Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, affects millions of Americans each year—men, women, and children alike. The numbers are sobering.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 10 percent of women who experience trauma each year will develop PTSD, compared to 4 percent of men who experience trauma. The rates for children are slightly higher, with up to 15 percent of girls who experience trauma developing PTSD and up to 6 percent of boys developing it.
It can occur after surviving or witnessing a number of traumas: combat and violence in war, sexual or physical abuse, natural disasters, car accidents, terrorist attacks, extreme neglect, torture, difficult childbirth experiences, and other serious and distressing events.
Since the 1980s, we have gradually learned much about why PTSD happens. When a person’s survival is threatened, the body physically reacts to such an event by entering a state of mind that prepares us to either fight back or flee to safety.
This reaction is called “fight or flight mode” and is actually a chain of chemical events in the adrenal gland that lead to the release of hormones such as norepinephrine and adrenalin. These hormones provide the energy and strength required to get through a traumatic event. Once the event has passed, hormone levels return to normal, and the body exits this “danger mode.”
In people with PTSD, however, it appears that the brain becomes stuck in “danger mode.” The physical symptoms associated with the traumatic event persist long after the trauma has ended. Stress hormones continue to flood the blood stream. The brain even begins to function differently.
A 2012 study showed that the amygdala—the part of the brain responsible for processing fear, anxiety, and aggression—is overly active in veterans suffering from PTSD. The hippocampus—the portion of the brain that controls memory—in PTSD sufferers is also affected, actually shrinking in volume.
People with PTSD may have flashbacks of the trauma. A racing heart, excessive sweating, and even pain are all common. Bad dreams and frightening thoughts may occur and can be triggered by simply hearing a sound or seeing an object that reminds them of the trauma.
Many people with PTSD develop patterns of avoidance by actively staying away from anything, any place, and any one that reminds them of the trauma. They may also begin playing extreme mental gymnastics in order to avoid thoughts or feelings related to their trauma. Avoidance behavior can cause them to miss work or school, withdraw from social gatherings, and feel increasingly isolated and irritable.
They are easily startled, always on edge, have difficulty sleeping, and may have angry outbursts without provocation. Guilt, blame, and negativity tend to pervade their moods. As such, people with PTSD are also more prone to developing depression or panic disorders, experiencing suicidal ideation, and abusing drugs or alcohol.
Typically, the symptoms outlined above begin within three months of experiencing the trauma and can continue for years—and intensify—if not treated. Fortunately, psychotherapy with a mental health professional who understands PTSD and is trained in trauma recovery methods can be extremely helpful.
Seeking professional help for PTSD, however, can be excruciatingly difficult for the person who suffers from it—especially the person who wishes to avoid any association with the original trauma. On a recent edition of the Emotions Mentor podcast, Danielle Daniel (LCSW) and I spoke about bridging the gap that exists between suffering from PTSD and receiving treatment.
Among the most effective “bridges” is a supportive family member or friend who can encourage the person with PTSD to meet with a therapist—and even make appointments if needed. A number of self-care exercises can help the person focus on the present and get in the right frame of mind to take ask for help. Self-care can include yoga, meditation, physical activity, journaling, and, as Danielle explains in the podcast, “anchoring” yourself to an object in the presence.
In addition, there is evidence that essential oils can help people who suffer from PTSD to cope with their symptoms productively and move in to that space where they are no longer afraid—or in avoidance mode—and can take the steps needed to obtain help from licensed professionals.
In 2017, researchers from George Washington University presented findings at the American Physiological Society’s annual conference that showed how orange essential oil reduced markers of stress and fear in mice. These researchers posited that orange oil could relieve similar symptoms in those who suffer from PTSD. A 2018 study out of Korea found that curcumin—a primary compound in turmeric essential oil—may also reduce anxiety levels in PTSD sufferers.
Essential Oil Tip
Fill a veggie cap with 2 drops wild orange, 2 drops turmeric, and 1 drop cardamom. Use only pure oils that are safe for internal use, such as doTerra essential oils. Take 1 veggie cap twice a day.
Alternatively, use the same combination of oils with a ¼ cup fractionated coconut oil to create a massage oil you can use nightly on the bottoms of your feet, your abdomen, or the back of your neck.
To make a calming oil blend you can pull out as needed, add 3 drops wild orange, 2 drops bergamot, and 1 drop Roman chamomile to a 10 mL roller bottle and top off with fractionated coconut oil. Roll over your wrists and inhale as needed.
If you suffer from PTSD and are experiencing suicidal ideation, please call the National Suicide Prevention Line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: 1-800-273-8255
2 drops in a veggie capsule twice a day
add 1 drop of cardamom
Something to anchor you to the present—an object that they can touch and is meaningful to them. I am here, I am present, I am safe.