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Coping With Emotional Trauma and Shock After a Car Accident

Upset woman sits on the ground with her head in her hands after a car accident.

Updated October 21, 2022

Everyone responds to the trauma of a wreck or terrible event differently. Shock and denial, especially right after the overwhelming event occurs, are normal responses.

A person may suffer no effects, while others suffer intense emotional reactions and acute stress long after the crash.

Post-accident shock symptoms may include:

  • Unpredictable emotions
  • Feeling guilt or shame
  • Increased interpersonal conflict
  • Flashbacks
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty concentrating, thinking, and planning
  • Numbness/disassociation
  • Sleep changes
  • Exhaustion
  • Nightmares
  • Feeling afraid
  • Sensitivity to certain noises or smells
  • Random aches and pains
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Shaking
  • Anxiety
  • Isolation
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Negative thoughts

It’s also possible to experience delayed emotional shock. The trauma of the crash may affect you days, weeks, or months later.

Recovering Emotionally After a Traumatic Accident

Trying to understand your emotions and responses to what happened in your accident is the first step to coping with your thoughts and feelings.

Fortunately, most people are resilient. Stress and fear are normal reactions after a car accident. Most victims are able to move on and resume their lives after a few weeks or months.

There are multiple strategies you can use to increase your well-being and regain a sense of control over your life:

  • Allow yourself time to adjust and mourn your losses.
  • Get support from people who care about you and are willing to listen.
  • Express your feelings via talking or a creative outlet like art or writing.
  • Eat balanced meals and get plenty of rest to cope with the stress.
  • Engage in routines such as regular meals, exercising, or working on a hobby.
  • Avoid making major life decisions immediately afterward.

The American Psychological Association provides a handy resource for building your resilience after a traumatic event.

Even after weeks or months, painful memories and emotions may pop up from time to time. The area the wreck occurred, especially if it’s an intersection or road you frequently drive down, will constantly remind you of the traumatic experience. You may even feel guilty or can’t stop thinking about what happened.

This too is normal. But when triggering places or events continue to cause you stress and anxiety long-term, then it might be time to see a professional.

How Long Does Shock Last After an Accident?

Emotional shock is a popular term used to describe feeling overwhelmed and unsettled after a difficult event. It can be hard to snap out of, no matter how hard one tries. This is normal; it’s the body’s way of processing difficult experiences.

These strong physical emotions can occur immediately after a frightening or traumatic event, or several weeks later. Most people report that emotional shock starts to fade with time, usually after a few months.

Issues arise when emotional shock triggers previous trauma or devolves into more serious mental health issues like severe anxiety, depression, acute stress disorder (ASD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If months have gone by and you still feel distressed, it is probably time to reach out for support and professional help.

Dealing With Persistent Feelings of Distress

Upset man holds his head in his hands.

In rare cases, an auto accident can leave a person feeling hopeless and distressed whenever they get into a car and try to drive or even when performing mundane activities. If you suffered permanent or debilitating injuries after the crash, these can also contribute to feelings of loss and depression.

Being unable to move on from psychological trauma is considered a sign of acute stress or PTSD. PTSD, depression, and anxiety are common symptoms after a car accident.

In such cases, you should consult a licensed mental health professional for help moving forward from your trauma.

Don’t think you must suffer a major car accident to suffer delayed shock or PTSD. Even minor wrecks can potentially trigger prolonged emotional distress or an ongoing general feeling of uneasiness.

Other risk factors for post-traumatic stress and anxiety include:

  • Prior traumatic experiences such as a natural disaster, rape, assault, or previous car wreck.
  • Being a first responder.
  • Suffering from an underlying disorder like depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.
  • If the car accident was life-threatening.
  • If someone was grievously injured or killed in the crash.
  • Lack of support after the wreck.

Trauma Recovery Tips After an Auto Accident

Emotional shock and trauma can freeze the body in a state of constant hyperarousal and fear, making you want to withdraw, lash out, or avoid confronting unpleasant feelings.

  1. Move around. If you are able to, exercise and move around 30 minutes or more most days. Engaging your body helps focus your thoughts and be mindful of the present.
  2. Connect with others. Isolation will only prolong your suffering. Face-to-face interactions, social activities, and support can help you feel normal. You don’t have to talk about your traumatic experience either, especially if doing so makes you feel worse.
  3. Grounding your nervous system. Even though you may feel anxious or agitated, you can still calm yourself. Breathing exercises, specific smells or sights, or petting an animal can help. Acknowledge your feelings and accept them rather than avoiding them.
  4. Take care of yourself. A life-threatening event can disturb your routine and peace of mind. Reclaim it by getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night, eating a well-balanced diet, and engaging in yoga or other fun hobbies. Talk to your family doctor and see if they can refer you to someone.
  5. Seek professional therapy for trauma. Everyone heals at their own pace, but if your symptoms aren’t letting up, it may be time to talk to a trauma expert. Look for a reputable therapist if you are:
    • Having trouble functioning at work or home
    • Suffering severe anxiety, depression, or fear
    • Experience nightmares or flashbacks
    • Avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma
    • Becoming emotionally numb
    • Trying to escape using alcohol or drugs

Getting Professional Treatment

Working through trauma can be difficult. You’ll have to face unpleasant feelings and memories, learn how to manage your “fight or flight” response, and practice regulating your emotions.

There are a variety of treatments a therapist or trauma specialist can use to help you work through emotional shock, including:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) - ACT helps patients experience their emotions and accept them, rather than trying to avoid them and feel numb.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) - CBT is the most common type of therapy used by professional counselors because it’s useful for challenging unhelpful thought patterns and correcting problematic behaviors.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) - DBT helps patients regulate emotions and increases mindfulness.
  • Exposure Therapy - Exposure involves confronting a patient’s fears by revisiting an unpleasant situation until they have processed it and are no longer afraid.
  • Somatic Therapy - This type of therapy focuses on the mind-body connection and uses psychotherapy and physical techniques to release pent-up tension.

Even if you lack health insurance or don’t think you have enough money to pay for a therapist out-of-pocket, affordable therapy options are more abundant than you think. There are dozens of mental health and financial programs available to help victims of depression, anxiety, and PTSD afford the therapy and medication they need.

Helping Children Recover After a Crash

Many times, our law firm receives calls from parents whose children were in the vehicle with them at the time of the crash. The kids may be inconsolable, especially since they or a parent were injured.

Emotional or psychological trauma after a wreck can manifest in children in the following ways:

  • Regression - A young child may wet the bed, want a bottle, or be scared of being left alone. Be patient and comfort them when they respond in these ways.
  • Blaming themself for what happened - Young children especially may think the wreck was their fault. Maybe they were yelling or fighting with another sibling when the accident happened. It’s important they understand that they aren’t the cause of the event.
  • Sleep problems - Like adults, some children may have trouble falling asleep, waking up frequently, or having bad dreams. Stuffed animals, extra time together in the evenings, and patience can help them sleep soundly again.

Emotional Suffering and PTSD Compensation After a Car Accident

Auto accidents are terrifying events. The sound and feel of metal crunching into metal, glass shattering, and the force of the airbag and the crash are hard to forget, especially if you are left injured.

At Gary Martin Hays & Associates, we know an auto accident can affect a person physically and emotionally. The psychological effects may stay with you long after your injuries have healed or if the injury results in permanent disability.

Shock and PTSD after a car accident can disrupt your quality of life, and make it difficult to concentrate at work (if you’re even able to work at all).

Talk to our personal injury attorneys. We will do everything in our power to get you the maximum compensation for your medical bills and emotional suffering.

Categories: Car Accident Posts
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