Essential oils for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

We’ve not really experienced a cultural ‘trauma’ like Covid since wartime, and I say this, because for some people, this weird year of pandemic has been such a traumatic time that it has induced post-traumatic stress disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying, distressing or stressful event. Symptoms can disrupt daily life and may include flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, severe anxiety and depression, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. When we think about the terminology we have used during the pandemic – ‘those on the frontline’, how it has been a ‘war’ against the virus – coupled with the restrictions on our daily life, it is understandable that the pandemic really can have felt to have been a disturbance of suffering.

PTSD in these circumstances is common in survivors - the people who have closely witnessed the effects of COVID-19, those who have suffered traumatic illness or treatment such as respiratory failure and intubation, those who have lost loved-ones, medical professionals who’ve had to make tough decisions and watch patients die alone, those who have suffered increased domestic abuse and been unable to escape, and even people who have experienced extreme fear of infection – including little kids washing their hands and being scared of germs. Public health messaging and media coverage has, to an extent, further encouraged this trauma - I remember my own shock at the Government advert which included the line; “If you go out, you can spread it. People will die.” and can’t begin to imagine its impact on children.

There’s also been so much other collective trauma this last year – the Black Lives Matter movement highlighted so much more of our cultural ignorance – allowing more trauma that has been hidden to bubble up to the surface, be illuminated and create an invitation into healing. It has been a period of some heavy psychological and emotional challenges.

And so, as we start to ease ourselves out of lockdown, we thought it would be helpful to focus on how we can heal the collective PTSD that has risen up in recent times, because if we choose into healing ourselves it helps the wider society too. Try following our 5-step plan below.

Step 1 - Soothing our nervous system

The first thing we have to do to heal ourselves is really soothe our nervous system. 2020 was too much, wasn’t it? If you’re feeling traumatised, then it’s likely you’re in fight, flight or freeze – survival mode. The very first thing you need to do is re-establish connection to your nervous system, and allow it to settle down, allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and the sympathetic nervous system to relax.   

I remember when I worked with the survivors of Grenfell, the very first thing required after trauma is to re-establish trust and safety. We actually have everything we need built in to protect us psychologically – and that’s why our survival instincts cleverly kick in to protect us – but, when we are out of the trauma, we don’t want to stay trapped there; we need to return back to ourselves at some point, and soothing our nervous system is the way there.

So, the very first step – for the first week of healing is to choose essential oils that are calming, restorative, and soothing – helping you to slow back down. For this first step, spend a week using the following oils and blends to calm your nervous system:

Recommended essential oils:

Bergamot, Lavender, Chamomile, Geranium, Mandarin, Sweet Marjoram, Vetivert, Valerian. 

Blend and ritual:

  • Diffuse 3 drops Bergamot, 2 drops Chamomile and 2 drops Valerian for 15 minutes, morning, noon and night.
  • During this time, sit still and do some deep breathing; inhale for 4, exhale for 8. 
  • If you experience any difficult symptoms, such as flash backs, distress, move immediately to Step 2 below - as this will help you move through these.

Step 2 - Moving trauma through our bodies 

“Most of us have become separated from our natural, instinctual selves – in particular, the part of us that can proudly, not disparagingly, be called animal.” (Peter Levine)

As part of soothing our nervous system – our issues get stored in our tissues (according to yogi Bernie Clark), and these can need a gentle move through.

Peter Levine wrote about how we can heal trauma by going back to the wild and allowing our bodies to tremor like animals instinctively do when they are captured. In modern society, we are conditioned out of shaking our trauma away and spend most of our lives sedentary or at desks – especially since we’ve been staying at home. So, as weird as it might sound, we don’t shake the trauma from our tissues. Trauma can bounce us out of our bodies – and so to heal ourselves, we need to move our bodies to reconnect with the soft animal of them. 

A month or two ago I wrote about some movement practices to get us into our bodies, and these would be ideal to practice now. You'll also find some grounding oils and rituals below for this step.

Recommended essential oils:

Myrrh, Frankincense, Sandalwood, Clary Sage, Rosewood, Patchouli, Cedarwood.

Blends and ritual:

  • Create a massage blend of 2 drops Cedarwood, 2 drops Patchouli and 2 drops Rosewood in 10ml Grapeseed oil and 5ml Castor oil and have it near you for this ritual. Castor Oil is included as it is an oil which has a spiritual essence of ‘letting go’.
  • Diffuse 3 drops Sandalwood and 3 drops Myrrh for 15 minutes during this ritual.
  • Firstly, begin by gently massaging - from your toes to your head - each part of your body, welcoming yourself back to it – say “this is my foot, this is my leg, this is my knee, etc” as you massage the oil in a direction towards the heart.
  • When you’ve done that, get up, put a happy song on, and dance or move – slowly or fast, listening to and following what your body calls you to do. Feel free to make sounds of release as needed.
  • Repeat daily as needed – go gently and build up to more vigorous movement, and if something arises, be sure to sit and let yourself feel it; you were built to hold it. Step 3 will help with this.

Step 3 - Understanding our power

When we are back in our bodies, we can begin to negotiate the trauma from a place of presence. We need this next ritual to see that we are more powerful than our pain.

Our pain cannot control us; we are magical stardust. So, whilst we can really need to do some processing work as in Steps 1 and 2, we will come to see that as we begin to listen into our intuition – our body’s wise wisdom – we actually have the answers within us. Somewhere within us knows that we are powerful, and we can rise again.  Can we begin to notice it, can we begin to see what has triggered us, and can we begin to see our power? 

At this point, we need empowering essential oils and a ritual to help us see deeper:

Recommended essential oils:

Lemongrass, Lemon, Geranium, Melissa, Neroli, Lime, Yuzu, Rosemary.

Blend and ritual:

  • Create a blend using 3 drops Lemongrass, 2 drops Geranium and 2 drops Rosemary, and diffuse during for this process.
  • Hold a Warrior pose – stand tall with your feet hip width apart, place one foot back and keep the leg straight with the toes turned out to 45 degrees. Place the other foot forward so it is bent 90 degrees at the knee, with the foot aligned directly under the knee. Take your arms up in the air, keeping your shoulders pressed down, and stand tall as you breathe for a few minutes before swapping the legs over. Repeat: “I am a Warrior.”
  • You’re now ready to sit and grab a pen and paper and journal to enquire: “I am now safe, what am I scared of?”  Write about what surfaces. If you feel traumatised, return to Step 2’s movement practice.

Step 4 - Releasing our emotions

When you feel you’ve exhausted Step 3 and you know what is triggering you and feeling scary, it’s time to release this and let it go with a beautiful release ritual. As we choose into letting go what has traumatises us, it is a powerful step.  We are the powerful creators of our lives and releasing what no longer serves us is a powerful practice we could all do with after the pandemic.

Essential oils that help with this step are below, along with a ritual for release.

Recommended essential oils:

Rose, Ylang Ylang, Juniperberry, Fennel, Lime, Clove, Patchouli, Basil, Cypress.

Blend and ritual:

  • For this ritual, diffuse a blend of 3 drops Rose, 2 drops Cypress and 1 drops Ylang Ylang.
  • Get comfortable somewhere safe where you will not be interrupted and write two letters – allowing all the tears – one to whatever has traumatised you, forgiving it, and another to yourself, forgiving yourself for not leaning into trust. Write about how you are willing to let go of this trauma now. Then, when you are ready, burn both letters. This is a powerful ritual for letting go and releasing our emotions.

Step 5 - Liberating our health fears

Finally, there is often a lot of fear that comes up in response to trauma. There are things we will have avoided doing in order to stay safe – for example, not going out at all if we have extreme health fear, not going to work if we have difficult choices to make or avoiding speaking to family and friends (even online). There’s only one way to liberate ourselves from this, and it is doing the things we seek to avoid. Anything which we avoid is holding us in fear, and we need to liberate ourselves to be free.

So, for this ritual, we will need a lot of courage, and we may even need to revisit some of the other steps a few times before we get to this – so don’t beat yourself up; the fact you are trying says everything about your resilience. There’s no rush to this step – take your time. Covid has been a tough, traumatising period in our lives.

When you’re ready, here are the oils that will support you in liberating any fears.

Recommended essential oils:

Rose Geranium, Lemon, Sweet Orange, Bergamot, Peppermint, Rosemary, Rosewood.

Blend and ritual:

  • Create a Liberation Spritz by mixing 15 drops Rose Geranium, 10 drops Lemon, and 5 drops Bergamot in 100ml Orange Flower Hydrolat in a spray bottle.
  • Choose into something that you fear that keeps you shackled in some way you long not to be.
  • Every time you feel the fear, spritz yourself with the Liberation Spritz, carrying it with you at all times.
  • One day, choose into doing that very thing that liberates you and reflect on how it feels.
  • If you’re not quite ready, go back and repeat the process from Step 1 until you are.

Of course, throughout these rituals, if you are drawn to other oils, please use those – we are in the process of you learning to trust your body; and that involves following your nose. Keep the blend ratios the same and you’ll be fine to substitute in your favourite oils.

And, overall, healing takes time. You’re not ‘wrong’ for feeling how you feel if you’re suffering post-traumatic stress disorder – or even a mild form of anxiety or depression – from Covid and the collective trauma of last year in general. The most important takeaway is that you are normal – it’s a normal response that the body has to fear that is ongoing and relentless. This process, and essential oils can support you back to balance – but it’s a process which may take time. Go gently on yourself. 

Nicole Barton
Consultant Aromatherapist

Disclaimer & Safety Advice

Read other articles by Nicole Barton

Write a comment

Please login or register to comment