Saturday, November 09, 2019

Battle Fatigue, Shell Shock, PTSD-- Can Essential Oils Help in the Healing Process?

Lest We Forget
Even in countries like Canada with only a glancing involvement in wars, each of us knows someone in our family or friend circle who has been to war.  Many of us know people who have returned from combat situations with the devastation of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)* or during the World Wars, what was called battle fatigue, combat neurosis or shell shock.  Do the peace-promoting qualities of essential oils have a place in the healing protocol of individuals returned from wars with PTSD?

A U.S. Long-Range Patrol Team Leader in Vietnam, 1968
 By Icemanwcs - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Not everyone who serves in combat experiences PTSD.  Those who do, generally begin to have their flashbacks about three months after the traumatizing event, although they may not re-experience the trauma for several years.

The victim of PTSD generally tries to avoid anything that reminds them of the traumatic event, and avoids talking about it.  My husband grew up in a family where the parents spoke very little about their lives and relationships during World War II in Europe.  Recognizing the horrors that they probably experienced-- both as a soldier and a civilian-- it is easy to understand how they were both attempting to keep a re-play of the traumas at bay.

Intrusive thoughts, nightmares, dissociative behaviours, and 'flashbacks' create a position of over-vigilance that can very quickly become sleepless exhaustion.  Everything presents as 'danger' or menace to the tortured individual.

Typically, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation become the norm.  Fairly frequently, co-morbid substance abuse is a way of coping.  Alcohol, pain killers, and other drugs are used together to try to get the optimal blurr on the behaviours associated with the PTSD.


Locales in the brain dealing with stress and post trauma stress.  Image from Wikipedia.

Adrenaline, the kick-in-the-rear hormone to stimulate a flight to somewhere safe, generally floods the brain and body at the time of trauma.  This flight-or-fight pattern will tend to be repeated during stressful episodes, even after there is no danger of a re-traumatizing event.

The biochemical make-up of the brain and body undergo changes with PTSD.

The amygdala (shown as a little flame in the diagram above) functions around emotions, memories and hormonal release.  The amygdala apparently takes a "memory trace," or a small part of a memory, and consolidates it-- makes it a long-term memory, and in the case of PTSD, a recurring memory during flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and the like.  So, if during the traumatic experience, the individual saw something like his buddy wiped out by a bomb explosion, the many sensory aspects of those few seconds or minutes might store as separately and repeatedly significant little memories-- the smell of burning flesh, the body parts flying in the air, the screams and groans of death and mortar exploding,  his own shameful inability to do anything to save his friend, and his body's shameful incontinence as a primal expression of fear and a "lightening of the load" so that he can run faster.  All of these emotions and perceptions will be fused as a consolidated memory of the trauma events, along with a powerful dump of adrenaline.  After the event, maybe years down the line, some small "memory trace" will trigger a PTSD event.

The intrusive symptoms, numbing, and arousal symptoms are the three major areas of presentation with PTSD.  Attempting to cope 'normally' is frustrating and often results in a depression-like state of flattened affect, sleeping disturbance or sleeping too much, memory glitches, inability to concentrate, and suicide ideation.  Anxiety and guilt are amped up for survivors.  Without helpful intervention, many survivors give up and attempt suicide.  For a clear understanding of war-related PTSD and what can be done to help, see the Ted Talk "The Psychology of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder". (6 minutes)

PTSD is hell for the survivor and for their families.  Watch the PTSD 101 TedTalks (below) to get a good understanding of how war stress affects the brain, the body, and your family.  There is at least one video there for everyone.

If you prefer to read rather than watch a video, read about complete what 'war stress' entails and how to treat it with healthy ways, take a look at this .PDF document from the US Veterans Affairs.


Much of the literature details healthy lifestyle choices around eating, sleep, socialization and meeting other needs.  Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mood-modifying medications have been used to attempt to deal with the underlying trauma and restore physical and mental balance.  It would seem that CBT has a slightly better chance of helping than mood-modifying drugs.  Studies are currently looking at the combination of CBT with more effective medications.

Aromatherapy for PTSD  - image by Pixaby

In the meantime, there have been several articles about the usefulness of different essential oils -- through massage and/or diffusing-- for PTSD.  I suggest that you would benefit from reading the following articles with their professional suggestions for aromatic oils to alleviate PTSD:
  1. Organic lavender essential oil is a wonderful essential oil for PTSD because it can help to alleviate fear, anxiety, stress, panic and depression, as well as reduce nightmares and sleep disturbances. organic bergamot essential oil can relieve anxiety and fear too, and if anger and rage is a symptom you experience, you might find that organic ylang ylang essential oil and organic clary sage essential oil help. Organic frankincense essential oil, organic chamomile essential oil and organic sandalwood essential oil are all also known to improve a variety of PTSD symptoms. ---Ease the Symptoms of PTSD with Aromatherapy
  2. Organic orange essential oil might offer a non-pharmaceutical option to reduce stress and fear associated with the disorder [PTSD] suggests research carried out by scientists at George Washington University.  Medical News Today
  3. The Vancouver EMDR clicnic suggests that the following could be added to the list (above): Organic mandarin essential oil: 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.  Organic rose essential 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. And Organic vetiver essential oil “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.” Using Oils is a Creative Way to Alleviate PTSD Symptoms
All of the above essential oils should be the purest, organics you can find.  Also, please consult with your health support personnel before doing anything.  There might be significant reasons not to use particular oils (eg., conflicts with medications).


Here are some very interesting TED TALKS of value to watch if you or someone you know is struggling with war-related PTSD:

*Post-traumatic stress occurs in many situations besides combat in war: in the police and fire departments, domestic abuse, accidental loss of brain and body function, living as a refugee, being victimized through sexual assault, and so on.  This article focuses specifically on PTSD as it applies to war veterans but you will notice similarities if you have PTSD from other sources.  Please do what you need to feel safe if you are watching the Ted Talks-- excellent variety (veterans, partners, journalists, etc.) but could be triggering to some.  Watch with a friend or family member and talk about what comes up.  See your medical support person(s) if questions or problems come up.  God bless you!

**Images above that are through Pixabay : poppies;

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