PTSD Awareness Month may be over, but for those who love a wounded warrior, every month is awareness month. While I don’t let my husband’s combat injuries define him, they are still a reality. We have come a long way since pre-diagnosis struggles, but there is always room for improvement.
What is PTSD? Clinically-speaking, it is a condition that must meet certain criteria according to the American Psychiatric Association. But for families whose lives have been changed by combat, PTSD goes far deeper than these sterile descriptions. They know the ins and outs of the condition even before they understand the why. They know the triggers and might even be experts in walking on eggshells. But once the diagnosis is received, it finally opens the door that leads to healing.
Typical treatments for PTSD are prescription medications and psychotherapy. However, some people do not like to take prescriptions for various reasons, one of them being the negative side effects. While I am not suggesting that anyone stop or refuse taking prescribed meds, I am a firm believer in supplementing with natural treatments. Some individuals may be able to stop taking medications as well, but this should be done only under the supervision of one’s doctor.
Alternative treatments include yoga, meditation, music therapy, acupuncture, and therapy dogs. I was aware of these from the outset of my research, but another natural therapy I discovered last year was essential oils. I became so passionate about this natural solution that I have begun teaching classes on why they work and how to use them. I am also in the process of designing a class specifically for wounded warriors and caregivers.
THE ROLE OF OILS IN PTSD TREATMENT
One of the most powerful things about essential oils is the way they affect the brain and emotions. The olfactory system (sense of smell) has five million sensor receptor cells. A person can recall a memory triggered by smell in just milliseconds! The olfactory system is connected directly to the amygdala, which is part of the limbic brain system. Smell is the only sense that is connected to the limbic brain, which is also called the “seat of survival,” or the animal brain. This is also where emotions are stored. Symptoms such as overreaction, hyperarousal, and loss of fear stem from the amygdala being damaged. Essential oils act like “messenger molecules,” speaking to the limbic system in a powerful way and helping it regain balance.
Are you wondering what essential oils would be helpful for wounded warriors? I have listed some oils below that are generally effective for managing post-combat issues:
Cedarwood and Sandalwood – These essential oils are similar, which is why I grouped them together. They both contain sesquiterpenes, although sandalwood contains a much higher percentage than cedarwood (up to 80%). Sesquiterpenes stimulate the pineal gland, which produces melatonin in the body. They both work as a natural sleep aid when inhaled and applied topically.
Citrus oils – These include bergamot, lemon, lime, and wild orange. These essential oils uplift the mood and emotions, and they help calm the limbic system in the event of a panic attack or anger. Aromatherapists have called bergamot the oil of self-acceptance or self-love. Citrus oils are also cleansing to the body and aid in gentle detoxification when drinking them in water. (Please note: when using them internally, make sure they are 100% pure, therapeutic grade, designed for internal use.)
Frankincense – This powerful oil, used often in ancient times, is extremely supportive to the brain. It has anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory properties and is high in monoterpenes, which help reprogram DNA. It assists the mind with focusing and concentration, and it supports the body’s immune system.
Lavender – This is a popular essential oil and a gentle one that can be used topically, aromatically, and internally. It helps calm anxiety, aids with sleeping, and also is a natural antihistamine.
Melissa – Also known as lemon balm, this oil has anti-depressant and mood-lifting properties. Historically, it has been used for nervous disorders and emotional issues. In 1653, Nicolas Culpeper wrote that “it causeth the mind and heart to become merry…and driveth away all troublesome cares and thoughts out of the mind.”
Peppermint – Many veterans with PTSD also struggle with extreme fatigue. They may be supplementing with energy drinks or caffeine pills to stay awake and be functional. However, peppermint is an excellent natural energizer, especially when used aromatically.
White Fir – This essential oil contains 75-95% monoterpenes, which help reprogram DNA and clean the receptor sites. In essence, they enable the cells to have a fresh start. Physically, white fir helps alleviate joint and muscle pain. Mentally, the monoterpenes cleanse the limbic brain of negative emotions.
These are just a few of the essential oils that can help wounded warriors achieve wellness. There are also oil blends which are scientifically formulated for specific conditions, such as muscle tension, focus and sleep issues, and emotional balance. Having a diffuser is a must because it is an easy way to distribute the essential oils within one’s environment.
The beautiful thing about essential oils is that they can be tailored to each individual. Because of our different body chemistries, certain oils may work more effectively for one person than another. Some warriors may not like the smell of certain oils, and that is okay! Unsavory oils can be used on the bottom of the feet or, if even that is bothersome, there is always another oil to try instead. The process of reintegrating and healing is unique to each soldier, and essential oils are a natural, safe way to assist in that journey.
**Sources: www.everythingessential.me, Modern Essentials, 5th Edition, Emotions & Essential Oils: A Modern Resource for Healing**