The hardest thing about losing my son Max is losing the life and the assumed future that I had worked so hard to create.

Yes, that future included Max, but it also included my continued growth, success and happiness.  That was what I had always envisioned for myself.   And yet, in the blink of an eye, I was told that I could no longer have that life.  That I would never be myself again.  That 20 years out, I would still never function the way I did before.  That grief is a life sentence, especially the grief of losing a child.

I was raised to be a pleaser and to try to show up for people the way they expected me to, but I could not find a way to show for that.  To show up permanently broken, pathetic, and stuck.  I would be having a productive, happy moment and run into an acquaintance in line at the bank or the supermarket and they would look at me with those big, sad puppy dog eyes and say, “You must just feel awful all the time”, when actually I felt perfectly fine at the moment.  Or at festive occasions like birthday celebrations, they would say “I can’t believe you came.”  I’m sorry – I must have missed the memo that I was supposed to stay home in a puddle and miss all celebratory experiences going forward.

But that was how others viewed my experience.  That life needed to be all downhill from there.  That this was a trauma no one could recover from.  And they expected me to view it that way too.  But I didn’t want to.  I didn’t want to accept that I could never be the same again, never be happy again, never be me again, but had to forever forward present as a shadow of my former self.   I just couldn’t find anything in grief literature to back up that desire, until I discovered a new vocabulary word:

Post Traumatic Growth

I was of course familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but not with the potential of a positive outcome following trauma.  I quite literally burst into tears knowing there was an option to come through tragedy better and stronger.   To take the bounce.  Instead of letting tragedy knock you down and stay down, to find a way to use that momentum to bounce back up higher than before.

The term “Post Traumatic Growth” was coined by Martin Seligman in 1998 and is defined as a positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event.

Some examples of post traumatic growth include:

  • A sense that new opportunities have emerged from the struggle, opening up possibilities that were not present before.
  • A change in relationships with others. You may experience closer relationships with some specific people or increased connection and compassion with others.
  • An increased sense of your own strength – “if I lived through that, I can face anything”.
  • A greater appreciation for life in general.

All of those sounded much more in line with how I was hoping to grow and the clinical definition gave me the permission and validation I was seeking to aggressively set course on this path.  The problem was, while there is ample research on the phenomena of Post Traumatic Growth, there is no road map on how to get through it.  So I decided to write my own, starting with this blog post, which includes the basic strategies I have been employing over the past 6 months since Max died.

While I lack the research studies to externally validated this recommendations, I can tell you that they are the only thing that has helped me get up every day and show up for my daughter, my friends and you guys – my clients and customers.

 

5 Essential Oils for Post Traumatic Growth

Unlike other essential oil companies, I have always focused on blends because I have found the synergies between oils to be more powerful than single oils on their own.  I have also tried to create blends designed for very specific functions, like balancing specific organ systems or regions of the brain, because I have also found the more specific the intention, the more successful the result.  It is often noted that Frankincense in Myrrh are mentioned in the bible.  What is not often noted is the fact that these two oils were likely combined as a blend and overlayed with intention or prayer.  I believe that is the ideal way to use essential oils – as blends associated with specific intentions – as it seems to yield the best results.

The following 5 specific intentions with essential oils have helped me shift out of post- traumatic stress and into post traumatic growth:

 

1. Grounding

Grounding, or mentally and physically connecting to the healing energy of nature and the Earth, can help supports your clarity and perspective so you can better recognize and move through challenging emotional and thought patterns.

Grounding allows us to release much of the burden of our loss or struggle into the earth.  You can literally think of it as garbage dump for any physical or mental baggage you no longer wish to carry. Grounding brings us into a state of balance, both mentally and physically. It is in this balanced state that our body can rest, repair, and heal on the physical, emotional and spiritual level.

When we physically ground and connect to Earth, it reduces inflammation, promotes restful sleep, helps optimize organ function and improves detoxification, by allowing toxins to flow out of us and into the Earth   On the emotional level, grounding allows our thoughts and emotions to move through us more easily.  On a spiritual level, grounding enhances our connection to our intuition and spiritual guidance.  Read More about Grounding HERE.  

To ground, I imagine a tail extending down from my spine and connecting the core of the Earth.  Once I feel connected, I then imagine a big garbage shoot opening up and intentionally instruct mental and physical toxins to drain from me into the Earth.  My colleague, Amy Stark, takes it a step further, visualizing a shower of rose petals washing over you and pulling anything that does not serve into the Earth.

Essential oils, especially those derived from grounded plants like trees which are intrinsically grounded through their root structure into the Earth, help you pull your energy centers down into the Earth.  Plants that grow under earth entrain with earth’s energies, matching the frequency of the Earth and therefore supporting our ability to connect to the Earth and ground.  Blends like Attention™ and Parasympathetic™ can help with grounding.  You can also stand barefoot on grass, beach, or a favorite rock while you ground or practice grounding in an Epsom salt bath.  Read More about Healing Baths HERE.

I have come to think of grounding as basic daily hygiene, akin to brushing your teeth or washing your face.  It allows me to let go of anything that is not serving me to clear the mental and physical space necessary to receive support that is helpful.

 

2.  Detoxification

If your body is holding onto physical toxins, it makes it harder to release toxic thoughts and emotions.

Physical toxins are deeply linked with mental and emotional toxins and intense emotions like anger, resentments, or fear.  My mentor, Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt has observed this in clinical practice, noticing that the more physical toxins that person releases, the more stored emotion that is also released.  

I interpret this to mean that in order to move through trauma and loss, you need to address what is keeping you stuck on both a physical and emotional level.  This means detoxifying the body.

As you release physical toxins along with negative thoughts and emotions, the toxins need to leave the body through open drainage pathways, so they do not recirculate in the system and contribute to negative emotions like anger and blame commonly associated with the detox organs like the liver and the gall bladder. While anger is commonly associated with the 5 stages of grief, I strongly suspect it is instead a symptom of impaired physical detoxification and can be remedied by helping the Liver physically and emotionally release negative emotions, like anger, impatience, resentment  and frustration.

Supporting the liver with supplements like Milk Thistle and essential oils like Liver Support™ and other essential oils like Liver™, Gall Bladder™ and Lymph™ that help open your drainage pathways can help you process and release both physical toxins and negative emotions, like the anger associated with grief.   Read More about Opening Drainage Pathways HERE.

To specifically help you move through and release anger and negative emotions from the cells of the liver, apply 2 -3 drops of Liver Support™ over the liver, the heart or around the earlobes.  You can also gently inhale Liver Support™ for 3 – 7 breaths, breathing out any negative emotions on the exhale. For more tips on detoxify emotions, read this article.

When you detoxify, it is critically important to take binders, substances that ‘bind’ to toxins to help move them out of your body.  In order to leave the body, toxins travel through the liver, where they travel to the small intestine in the bile.  If the toxins are not bound to anything, most of them will get reabsorbed in the gut.  Read More about Binders HERE.

 

3. Build Parasympathetic Tone

Trauma throws our body into the survival fight, flee or freeze state.  The reason PTSD takes most people downhill is that they stay stuck in this state – either retriggering constant fight or flight and feeling anxious and overwhelmed, or frozen and literally stuck in a perpetual trauma cycle, which is why some grieving moms are still crying every day 20 years after the initial blow. Read More about your freeze response HERE.

The key to unlocking this pattern is improving your Parasympathetic Tone which allows your body to dropping into the Parasympathetic healing state more often.

Parasympathetic tone is a measure of your resilience and ability to respond to and recover from physical, mental and emotional stress.  The more you help your body drop into the healing parasympathetic state, the more resilient you become and the easier it becomes to move into a Post Traumatic Growth space.

When you build Parasympathetic tone, also called Vagal Tone, you help control your heart rate variability (HRV).   Read More about HRV HERE.

Your “fight or flight” sympathetic state speeds up your heart rate and keeps it pumping at a consistently fast rate.  This pumps more blood to your muscles in response to danger so you have the energy to either fight or flee.  When the danger has passed and you are able to rest, repair and recover, your “rest and digest” parasympathetic branch slows down your heart rate, with more variability in the rhythm.

Your parasympathetic healing state allows for more variability in your heart rate and that is the key to resilience.  While you might equate a steady heartbeat with a steady disposition, the opposite is actually true. A steady regular beat is associated with heightened stress is actually a sign of increased rigidity and inflexibility. Significant trauma causes your heart to become more rigid, tight and inflexible as a way of coping with stress, almost the same way you might freeze in response to the threat of danger.  Read More about your freeze response HERE.  A more chaotic and flexible heart beat is a sign of more fluidity and dynamism.  The recovery parasympathetic state allows for this increased fluidity and flexibility.

Applying Parasympathetic™ over the vagus nerve (behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone) helps build parasympathetic tone and your resilience necessary for Post Traumatic Growth.

 

4. Release Negative Emotions

Unresolved psycho-emotional conflicts make us vulnerable to certain ailments and illnesses.  For example, unresolved grief is more likely to affect the lungs, and chronic anxiety or fear impact the kidney,  while shame makes the bladder more susceptible and pent up anger is associated with the liver.  My mentor, Dr. Klinghardt believes the nature of the emotional issues determine the location of the immune system vulnerability and resulting health imbalances.

In order to move into Post Traumatic Growth state we need to release the emotional baggage that keeps us stuck.  Read More HERE.

Essential oils can be powerful tools to help heal unresolved emotions. The sense of smell links directly to the amygdala in the Limbic Lobe of the brain, which stores and releases emotional trauma. Smell has a direct route to the limbic system, as it is physically located near the olfactory bulb, and often can mobilize long forgotten memories and emotions.

To support the gentle release of unresolved emotions, consider the following blends:

Liver Support™ allows us to release anger and suppressed negative memories that are often stored on very deep cellular level. Just place the bottle under your nose and breathe deeply, fully inhaling the oil for 3 – 7 breaths.  It helps you breathe into and work through the emotion.  You can also apply it around the ankles as this is often an area where we hold resistance to moving forward in life and block the ability to receive joy and pleasure.  Start at the back of the ankle and apply under the ankle bone around to the front and back under the other ankle bone, all while allowing yourself to release challenging emotions.

Lung Support™ allows for the gentle release of emotional grief that so often accompanies growth.  In order to grow, we have to leave behind old behavior and thought patterns and sometimes individuals, places and possessions.  There is often a deep sense of loss and grief associated with the process of letting go.  Lung Support helps us release our grief so often attached to negative experiences.  You can inhale the oil the oil through the nose, letting the oxygen flow deeply into the lungs, then exhale or apply directly over the lungs.

Small Intestine Support™ helps support positive boundaries and confidence to assist in bringing a sense of peace to our lives.  When you are struggling with negative emotions, it can be uplifting and help release and clear any residual negative emotions.  I find it best to apply around the ears for emotion related issues.  You can start on the bottom of the ear at the earlobes and gentle massage upward along the exterior of the ear, hitting many of the major reflexology points.  This article and chart show specific points on the ears for specific issues.

You can breathe in the oils and release all past hurts and disappointment as you exhale.  I have read that inhaling an oil through the nose, then forcefully exhaling through the mouth allows the body to best release emotions that no longer serve.

 

5. Limbic System Retraining

A key impediment to healing trauma is over-activation of your limbic system,  the part of your brain that analyzes and filters incoming stimuli from your 5 senses to determine if it is a threat to our survival and health.  You might think of the limbic system as a really highly sensitized security system.  It categorizes all sensory input as either a threat or a non- threat based on past experience.

If a past experience is classified as a threat,  any similar present experience will trigger a 5 alarm emergency response.  It is not uncommon for non-threatening experiences to be misclassified as threats that trigger a stress response.  Much research indicates that this over-activity of the limbic system contributes to illnesses like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibomyalgia and Multi Chemical Sensitivity.  It is also one of the key reasons that early childhood stressors negatively impact adult health.  Because if a stressful event happens during childhood it is categorized based on the child’s knowledge and skills at the time.  Often things that a child might categorize as dangerous would be interpreted differently through an adult lens.  This is one reason that Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is so effective at calming trauma.  It helps re-assess situations through the adult lens so that they are less triggering to the amygdala, the part of the limbic system that triggers a stress response.

Similarly,  brain health pioneers like Ashok Gupta have developed systems to calm and retrain the limbic system so it does not over-fire.  Gupta explains that the amygdala responds more quickly than other parts of the brain.  For example, if you were to walk in front of a moving bus, the amygdala would kick in and mobilize your body out of danger more quickly than your conscious mind could.  After the danger has passed, the amygdala runs the experience by the conscious mind, double checking to confirm that standing in the path of a moving bus is in fact dangerous and should be filed as such.  In other situations, like mistaking a stick for a snake, the conscious brain would help the amygdala reclassify and downgrade the threat.  To help calm an over-active amygdala, you need to engage your executive function part of the brain, located in the pre-frontal cortex (forehead).  By applying essential oils like Focus™, Brain Boost™ or Parasympathetic™ to your temples you direct blood flow and energy to the part of the brain that can help evaluate and reclassify trauma to calm the amygdala.  Read More about Essential Oils for the Limbic System HERE.

 

Resources:

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