Fear is Natural
Essential oils, hydrosols and herbs can help fearful dogs, cats, horses and their people. But the key to alleviating fear is to understand its natural place in the universe, and to stop being afraid of it.
We humans have a strange relationship with this particular emotional energy, which can complicate our ability to help our animals when they show fear. We tend to think fear is a bad thing. Something to be overcome, controlled, avoided. We manage our lives in order to keep fear to a minimum if possible. But why?
Fear is the most important emotional energy, the root of all others. It is what keeps us alive. Fear, when allowed to do its job, helps us to be focussed, take right action, and motivates us to move forward. A healthy, relaxed person or animal deals with something scary and leaves it behind. In the process they learn how to stay safe, and gain confidence in their own problem-solving abilities.
In Chinese medicine Fear is the emotion of the Water element. The element that is all about survival. Water element personality types often have a very healthy relationship with fear, reacting quickly to avoid danger, but not over-reacting or spooking at shadows. They have a certain alertness, and a sense of how to avoid danger when possible. This is appropriate use of the emotional energy. When Water is out of balance, you will see excessive fear, often accompanied by aggression as they feel they must fight for their survival. Or a complete lack of fear.
3 Categories of Fear
There are 3 categories of fear that I am often asked to help people with:
- Natural behaviour that is troublesome to humans, that we would like our animals to suppress (shying, fear of strangers) because it doesn’t match our expectations, or it makes the human fearful
- Fear that arises because an animal is not allowed to express natural behaviours that alleviate fear. These are then replaced with a behaviour that is anti-social in a domestic environment. A typical example would be dogs who bark or lunge at other dogs when being walked on a leash, because they can’t avoid or properly greet the other dog.
- Fear arising from trauma, or an overloaded nervous system.
The good news is that the first 2 types of fear are easy to resolve simply by offering aromatics, helping the human understand what is happening, and a little positive training for the animal. In fact, changing the guardian’s perception can often cause the problem to disappear.
Many times humans have unreasonable expectations of our animals and ignore their species and breed specific hard-wiring. We demand that they walk calmly down the street where other dogs, humans, bicycles, cars etc are moving around. We ask them to leave their herd and not display fear when faced with unusual, and naturally scary, obstacles or situations. We are surprised that cats who have never been exposed to humans don’t want to socialise.
Once we understand the natural behaviour of a species we can see that these are understandable responses to domestic situations, and we can find ways to help our animals live more comfortably among us. That’s why understanding natural behaviour is one of the pillars of the Animal PsychAromatica system.
Fear becomes harder to shift when there is an associative learning with a scary situation that was traumatic. Meaning it became ‘engraved’ in the nervous system. Such as a dog who becomes scared of all loud noises after being at a children’s party with bursting balloons. The more the nervous system is under stress on a daily basis, the more likely it is that a single scary event will cause trauma, hence understanding stress and how it affects our animals is an important tool for all animal carers. Once the nervous system is primed by trauma it can take more time to help the animal relax again. Essential oils can be a useful part of re-setting the nervous system, but gentle exposure and re-learning is usually needed as well.
How you can help your fearful animal
The first responsibility we have is to understand the animals who share our lives, and then respect their individual fears and suspicions. Some characters and breeds are going to be more prone to fear and we must teach them how to investigate scary situations and be there to protect them when they feel scared. We also need to understand the subtle language that goes on between animals in social situations and not stop the conversation that is reducing fear.
It’s also important to acknowledge how your body language and behaviour can cause an animal to feel more fearful. If you are feeling scared it is difficult to convince your animals they don’t have to be.
In that situation it’s better to say, yes I’m scared too, how shall we deal with this together? Once you acknowledge your own fear your body language will automatically relax, perhaps that will be enough to allow you to continue. But walking away quietly is always an option. Learning to take a detour is just as valuable as learning to battle your way through. And much less likely to end in harm, either physical or psychological.
Sometimes we misread the emotional energy that our animals display. “My dog is scared of other dogs”, you say. But is it fear? Or conversation? Or a desperate call for help? Is it her fear, or yours? If it is fear, what can you do to help her with it? Make sure you are not forcing her every day into a situation where her adrenal system is at peak. Give her time to recover before facing the situation again (it takes 48 hours for the system to normalise). It is impossible for anyone to learn when the flight/fight mechanism is activated, because the cognitive part of the brain is turned off.
For your animal to learn you must wait at the edge of the fear barrier and let him choose the moment to step through it, or not. If not, leave it for today, try again tomorrow. Offer essential oil until the relaxation response kicks in, right there on the fear boundary, then walk away. But you certainly can’t expect an animal who is dragged kicking and growling through his fears to overcome them. You are just teaching them how to kick and growl.
How to Use Essential oils for fearful animals
Working with animals, fear and aromatics, I use the same approach as always. I look at the whole story, check if there’s any pain (animals in pain are often more fearful) and make a shortlist of essential oils and hydrosols that will address all of the issues I see (see my books or courses for more on how to build a shortlist). I will offer up to 5 aromatics at a time to see which ones they select. After the initial selection, dilute each selected oil separately in a carrier oil and offer to the animal to interact with as they choose. If I am using hydrosols, they go in a bowl, diluted or undiluted depending on the species.
In the first instance, offer the oils in a neutral emotional state. Balance the body and nervous system in a relaxed, familiar environment. Once the interest in the aromatics reduces, usually after a few days, you can start to expose them again to their fears. At this stage you can take the essential oils with you and offer them as soon as the fear mechanism kicks in, or before if you can anticipate it. Don’t expect to have too much engagement with the aromatics once adrenalin flows, but just waving them near their nose will allow the molecules to reach the brain. This will help them to stay within the zone where they can still learn.
My 5 Top Essential oils for Fear
This list is far from exhaustive, there are so many contributing factors once an animal expresses fear strongly. This selection of 5 oils are ones that top my “ Fear” list. Most of them are Water/Metal element. Water houses the emotion of Fear, Metal feeds Water and rules the Lungs, one deep breath is all it needs to start to unlock fear. Remember that, when working with fearful animals, or if you are afraid. One deep breath.
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii/sacra), this is always on my list when working with a fearful animal. It deepens breathing, to ‘distance the mind from worries and fears’. It is especially good for fear of known things, such as fireworks or thunderstorms.
Cedarwood (Cedrus Atlantica), This tall tree is deeply rooted and ‘holds you steady’ when things seem unstable. It is good for animals who literally tremble, are timid, with general lack of courage, it supports lungs and kidneys. Often selected after moving home. Water/Metal
Thyme (Thymus officinalis), I call it the brave oil, reputedly Roman Soldiers drank thyme tea before battle. It strengthens the sense of “can do” as it is warming, yang, and invigorating, Metal/Water
Angelica Root (Angelica Archangelica) this has a protective energy and is particularly good for fears born of trauma in early childhood. It resets the nervous system and is powerful healer, very little is needed so dilute well. It’s also useful when ongoing fear as caused an animal to shut down Water/Metal
Cistus (Cistus ladaniferus) this ancient aromatic ally is for those animals who are generally fearful with a high startle response, often they are carrying generational trauma and give a feeling they need to “come in from the wild”. Once they take that one deep breath they transform. Metal
If you have any questions or comments on this blog, please leave them below. I am always happy to engage in further conversation. If you would like to learn more about how Animal PsychAromatica can help you and your animals, our online courses are here for you