Rest and Digest versus Fight or Flight

  • 2 November 2020
  • Joanna Rusling

Rest and Digest versus Fight or Flight


Chronic stress is the underlying cause of all chronic illness, and chronic illness begins when our organ systems struggle to reset, restore, rejuvenate and refresh at the cellular level. 

Although symptoms often occur in one organ system, over time our entire body can become affected and symptoms can increase in severity.

Our modern-day lifestyles might seem very different to what humans experienced thousands of years ago, however, our senses and data input capabilities remain very much the same. 

When our nervous systems perceive we are under threat, our bodies are placed in a sympathetic dominant state. This is known as fight,  flight &/or freeze mode.

Parasympathetic versus sympathetic nervous system

Human Nervous System Medical Vector Illustration Diagram With Parasympathetic And Sympathetic Nerves And Connected Inner Organs. Stock Vector - Illustration of graphic, connection: 111705525

When we enter flight or freeze mode our ability to rest and digest is shutdown. We struggle to get good quality sleep and uptake essential nutrients during the process of digestion.  If this state is prolonged over an extended period of time, our weight increases and we hold onto weight around our midsection to protect our vital organs. 

There are several symptoms connected to the state of “fight or flight” and frighteningly most of them are dismissed as part of ‘getting older’ or as just being ‘part of life these days’. 

  • Perhaps you need to wake and pee during the night? 
  • Do you struggle to have a sex drive and/or fall pregnant? 
  • Are you hungrier than normal? And putting on weight?

Stress can cause increased glucose levels which stimulates insulin and causes us to have an increased appetite. Increased appetite or ‘overeating’ can cause indigestion which creates acid reflux and GERD, or high blood pressure, or even a heart attack.

Yikes! It sounds like a large percentage of the population over the age of 40!

If we have any hope of living a long and healthy life we need to learn how to "flip the switch". One of the ways we can do this and change our habits around taking care of ourselves is via our sense of smell. 

What is a 'sense of smell'?

Our smell (olfactory) receptors are directly hard wired to our brain to be perceived, interpreted and processed via our memories. Here, our brain cross-checks against past experiences and helps to protect us from potential threats such as rotten food, predators, fire etc. This is also how we make positive associations such as the ripeness of fruit, the scent of a rose, or signalling our attraction to a mate.

Our survival has directly depended upon our sense of smell.  As the saying goes “The nose knows, you know!” Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

Sense of smell Illustration of reception.

So having access to essential oils (distilled and collected to incorporate the whole distillate of the highest purity possible) opens up a whole new world of being able to influence our olfactory system. 

We can literally change how our mind, body and energy feels and reacts using our sense of smell … how amazing is that!

One of the most powerful ways I know to influence stress and hit the "reset button" is the AromaTouch Technique. This is a body modality that involves more than one of the senses, smell and touch. Unlike massage and other bodywork modalities, the AromaTouch Technique relies on a gentle rhythmic and repetitive touch using a specific sequence of dōTERRA essential oils and blends to help the body.

You can check out the science of the essential oils included in the technique here:

A new scientific study (a clinical pilot trial published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine and Therapy) investigated the benefits of the AromaTouch® Technique.  Although a fair amount of research shows the benefits of touch and other research supports the benefits of essential oils applied topically, little research exists on the combination of the two and no prior research had investigated the benefits of the dōTERRA AromaTouch Technique specifically. The AromaTouch Technique was designed to promote homeostasis and relaxation, reduce stress and support overall well-being. In this study, the researchers really put the AromaTouch Technique to the test.

To get an idea of both the short-term and long-term benefits of the technique, the researchers evaluated the effects on the body immediately after volunteers received just one technique, and they also measured the lasting effects on the body when the technique was administered regularly for an extended period of time. 

In addition, two groups were used in the experiment. The treatment group received the AromaTouch Technique exactly as described in the protocol developed by Dr. David Hill. 

A control group was comprised of individuals who received the AromaTouch Technique with every condition the same, except that Fractionated Coconut Oil was used in place of the eight essential oils normally used in the technique.

The study concluded that the AromaTouch Technique is an excellent way to immediately reduce feelings of stress and promote relaxation. When administered regularly, it is also effective at promoting sustained results in the body over the long term. This research study provides strong evidence supporting the benefits of the AromaTouch Technique.

I feel blessed to be an AromaTouch Technique Certified Trainer and I offer introduction and certification classes regularly. Please visit my events page for more information, and if you’re keen to know more about how essential oils can contribute to your overall health and wellness, please be in touch by using the contact details at the bottom of this page.


The Science of Aroma and Touch
Wilson, D. A., Best, A. R., & Sullivan, R. M. (2004). Plasticity in the Olfactory System: Lessons for the Neurobiology of Memory. The Neuroscientist, 10(6), 513–524. 
Hertenstein M, et al. Touch communicates distinct emotions. Emotion. 2006;6(3):528-533.
Hertenstein, M. J., Keltner, D., App, B., Bulleit, B. A., & Jaskolka, A. R. (2006). Touch communicates distinct emotions. Emotion, 6(3), 528–533. 
Thompson E. and Hampton J. The effect of relationship status on communicating emotions through touch. Cognition and Emotion. 2011; 25(2):295-306.
Chatel-Goldman J, et al. Touch increases autonomic coupling between romantic partners. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 2014; 8:95.
Uvnas-Moberg, K, et al. Self-soothing behaviours with particular reference to oxytocin release induced by non-noxious sensory stimulation. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014; 5:1529.

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