell is directly connected to, and influences our nervous system



Aromatherapy oils themselves can bring about changes in emotional behaviour on a subtle level by creating changes in moods on a subliminal level.  Scent can also distract us from our emotions by shifting our focus of attention, or simply by inducing positive memories and emotions related to the scent.  By using aromatherapy to help balance emotional states, we in turn affect our mental and physical states, enhancing our life, attitudes, relationships and sexuality.

Aromatherapy functions on a psychobiological level, affecting both the mental and the physical simultaneously.  Aromatherapy oils offer these effects without impairing a person’s thought processes and bodily functions, or causing detrimental side effects as opposed to pharmaceutical psychological drugs. (Oils have to be used in appropriate doses.) Therefore, aromatherapy as a treatment for emotional states is highly valuable and highly effective.


Through our sense of smell we can influence our moods and emotions. Inhalation of aromatherapy oils has primarily psychological effects.

 Essential oil molecules reach the olfactory system via the nose.

This affects the limbic system.  The limbic system is a primitive part of the brain concerned with basic emotions, mood and memories.  The components of the limbic system govern emotional states, behavioural drives and help to store and retrieve memories.  Stimulation of the components of the limbic system by aromatherapy brings about aroma’s ability to affect conscious thought and reaction.  It is the link between the cerebral cortex and the unconscious functions of the brain system.  The limbic system is especially susceptible to the effects of aroma, and through it, it is possible to influence a person’s attitude, mood and disposition by introducing them to certain scents.  The stimulation of the limbic system by the aroma molecules also causes reactions in both the nervous system and the endocrine (hormonal) system.  The hypothalamus and pituitary glands are stimulated, influencing hormones, stress levels, sexual arousal, body temperature, digestion, insulin production, appetite, thirst and repulsion.  Stimulation of the hormonal system affects the nervous system, balancing the two halves of the autonomic nervous system, the parasympathetic and the sympathetic.  Therefore hormones in the body can balance emotions and physical states bought on by negative emotional states.

Using the oils to change your moods is a wonderful way in helping you cope with the day-to-day, ups-and-downs of life.  But perhaps you have been caught in a cycle of negative dysfunctional emotions, which has progressed into a physical and mental condition that has a whole set of ailments attached to it, and you may not even be aware that your physical condition is a result of your emotional state.

   There are several physical conditions we can link directly to excessive demands on emotional resources, emotional difficulties or dysfunctional emotional responses.  These conditions are; stress, depression, debility, headaches and migraines, anxiety, insomnia, abdominal pain, stomach complaints and diarrhoea, and sexual problems

Stress in itself is directly caused by demands on emotional resources.  Unresolved issues or demands which are built up over time cause stress. Stress causes hormonal changes in the body, basically asking your adrenal glands to produce adrenaline as a reaction to the stress you are experiencing.  The adrenaline release is part of the body’s fight or flight response.  The fight or flight response causes physical changes in the body such as increased heart rate, increased blood supply to the muscles, increased respiration and an increase in blood sugars.  In the case of stress, over time this increased adrenaline in the body weakens the immune system, making it more susceptible to all kinds of diseases.  Stress which is ongoing can result in a wide range of physical and psychological conditions such as; headaches, migraines, lethargy, digestive complaints, depression, debility, insomnia, tension, heart palpitations, irritability, chronic fatigue, skin conditions, eating disorders, reduced concentration, stomach ulcers, heart failure, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, cardiovascular disease, weight gain or loss, addictions, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, respiratory or lung disease, hyper tension (high blood pressure), nervous anxiety, anxiety and sexual problems such as ; frigidity, infertility and impotence.  It is estimated that in between half and two thirds of illnesses, stress is a main contributing factor.

Essential oils that are of particular benefit in the treatment of stress are; lavender, jasmine, chamomile, rose, valerian, neroli, bergamot, Melissa, clary sage, marjoram and frankincense.

Aromatherapy Oils helpful in lowering high blood pressure are; lavender, jasmine, ylang ylang, marjoram, neroli, valerian, chamomile, clary sage, vetiver, bergamot and vetiver.

Aromatherapy Oils useful in treating heart palpitations are; ylang ylang, neroli, clary sage, lavender, rose, melissa, valerian and chamomile.

Essential oils useful in the treatment of anxiety are; bergamot, chamomile, neroli, ylang ylang, melissa, frankincense, cedarwood, lavender, valerian, vetiver and rose.

Mild depression which may have arisen due to difficulties in life, fears, grief and loss responds well to treatment with aromatherapy oils of; rose, jasmine, basil, clary sage, lavender, neroli, bergamot, melissa and sandalwood.

Essential oils useful for the treatment of debility are fortifying oils like; rosemary, black pepper and pine

A five minute foot bath with hot water and oils of rosemary, chamomile, melissa or lavender can be used as a preventative measure for headaches and migraines, as can a regular aromatherapy massage. The oils most often recommended for treatment of stress and tension related headaches and migraines are; rose, marjoram, melissa, lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus and chamomile.

Aromatherapy oils useful in the treatment of insomnia are; lavender, ylang ylang, chamomile, clary sage, valerian, neroli, sandalwood and vetiver.

Aromatherapy oils which assist in relieving constipation by stimulating the digestive system are; ginger, black pepper, cinnamon leaf, rosemary and cardamom.

Aromatherapy oils which assist in relieving abdominal pain caused by Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Diarrhoea are; geranium, chamomile, lavender, melissa, neroli, petitgrain, peppermint, thyme, tea tree, ginger and cinnamon leaf.

Aromatherapy oils which help relieve indigestion are; palma rosa, chamomile, lavender, valerian, black pepper, angelica root, petitgrain, fennel, cardamom, lemongrass, clary sage, melissa, rose and marjoram.

Essential Oils that have Aphrodisiac Properties and help to relax and build confidence are; sandalwood, patchouli, ylang ylang, jasmine, black pepper, cardamom, and clary sage

Essential Oils which help to regulate and balance hormones are; fennel, geranium, lavender, clary sage and rose.

Essential oils with antispasmodic effects to help relieve menstrual cramps; clary sage, lavender, ginger, chamomile, peppermint, valerian, marjoram

Essential oils with astringent properties to help ease and reduce excessive menstrual flow are; cypress and yarrow

HolyOake. (No date). Living with Emotions: Topic and information worksheet. [Brochure] Perth, Western Australia: Karen Muller.

(2000) Anatomica: The Complete Home Medical Reference. Australia: Global Book Publishing Pty Ltd.

Lawless, Julia. (1997). The Complete Illustrated Guide toAromatherapy. Great Britain: Element Books.

Nolen-Hoeksema, Dr Susan. (2003). Women who think too much. United Kingdom: Piatkus Books.

Thompson, Kylie. (2005). Aromatherapy For The Emotions. United        States: Lulu Press, Ingram Books.


2006, Kylie Thompson

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This site is run and maintained by Kylie Thompson 2005
Last updated- 20 September 2007