According to the American Psychology Association, car accidents are the leading cause of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for most Americans. The National Institute of Mental Health contributed that about 40% of accident survivors develop PTSD symptoms.
Initially, those involved in the accident are especially concerned with getting the support they need for their physical injuries. However, after the initial adrenaline rush of the accident has subsided, many individuals fail to address the emotional and mental health repercussions.
Car Accident Trauma
Some assume that something traumatic has to be something as significant as a death of a loved one or a natural disaster. However, trauma can be defined as anything that is intensely distressing or difficult. Trauma will look different for each person. Keep in mind that passengers, even witnesses, can experience trauma as well.
Data collected on motor vehicle accident PTSD supports that how the person perceives and subsequently responds to the accident claims will have more of an impact on the amount of stress they experience rather than the severity of the accident or injuries.
After an accident, you could experience the following symptoms of a traumatic experience:
- Reliving the accident in your dreams
- Sleeping infrequently
Your car accident trauma could surface employing avoidance. You may be experiencing trauma for your motor vehicle crash when you avoid work, appointments, events, school, etc. due to fear of getting into another accident. If symptoms start getting in the way of your daily functioning, then it may be time for you to seek professional support.
Avoidant behaviors like the suppression of thoughts about the car accident, rumination about the trauma, and dissociation were most strongly connected with PTSD symptoms two to six months after an accident.
Avoidance of thoughts, behaviors, and emotions will interfere with the healthy processing of your emotions. This will increase the risk of PTSD. If you notice your symptoms are getting more frequently severe, you’re avoidance increases, or your symptoms are interfering with your life, then you may be at risk for developing PTSD.
PTSD Risk Factors
According to a meta-analysis on PTSD the following elements have been found to increase the risk of trauma in accident survivors. If you’ve experienced any of these in the past or due to your accident, then you could be at higher risk for stress:
- Disassociation of yourself with the event during or right after the accident
- Family history of psychopathology
- Emotional volatility due to fear, helplessness, horror, guilt, or shame during or immediately after the traumatic event
- History of prior traumas
- Lack of social and emotional support after the accident
- Continuously perceived threats to your life or others
- Prior problems with psychological adjustment
Any or all of these symptoms could occur as part of your body’s natural response to trauma. The difference is for those who haven’t developed PTSD, these symptoms will subside over time.
Overcoming A Traumatic Accident
If you’ve been in a traumatic accident, you may feel terrified about the idea of getting into another vehicle. These feelings may be normal for those experiencing trauma but the good news is there are several effective treatments available.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy have been proven to help survivors develop the skills necessary to cope with the emotional and mental part of their experience.
Medications have also been useful in managing PTSD. Individuals have had success with recovery from PTSD when they identify their symptoms, seek appropriate treatment, and develop, maintain, and adjust their trauma treatment plans as needed.
Tips for Understanding Trauma
When you’re feeling depressed, stressed, or anxious, it gets easier to neglect your basic need. Getting the right amount of sleep, maintaining a balanced diet, and practicing healthy habits like exercise and mindfulness become trifle matters. Often our social relationships suffer because it becomes easier to isolate ourselves rather than reach out to others.
Seek Professional Help
That’s why it’s essential to get the professional help you need because you don’t have to deal with your trauma all alone. Mental health providers will help you therapeutically process the accident.
This processing can help to reduce anxiety and stress while helping you get back into your routine, swap avoidant behaviors with healthy ones, and helping you stay engaged. Friends, family, mental health professionals can help support you on your road to recovery.
Develop Anxiety Management Techniques
Heightened anxiety after a traumatic accident is fairly common. Anxiety can be normal and manageable when under control. The following items can help you ground yourself if you find yourself becoming anxious:
- Breathe mindfully by taking slow and deep breaths. Use counting with your breathing to give your mind something to focus on.
- Ground yourself in the world around you. Do this by noticing all of the little details about physical objects in your vicinity.
- Learn and practice muscle relaxation techniques. Stress balls can be good for this. Practice tensing and relaxing your muscles to develop sensitivity to your physical anxiety responses.
- Speak with a mental health professional to develop more anxiety-controlling techniques specific to your personality and situation.
Contacting a mental health specialist if you feel unable to cope with your trauma may be one of the best decisions you make in the aftermath of your accident. When anxiety interrupts your everyday life, or if you’re worried about your anxiety in any way, then their support could make the difference in your recovery.
Trauma often comes after an accident because we lose our sense of control. Remember, it’s imperative to focus on things within your control when you’re trying to cope with moving on.
Practicing smart self-care driving behaviors like always wearing your seatbelt, minimizing distractions, and not driving when you’re too tired will help you develop the confidence necessary to recover.
You may have just been through a very jarring experience and that’s why it’s important to give yourself time to cope. Just as you’ll practice patience with your physical injuries after an accident, you’ll also need to practice patience with your traumas. Emotional scars just like physical injuries need time to heal.
On your road to recovery, you may improve your wellbeing by eating healthily, drinking plenty of water, and increasing your activity wherever your body allows for it. Doing activities that you enjoy, like reading a book or listening to your favorite music could be just what your mind needs to release some of the anxiety trapped there after your accident.