After a car accident, injuries, insurance claims, and other timely matters may take up your attention, and many people forget to consider that their emotional and mental health are as affected in the aftermath of a collision as their bodies and future insurance premiums. But no matter the severity of the car accident, the experience and sustained car accident injuries can be harrowing and traumatic and can significantly impact your emotional well-being for a period of time after the incident. It is important to take the steps you need to recover your emotional well-being.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
After being involved in a car accident, up to half of all victims develop a mental disorder called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This disorder occurs when you witness or are involved in a particularly terrifying, upsetting, or disturbing experience.
The likelihood of whether this will happen depends partly on the severity of the accident, including the presence of death, which will increase your chances of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a car accident. Your age, gender, and present level of mental health are also potential contributors.
Symptoms of PTSD
In order to be diagnosed with this disorder, you need to exhibit conditions from each of the groups of behavioral symptoms that are listed in the DSM-V (a text that medical doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists use to diagnose mental illnesses). These groups include:
- Flashbacks or other episodes of re-experiencing the incident
- Avoidance symptoms such as being too anxious to leave your house or avoiding a specific object related to the incident
- Arousal and reactive symptoms, such as being startled too easily
- Changes in mood, such as anhedonia, where you feel a lack of interest in anything; or changes in cognition, such as event-related amnesia or undue guilt
If you believe you have developed PTSD, contact a medical or mental health professional so that you can begin treatment. Symptoms are rarely permanent, and the earlier you seek treatment, the sooner you will mentally recover after a car accident. If you know someone who has developed PTSD, it is best to reach out and genuinely show care because going through something like this is never easy.
Also, not all victims of motor accidents develop PTSD. Even so, you may be experiencing any of the following symptoms.
Anxiety is a persistent worry or fear that impacts your entire life. Some anxiety is normal and happens to everyone, especially around problems like money, relationships, and work. One such situation that might intensify your anxiety is having recently survived a car accident. Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, have a lasting and constant effect on your everyday life or create a sense of dread around certain triggers and prevent you from participating in your daily activities. If this is the case, you need to seek support from a mental health professional. Asking help from car accident chiropractors is also a great option to address your needs and to help you recover.
The other reason it is so important to identify and seek support is that developing post-traumatic symptoms of anxiety can make you a more dangerous person to drive next to out on the road. You are likely to begin exhibiting anxious driving behaviors, which are a predictor of car accidents. If this should occur to you, it is likely that the exacerbation of your trauma symptoms will push you towards post-traumatic stress disorder even if you had not been showing symptoms beforehand.
There are other anxiety-related disorders that you may experience.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder is when your anxiety bothers you daily and interferes with your activity. It can last for months or years and may intensify over time.
- Panic Disorder causes you to experience sudden, random panic attacks with no clear trigger. The panic attacks may occur as frequently as daily, or they may be periodic.
- Phobia: A phobia is an intense, nontypical fear response to specific triggers or situations.
Like anxiety, anger is a normal emotional reaction, and many people experience it from time to time. However, in the wake of a traumatic event such as surviving a car accident, you may notice yourself feeling moodier or more irritable than usual or more prone to angry outbursts.
Anger can be an especially dangerous emotion if left unchecked, particularly once you are confident about getting back on the road. There is research that shows that anger while driving can lead to more dangerous driving behaviors and that expressing it while driving can be even worse. However, engaging in anger management methods can help you deal with the angry feelings you are experiencing and help you heal mentally after a traumatic event.
Anger is accompanied by a physiological response that triggers your nervous system. When you feel angry, you may notice your blood pressure rising or your heart pumping faster. You may breathe more loudly or heavily. The longer these functions persist during an attack of rage or irritation, the more difficult it can be to ignore your anger or to calm down.
Part of the solution is to recognize when you are feeling angry, acknowledge it, so that you can participate in one of the strategies proven to help reduce anger.
If you notice a wave of irritability coming on, you can do one of the following:
- Get some exercise. Physical activity will help regulate your nervous system so you can think more clearly.
- Take some time. A short break from whatever is causing you anger will help you deal more constructively with a problem when you return to it.
- Practice deep breathing exercises. Again, your physiological response to angry emotions can make it so that you have trouble focusing on anything but your feelings. Deep breathing can help connect you back to your body and regulate your nervous system. This will clear your mind and help you find solutions.
If anger is becoming a daily problem for you, you may need further psychological support. A therapist or support group can go a long way towards improving your daily life.
There are forms of medical shock related to your blood pressure. This form of shock is intense and requires immediate medical attention. However, there is also a form of shock known as emotional or psychological shock. It does not require emergency services, but it can certainly be upsetting to experience and can disrupt your well-being.
Psychological shock occurs when a traumatic event triggers a sudden surge of intense emotion. A car accident, or even a near miss, can be one of those trigger events.
When the event first occurs, your intense emotion will be accompanied by a surge of adrenaline. This is to help you with the emergency situation you find yourself in and to give you the energy you need for your flight or freeze response. Once, however, the event is over and the adrenaline begins to decline, you may notice physical symptoms of its departure: clammy hands, trembling, nausea, and brain fog.
The adrenaline spike lasts only a short time, but the lingering effects after the spike can hang around for a while. You may find yourself feeling more depressed and less interested in the things that usually make you happy. You may have an out-of-body experience, also known as dissociation.
Shock results from an important physiological function that helps us make decisions in acutely stressful situations, but the after-effects can have you feeling lost and confused. Be sure to talk with someone you trust and monitor yourself for the effects in the hours and days after your accident.
A sense of shame or embarrassment is particularly common for people who are found to be at fault for a car accident or who believe that they should have been able to easily avoid the car accident. Such shame may coincide with guilt, especially in cases where someone else has come to harm as a result of the accident.
These are normal feelings, but like any of the other emotions we have discussed, experiencing them in excess can have a negative impact on your daily life in the days and weeks following your collision.
Some people may have trouble feeling capable of driving confidently due to embarrassment from a car accident, or they may hide or obscure details of the accident. This last point is particularly discouraged, as it could prevent both you and any other participants in the collision from receiving the appropriate coverage from your insurance company.
Mild embarrassment is fine, but sometimes, the sense of anxiety that occurs alongside embarrassment can cause symptoms of derealization and dissociation, both serious mental conditions.
Derealization is the sense that the world around you is not real, while dissociation causes a sense of being disconnected from your surroundings or even from your body. Both can be upsetting experiences, but medical support is available to help you manage these episodes.
The best way to recover mentally after a car accident is to seek help from a mental health professional. Even if you do not believe that the emotions you are feeling are part of a psychiatric disorder, everyone can benefit from taking advantage of professional mental health support. You can work with your primary care doctor or medical insurance to find a professional who can work with you.