For centuries people have been using essential oils (natural substances extracted from plants and seeds), to heal the mind and body. The positive effect essential oils can have on us is amazing, and people with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) often find that aromatherapy can help them to manage their symptoms. A question you might have is “How could essential oils possibly help with PTSD?” Essential oils directly impact the brain’s limbic system. The limbic system is where the Amygdala is stored. This is the region of the brain that activates our fight and flight response. When people have been traumatized this is the region of the brain that is the most affected. Essential oils are a catalyst for healing from the perspective of mind-body energetics.
After a traumatic experience, it’s common for the mind and body to be in a state of shock causing a feeling of emotional disharmony. Processing the experience and resulting emotions with a trauma treatment such as EMDR therapy can help clear the shock and reduce or eliminate mental, physical and emotional symptoms often associated with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Essential oils can be used to support the healing process and support self-healing. Special blends of oils as well as applying oils to specific points (acupoints) on the body help to calm the nervous system and to harmonize your Qi (energy or life force of the body) and Shen (cognitive and emotional life). In writing this blog I was lucky to be able to learn more about essential oils from our very own Acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine practioner, Megan Burns, L.Ac, MAOM, Rh AHG at Vancouver Wellness Studio. She shared that, “Blending oils is full of possibilities and can be done very specific to each person.”
*Before starting with essential oils please consult with your Physician, Naturopath or Chinese Medicine practioner to ensure that essential oils are right for you.
PTSD symptoms include:
- Increased anxiety or fear
- Sympathetic Dominance (including physical reactions like pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension)
- Insomnia or Nightmares
- Feelings of depression, sadness or helplessness
- Feeling emotionally numb, alienated and alone, detached or emotionally disconnected from others
- Anger or irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Physical aches and pains
Here are the most widely used essential oils for PTSD:
- Lavender “Can be used for shock in the moment and fight or flight following the trauma event,” shared Megan Burns.
- Bergamot has been used to relieve anxiety and fear while also having a pleasing scent.
- Mandarin is used to calm the mind, relax the body, and induce sleepiness, Mandarin has been proven in modern studies of its efficacy, mandarin oil aromatherapy has been found to possess sedative and anti-anxiety properties.
- Rose oil is the second most popular essential oil used to treat anxiety and depression. It has been credited for treating grief, panic attacks, shock and more.
- Chamomile is used to treat anxiety, worry, irritability, depression and increase one’s feelings of peace and contentment. A 2012 study supports its anti-depressive and anti-anxiety qualities. In addition to the oil being used as an inhalant, it has also been a highly recommended ingredient in lotions, tea, candles, room fresheners and other popular retail products.
- Ylang- Ylang and Clary Sage helps to soothe anger and rage by creating a sedating and an antidepressant response.
- Frankincense and Sandalwood are all also known to improve a variety of PTSD symptoms.
- Vetiver “Is an excellent essential oil for grounding and calming,” says Megan Burns. She goes on to say, “It can be applied to the bottom of the foot in the indent where the pads meet or inner wrist.”
Essential oils are easily administered in several ways, including the following:
- Applied topically to the skin and specific areas, such as the heart, during an anxiety attack, inside the wrist or behind the ears. When applying to large portions of the skin, Megan Burns stated, ”It is recommended to dilute oils when using on the skin especially in larger areas to avoid irritation.”
- Poured into a bath (be sure to emulsifying the oil in salt or oil),
- Diffused throughout a room with a diffuser,
- Massaged into the back and spine region (may use the raindrop technique to apply).
Use essential oils to target the symptoms that you are experiencing:
- Calm the body– To help calm the body’s stress response and trigger the “rest and digest” parasympathetic state applying a dab of essential oils to the base of the skull, over the heart and inside of the wrists and behind the ears.
- Release emotions– To help move emotions through apply it to the pinky toe or the outside of the foot from the ankle to the toe.
- Reduce cortisol– Adrenal glands release the stress hormone cortisol and epinephrine. To help the body return to balance and calm the release of stress hormones, apply essential oils over the adrenal glands (back of the body, one fist up from the bottom rib).
- Improve sleep-Exaggerated startle response can affect our Circadian Rhythm and our sleep. This can leave us “tired and wired.” To help with sleep apply essential oils to the top of the head, back of the skull and above the ears on the skin.
- Reduce fear and increases a feeling of safety- In Chinese medicine, the kidneys are considered the seat of courage and willpower. To help release fear and promote feelings of safety, strength and courage apply essential oils to the kidney area.
- Clear emotional shock and trauma– Use Arnica and flower essences which are a Homeopathic remedy.
You can be creative and blend essential oils specifically for your needs. A blend our acupuncturist, Megan Burns, really likes is, “Blue Chamomile, Sandlewood and Pine.” She goes on to say, “It can be made into a one ounce blend or added to points.”
Here are a few additional blends to try for PTSD symptoms:
Jeanne Rose’s article Aromatherapy:
9 drops Rose
5 drops Spinkenard
2 drops Lemon
1 oz. carrier oil
3 drops Rose
4 drops Spikenard
3 drops Helichrysum
1 oz. carrier oil
Fearfulness and Withdrawal from Life
3 drops Rose Geranium
3 drops Spikenard
4 drops Lavender
1 oz. carrier oil
Valerie Ann Wormwood, in her book The Fragrant Mind, suggests the following blend of essential oils to address panic attacks:
Panic Attack Calming Blend
10 drops Lavender
5 drops Frankincense
10 drops Helichrysum
5 drops Marjoram
1 oz. carrier oil
As a trauma therapist specializing in working with clients with PTSD, I offer a variety of essential oils in my office. My favorite brand is Snow Lotus. Some clients find that essential oils are helpful to use before starting a session to help ground them and bring them into the present moment so that we can begin our work together. Clients also find them helpful to use during the session if they begin to feel overwhelmed or disconnected from themselves when talking about distressing experiences. They may also be used at the end of a session for grounding and increasing, peaceful or energetic feelings. For grounding clients will put a few drops of essential oils onto the palms of their hands, rub their palms together, cup their mouth and breathe in several times while allowing themselves to feel the floor under their feet, and the sofa cushion beneath them. They may even bring up a visual of a calm/peaceful place while breathing in the essential oils. These techniques help to ground, calm and soothe the nervous system in session but can also be used at home for the same effect.