How to Overcome Anxiety After a Car Accident
Road travel is one inevitable part of our existence. Even though we detest certain aspects of it, such as traffic congestion and long-distance journeys, we still have to hit the road when the time comes. Flat tires and car breakdowns are some other pain in the neck that we don't enjoy.
But, can road travel get worse? What about those times that the most dreadful events occur? — Those happenings that no one ever foresees, the experiences that can be life-changing and mind-disturbing. Yes, the ones we don’t even want to imagine: car accidents. We try to wish them away. However, many times, they are not agreeable to our wishes and controls. They just happen.
Car accidents may not be as simple as the regular person thinks — to suffer injuries, be hospitalized, spend time to heal, and get back to life as usual.
Road accidents can be more complicated. They scar some people for the rest of their lives. A major aftermath of car accidents is anxiety about driving. Can it be avoided? Maybe not absolutely; however, it can be overcome.
It is crucial for everyone to know how to overcome anxiety after a car accident.
This article discusses overcoming anxiety and many other matters related to car accidents. Car-accident related PTSD, emotions that come after car accidents, and an overall fear of driving is the focus of this article.
Let’s get talking.
What Happens After a Car Accident?
There are loads of emotions that come with car accidents. Some of them linger for months or years and can be challenging to live with. No one ever prepares for a car accident, and this is why the feeling can be traumatic. What emotions are common after a car accident?
Here are four types of emotions to expect after a car accident
- Shock or disbelief
- Guilt, shame, or self-blame
- Anger, irritability, or agitation
- Anxiety, worry or fear
Shock or Disbelief
Car accident victims can experience shock several days after the occurrence. It manifests differently in people. However, common characteristics are a numb feeling, emotional distress, a feeling of fear, and unpredictable mood swings. Shock is not restricted to drivers in car accidents — passengers, pedestrians at the accident scene, and observers in other cars too can experience shock.
Guilt, Shame, or Self-Blame
It can be frustrating and shameful to be involved in an easily avoidable accident, especially when you’re involved as a driver. As strange as it may sound, even onlookers blame themselves for accidents, as some believe they could have aided in the prevention. Some people don’t get over such a feeling for a long time. It would be helpful to remind yourself that you will not always meet your expectations. We don't always perform as excellently as we wish, and mistakes are bound to happen.
Anger, Irritability, or Agitation
Drivers and passengers can be angry after a car accident. This may be as a result of allocating blame. Accident victims tend to take their anger out on people around them. Irritability and agitation may remain for a while, as they are characteristics of stress reaction. You can deal with these stress reactions by performing breathing exercises that aid relaxation.
Anxiety, Worry or Fear
Anxiety is a natural reaction to stressful incidents. However, not everyone who is involved in a car accident experiences anxiety.
This may remain for quite a while after an accident, and it can be disturbing. Worry as a result of a car accident comes with some or all of these symptoms:
- difficulty sleeping or relaxing
- difficulty concentrating
- feelings of confusion and helplessness
- feelings of irritability
- low energy
- disinterest in socializing
- dark, unwanted thoughts
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after a Car Accident
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an extreme level of anxiety disorder which car accident victims are likely to experience. PTSD sometimes occurs after traumatic events that involve severe injuries, near-death experiences, or even death. People who suffer PTSD after a car accident find it quite challenging to deal with the condition. They often re-experience the crash in their minds and struggle with their thoughts. These come with some emotional troubles.
A significant characteristic of accident-related PTSD is chronic pain. Such pains are so severe that they bring about lifestyle limitations which patients have difficulty settling into. Early diagnosis goes a long way in preventing the deterioration of mental health.
Risk Factors Responsible for Suffering PTSD after a Car Accident
Even though anyone can suffer PTSD after a car accident, some people are more exposed to the risk than others, due to certain factors. What are these risk factors? Here are three major risk factors
- A history of mental health issues
- Exposure to trauma
- Absence of a support system
A History of Mental Health Issues
People who already have a history of anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues are more likely to suffer PTSD after they are involved in a car accident. Such an accident can serve as a trigger that sets off PTSD.
Exposure to Trauma
People who have lived or worked in places where they were exposed to trauma have higher chances of suffering PTSD after involvement in a car accident. Medical practitioners fall into this category.
Absence of a Support System
Lack of a robust family support system or network of friends may aid the development of PTSD after a car accident. Such people are left to process and deal with the trauma with little or no encouragement, and that can be challenging.
Types of Car Accidents that Causes PTSD
There are various degrees of car accidents, and their levels of severity are determinants to how terrible victims may feel afterward. Notwithstanding the extent of a crash, victims who already suffer from an anxiety disorder from another event may suffer PTSD or a worsened case of whatever they earlier suffered.
Here are the two types of car accidents that expose victims to PTSD:
- Car accidents that cause severe injuries
- Car accidents involving the death of a loved one
Car Accidents that Cause Severe Injuries
Some injuries can be so life-changing that victims never get to go about their lifestyle as before the accident. Such victims may end up with PTSD, as it is traumatic to settle into the fact that they will have such limitations for the rest of their lives.
Car Accidents Involving Death of a Loved One
Witnessing loved ones die or become severely injured in an accident may be traumatic. Such levels of trauma may lead to PTSD because the minds of such witnesses remain scarred for a long time.
Ways to Overcome Anxiety after a Car Accident
- Driving Lessons
Psychotherapy is an effective way of dealing with trauma-related anxiety. There are various types of psychotherapy. Here are three psychotherapies that treat anxiety from car accidents:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
- Prolonged Exposure (PE) Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a talking therapy that entails relaxation techniques, challenging fears, realistic thinking, and some other methods of healing. It helps patients change the way they behave and think. Because thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and actions are interconnected, negative thoughts can become overwhelming and affect patients’ entire thinking and body systems.
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
Another effective therapy is the exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy which is often used to fight phobias. Patients undergoing ERP therapy are asked to perform some tasks that are related to the source of their fear. Patients who try to overcome anxiety after a car accident may be asked to sit in a car, drive for a while, and perform other related tasks. The logic behind ERP therapy is to get patients to perform the activities which are the sources of the anxiety until they settle into such activities again, having overcome their fears.
Prolonged Exposure (PE) Therapy
Closely related to ERP is prolonged exposure (PE) therapy. PE is a type of behavior and cognitive therapy that is designed to treat anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder. In PE, therapists make patients re-experience a traumatic event by revisiting the painful memory or providing exposure to fear. Through "imaginal exposure," patients are made to remember the car accident, the aftermath, and other experiences surrounding it, and ultimately overcome their condition.
Generally referred to as hypnosis, hypnotherapy employs intense concentration, focused attention, and guided relaxation to help patients process thoughts and perform specific tasks better. Hypnotherapy is used as a complement to psychotherapy. After some sessions, patients become more open to discussions and suggestions on how to overcome their phobia.
Some car accident victims may find taking care of themselves more effective than therapy. Not everyone can do this. Self-love is a way to deal with anxiety by exercising, eating healthy, spending quality time with family and friends, among other activities. To practice self-love and combat anxiety, you need to surround yourself with happy and supportive people as much as possible, and also find reasons to be happy yourself. You would also find it helpful to identify stressors and avoid them altogether.
Driving lessons works like ERP therapy. Even though you could drive before the accident, taking driving lessons after would help you have a better sense of control and confidence. It may be uneasy to get back to driving or being in a car. A driving instructor will go a long way to help you face your fears and recuperate more easily.
Medications are better at managing anxiety, not treating it. If you resort to taking medications, ensure you do so with a doctor’s prescription. Two conventional medicines used in treating phobias are sedatives and beta-blockers. The latter prevents the stimulating effects of adrenaline. This way, it prevents elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, a pounding sensation in the heart, a shaky body, among others. Sedatives, on the other hand, reduce the level of anxiety that patients feel. Sedatives have side effects such as drowsiness and dependence on it. This is why it should be done according to the doctor’s instructions.
Tips for Driving again after an Accident
A significant challenge that car accident victims experience is difficulty driving after the occurrence. There are specific steps that accident victims need to take before they may successfully get over the trauma and hit the road again. If you have difficulty driving after a car accident, here are four tips you can do to overcome the challenge.
- Write about the experience
- Talk about the experience
- Take a driver along
- Take the same route
Write about the experience
Write about how the accident occurred from beginning to end, as much as you can remember. Such narratives help accident victims face the trauma and deal with it. Repeat the writing exercise as many times as possible, as that can help you overcome the trauma faster.
Talk about the experience
Share the experience with family, friends, and everyone willing to listen. No matter how much you feel like keeping it to yourself, work through the feeling, and talk about the accident. Talking about it helps to ease fear and anxiety better. The best way to do this is usually by joining support groups. Support groups are comprised of several individuals who share similar experiences with you. You can talk about how you feel, listen to others, get ideas, and encourage each other.
Take a driver along
After writing and talking about it, you might have more courage to attempt driving. Now it’s time for your first ride after the accident. It would be great to take a driver along. This will help you to regain your confidence fully and smoothly ease back into the driving routine.
Take the same route
It is just natural to feel like taking an alternative route as you approach the accident scene. Don’t do it. If you do, you will only feed the anxiety you are trying to overcome, and you don't want to do that. So, take that route. This is one of the reasons you have another driver with you, who knows about your experience. They are there to support you.
Overcoming anxiety after a car accident can be tough. What determines how fast and smooth you overcome it is your approach and tenacity. There are no hard and fast rules to this— your therapist is in the best position to suggest your way out. You can also help yourself by garnering as much support as you can. Be open to help and surround yourself with positive vibes. Whatever you do to heal, ensure it is thorough and detailed, so you can fit into society again and get back on track.
What if the car accident causes disabilities that change your lifestyle? It is not a time to throw in the towel. Give yourself ample time to readjust to the new status quo. Also, get all the help you can and come up with creative ways to accomplish your goals. Whether you’re the accident victim or someone around you is, you need to know how to overcome anxiety after a car accident.
Having read this article, we hope you have gotten the needed insight to help you through situations like this.