Previously we wrote about some of the most common physical injuries that result in painful conditions as the result of a car crash. Today, we’re examining some of the emotional symptoms associated with vehicle accidents, which can also lead to experiencing physical pain.
Immediately after the accident, most everyone experiences some form of shock. As the initial shock fades, you can experience several totally normal emotions. When these emotions continue for an extended period, they can produce physical symptoms that can require medical attention.
Emotions that linger following an accident can affect your physical wellbeing, so it’s important to seek help. The pain management team at Novus Spine & Pain Center can help when emotional symptoms result in physical conditions.
Related: Car Accident Injuries
Typical Emotions After a Vehicle Accident
Being traumatized from a car accident can be a serious health issue that can interrupt regular daily activities. The most common mental symptom following a vehicle accident is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Though most often associated with the military, PTSD can develop after any traumatizing event.
Accident victims suffering PTSD often have vivid and disturbing memories of the accident and nightmares. Sometimes victims feel as if the accident is recurring, or they have flashbacks. Children are especially susceptible to experiencing PTSD after an accident. In addition, many people suffering from PTSD also simultaneously have an intense fear of driving or a related anxiety disorder.
Other signs of post-traumatic stress disorder include:
- Anxiety surrounding anything that reminds you of the accident, such as smell, sound, or sight.
- Mood changes, changes in appetite, and a sleeping pattern change.
- An inability to concentrate, general anxiety, and depression
You don’t have to be physically injured or even a participant in an accident to experience post-traumatic stress. Not only the driver, but passengers involved in an accident can also experience shock. Witnesses and first responders can also be affected.
It’s important to know that this does not mean there’s something unusually wrong with you. It may just mean that you need a little extra help tackling natural anxiety after experiencing an accident. Seek help from a healthcare professional if the fear lingers longer than three months after an accident, especially if it’s hindering you from doing your job or regular daily activities.
Other emotions include:
- Shock, Denial, Disbelief. Immediately following an accident, and for several days after, people usually experience a form of shock. Shock feels different for everyone. But the common symptoms include feeling numb, being in emotional distress, continuing to feel afraid even though the event is over, or having unpredictable mood swings.
- Anger, Irritability, Agitation. The driver can feel angry at the driver of the other car, whether they were at fault or not. Passengers can also feel anger at the drivers involved in the accident. Often the anger is taken out on others around you when the agitated emotions continue. The feelings are a valid part of the stress reaction, but you don’t have to act on them.
- Guilt, Shame, Self-Blame. Many drivers think an accident was avoidable and blame themselves for it. Sometimes even the witnesses to a crash will blame themselves for not being able to prevent the accident or provide first-aid, or something else they “could have done.” It’s helpful to remind yourself that these expectations are not realistic.
- Anxiety, Worry, Fear. Anxiety is a natural reaction to any stressful incident; however, some people may experience no symptoms of anxiety at all after a vehicle accident. Common symptoms include:
- Unable to relax or sleep properly.
- Finding it difficult to concentrate.
- Feeling unsociable, not wanting to talk.
- Feeling upset, confused, out of control, or helpless.
- Feeling irritable.
- Having no energy.
- Keeping busy to avoid thinking.
- Having unwanted thoughts.
- Sadness, Hopelessness. These feelings after a car accident are very common and often accompany symptoms of anxiety.
- Social Withdrawal and Isolation. When in shock, it’s natural to steer clear of people who may want to talk about the crash.
Physical Symptoms That Accompany Emotions
The emotions that follow a vehicle crash are natural. But eventually, the car is repaired or replaced, and physical injuries heal. However, sometimes the emotions and reactions do not fade away. Strong emotions like shock, anxiety, and depression can cause physical symptoms that we interpret as stress, such as:
- Insomnia, nightmares.
- Racing heartbeat, dry mouth.
- Fatigue, low energy.
- Muscle tension, aches, and pains.
- Headache, stomach distress.
- Crying spells.
- Hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response.
There are also mental (cognitive) symptoms that can accompany the emotions following a vehicle accident, such as:
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness.
- Intrusive memories or flashbacks.
After a vehicle accident, it is essential to pay attention to and document any symptoms you experience. Even if the symptoms don’t appear until days or weeks later, do not discount them. Symptoms that could be a sign of a resulting physical condition include:
- Lack of Concentration and Memory Loss. Traumatic head injuries following an accident can lead to difficulty forming thoughts or expressing yourself. However, memory and concentration issues can be due to stress or other mental and physical health complications.
- Eating and Sleeping Changes. Lack of appetite isn’t unusual when dealing with symptoms following a car accident. This may be due to stress, an upset stomach, concussion, depression, or other reasons. Emotional or stress eating can also be a response to a vehicle accident. Difficulty sleeping may be a result of other symptoms interfering with your ability to get to sleep or sleep soundly. Nightmares and stress can affect your ability to fall or stay asleep.
Fighting Anxiety after a Vehicle Accident
Returning to your regular routine is a great way to combat anxiety. But, give yourself time and be patient with your feelings. One of the easiest ways to fight anxiety is to talk about it. If you can, talk about the accident and your feelings with people you trust, such as family, friends, or a healthcare professional.
Most people will eventually return to driving sometime after an accident. When they do, it is normal to feel anxious about driving. However, driving can help conquer the anxiety.
Taking care of yourself, even when you’re feeling anxious is vital. Eat balanced meals, get plenty of sleep, and go for walks often. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs, since these may feel good at the time but can make anxiety worse. Help subside anxious feelings with something positive and relaxing, like a favorite hobby.
Some self-help strategies to help you start feeling yourself again after an accident include:
- Take care of yourself. Eat a balanced diet, exercise often, and get plenty of sleep and rest.
- Keep a balanced schedule between work and home. Try to stick to your normal daily routine and activities.
- Talk about your experience with your family, friends, qualified counselors, or other advisors.
- Try meditation, prayer, or asking for prayers from others.
- If other family members were involved in the crash as well, talk about the crash as a family and let them know that it is helpful to share their thoughts and feelings. Avoid arguing about who was to blame for the accident. Give each other plenty of love and reassurance.
- If a child or teenager was involved in the crash, make sure their schoolteachers and the principal know about the crash.
Remember, it’s a good idea for anyone involved in an accident to seek immediate medical attention. If these or any other symptoms appear several days after an accident, it is important to visit a medical professional to diagnose and treat potentially lingering problems.
Novus Spine & Pain Center
The Novus Spine & Pain Center is in Lakeland, Florida, and specializes in treating chronic pain associated with vehicle accidents. By using a comprehensive approach and cutting-edge therapies, we work together with patients to restore function and regain an active lifestyle, while minimizing the need for opiates.
Our Mission Statement: To provide the best quality of life to people suffering from pain, by providing state of the art treatments, knowledge and skill, compassion, and respect for all.
Emotions After a Vehicle Accident Resources
7 delayed injury symptoms after a car crash (KTAR)
12 Post Car Accident Symptoms to Watch Out For (DeSalvo Law)
Emotional and Mental Issues After a Car Accident (Dolman Law Group)
What To Expect After Getting Into a Car Accident (Canstar)