Being in a car accident can be a terrifying experience. Even if the occupants of the car do not suffer grievous physical injury, the accident can have severe and long-lasting psychological ramifications. Many people who have been in a car accident experience PTSD, which can continue for months or even years after a car accident if left untreated.
What is PTSD?
PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological reaction that may result from having experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a car accident, a natural disaster, sexual violence, war, or a terrorist act. It is associated with a cascade of emotions such as shock, anger, disbelief and the feeling of having come close to death during the terrifying event. These feelings keep recurring long after the incident and even after the intense fear has subsided, a trigger may cause the symptoms to reappear.
Symptoms Of PTSD After A Car Accident
Everyone who suffers from PTSD does not experience the exact same symptoms and all car accident victims don’t experience the same symptoms. Potential symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after a car accident could include:
- Persistent anxiety that gets worse at the thought of having to get into a vehicle.
- The feeling of being vulnerable and waiting for the ‘next thing’ to happen.
- Extreme irritability.
- Despondency or depression.
- Recurring nightmares and flashbacks, reliving the accident.
- Difficulty resuming regular routines and lifestyle.
- Avoidance behaviours particularly with regards to driving again.
- A heightened feeling of nervousness when going outdoors, especially when getting into a car.
- Guilt especially if you believe you were responsible for the car crash.
- Survivor’s guilt if somebody else died in an accident and you feel you could have done something to save them.
Importance Of Treating PTSD Symptoms
Suffering from PSTSD can be a harrowing experience that lowers your quality of life and impacts your ability to function normally. PTSD affects a person’s interactions with their loved ones and can also affect their performance in the workplace.
Don’t ignore the several emotional and psychological tolls of having been in a car crash. It’s very important to take measures to treat PTSD in the early days after an accident. PTSD symptoms often get triggered by sights, smells or sounds that occurred at the time of the accident. This can happen even weeks or months after the incident.
PTSD treatment generally involves two equally important aspects. The first is seeking the help of a mental health professional. The second is recognising your symptoms and learning how to cope with them.
Medical Treatment For PTSD After A Car Accident
When seeking the help of a mental health professional, it’s important to go to one who specialises in grief and trauma healing such as a psychotherapist or psychologist. They may have treated many car accident victims before and therefore should have a better understanding of the potential triggers Of PTSD following a car accident. With years of experience in this specific area, these specialist mental health professionals would be better equipped to help you cope with the aftermath of a car accident.
The exact treatment a professional may follow will depend based on the type and severity of your symptoms. The most common forms of PTSD treatment after a car accident can include:
- Cognitive processing therapy, which involves helping you change the way you feel, think and behave.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy, which involves helping you change negative patterns in the way you think or behave.
- Supporting therapy, in which the mental health expert will encourage you to discuss your feelings so they can help you process these feelings and give you specific coping techniques.
- ACT or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which helps you face your emotions while avoiding certain negative behaviours.
- EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, an intensive type of treatment that focuses on changing the way you feel about the car accident.
Depending on your symptoms and other circumstances, your doctor may also prescribe antidepressants or sedatives.
PTSD Coping Mechanisms After A Car Accident
In addition to getting treated by a mental health professional, there are several coping mechanisms you can implement in your daily life to overcome the symptoms and live a full and satisfying life.
Give yourself time to grieve if you’ve lost a loved one in a car accident. Recovering mentally very rarely happens overnight. For most people with PTSD caused by a car accident, the symptoms can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
- Relaxation techniques
Use mindfulness and relaxation techniques to alleviate fear and anxiety and encourage a sense of calm. Deep breathing, meditation, yoga and muscle relaxation are all practices that are proven to work.
- Talk it over
Talk to a loved one or trusted friend about the car accident. Share your feelings and fears with them. Sometimes, just talking about a scary event helps to make it less scary. If you feel like crying when talking about the incident, don’t try and stop the tears. Crying is a natural reaction to a traumatic experience and can help to release some of those debilitating pent-up emotions.
- Make time for yourself
At times, you may prefer to be alone and that’s okay too. Making time for yourself can be empowering, especially if you spend that alone time doing something you used to enjoy. Spend the day fishing if that’s what helps you feel centred and balanced or treat yourself to a relaxing spa weekend. Indulging in these activities can help you heal and make it easier for you to get back into routine sooner.
- Healthily living
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a nourishing diet and regular mild exercise is an integral part of coping with PTSD. You’re more susceptible to falling ill when you’re highly stressed and this can turn into a detrimental cycle that is difficult to get out of. Eating nourishing foods can help you stay healthy and keep illnesses at bay while regular exercise helps to release endorphins, which are so important to overcoming stress.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
Last but not least, avoid alcohol and drugs. These may feel like effective coping mechanisms, especially by way of blurring those bad memories but they can quickly turn addictive. The long-term effects of drugs and alcohol far outweigh the apparent short-term benefits.
Being involved in a car accident can be a horrifying experience. If you were involved in one and are suffering from PTSD because of it, don’t be afraid to get the help you need and talk about your fears.