Unfortunately, car accidents are relatively commonplace. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and WebMD, in the United States, someone will suffer a car accident-related injury once every 10 seconds. While many of these injuries may be relatively minor and leave the victim otherwise unscathed, the emotional impact of getting in a car crash lingers.
Over 33% of those who are part of a nonfatal crash fear getting behind the wheel and report symptoms of anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) a year after the event.
If you are struggling with post car accident anxiety, know that you are not alone. More importantly, know that there are proactive steps you can take to lessen your fears and get some much-needed relief. Here are some strategies for effectively coping with post car accident anxiety.
Take It One Day At a Time
It can be daunting to consider the long-term effects of any trauma or major life event. If you obsess about your post car accident anxiety and get caught up in thoughts about experiencing these symptoms for months or even years to come, it may take considerably longer to heal.
To effectively manage your post car accident anxiety, take it one day at a time. Car accidents and car dealerships often go hand-in-hand. In the days following the accident, you may have to work with the dealership to repair your vehicle and to get a different vehicle to temporarily drive to and from work. Instead of fretting about this days before it happens, gather any paperwork you may need, set it aside in a safe spot, and then put it out of your mind until the day of.
Focusing too heavily on the past invites rumination and self-criticism. Focusing too heavily on the future invites worrying and agonizing about things that may never occur. To take it one day at a time and focus on the present moment, try deep breathing techniques, meditation, and grounding techniques. One simple grounding technique is the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique. By naming five things you see, four things you feel, three things you hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste, you shift your attention back to what is currently happening. That can be especially useful if you are driving or about to drive and begin panicking about the possibility of getting in another car accident.
Find a Ride If You’re Nervous to Drive Right Away
Along the same lines of taking it one day at a time, it is important to pace yourself and not do too much too fast. Start by driving around your neighborhood. From there, you can move on to low traffic areas near your home. To avoid making matters worse, don’t get on the highway or drive through the same heavily trafficked intersection where the accident occurred the very next day.
As you ease into it, it is a perfectly valid option to take public or private transportation services as necessary. Ask a trusted family member or friend to ride in the car with you to help relieve some of your post car accident anxiety.
Write Down Your Fears
Writing has the potential to heal not only emotional traumas but also the physical symptoms of anxiety and depression. Anxiety often manifests in physical symptoms, like headaches, vertigo, rapid heart rate, chest pain, nausea, stomachaches, and muscle tension. Over time, chronic stress can take an incredible toll on your entire body and immune system, making you markedly more prone to getting sick. The cure, according to Professor James Pennebake, might be writing about traumas and doing it in specific ways. For the most effective writing as catharsis, follow these tips.
First, focus on meaning. Accidents can take a terrible toll on our mental health and, too often, they seem senseless and random. While getting in a drunk driving accident is never a good thing, it can open up room to reflect. If you were the drunk driver, could the accident have been worse? Will you get behind the wheel after drinking again? If you were the other party, it can still be a grave reminder not to downplay the seriousness of driving after having a few drinks.
Secondly, know what’s possible. Studies show that writing can treat existing physical symptoms and even stave off physical ailments moving forward. ‘Writing helped patients get better, and also kept them from getting worse,’ Psychologist Joshua Smyth tells The Monitor.
Third, label emotions. Try to describe and label the emotions you feel after a car accident. Labeling emotions helps your brain make sense of them, organize them, and move past them.
Finally, use the word ‘I’ sparingly. At first, it may be best to simply get your feelings out. If you are going to continue writing to work through your post car accident anxiety or trauma, consider tweaking your methods a bit. One way to do that is to use the word ‘I’ as sparingly as possible. When you use the word ‘I’ in your writing, you are often focusing on what you did leading up to and during the accident or what you may have possibly done differently. Using ‘he’ or ‘she’ or focusing on others’ actions or roles in the accident can shift the focus away from the guilt, shame, and regret you may feel. In fact, it may even help you realize that you were less culpable than you initially thought.
Review the Best Safe Driving Practices
Even as the towing company is taking your car away from the scene, you may be thinking about what you could have done differently. Perhaps you think if you had only reacted slightly faster or looked up in time, you may have avoided the accident altogether. Perhaps the accident felt entirely out of your control. Whether you are at fault or not — no matter what role you played in the collision — taking steps to regain your sense of control can be tremendously helpful. One way to do that is to review safe driving tips.
Some of the best defensive driving practices are to avoid all distractions (don’t use devices while driving), look over your shoulder to check blind spots rather than relying solely on your rear-view and side-view mirrors, and to slow down. Speeding plays a role in 33% of fatal car crashes. Sticking to the speed limit will reduce the severity of impacts when they do occur.
It is also best to avoid driving after little to no sleep. Excessively drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as driving while under the influence.
Get the Medical Help You Need
One of the most important things to understand about post car accident anxiety is that it is valid and that your anxiety symptoms do not minimize any pain you may feel. Don’t make matters worse by assuming that you are overreacting or that your pain isn’t a big deal. If you believe you may be injured, it is always prudent to get checked out by a medical professional and to do it as soon as possible.
Remember, this isn’t just for your peace of mind. Following a car accident, your insurance company will require appropriate documentation of any injuries related to the crash. Without this documentation, they may deny your insurance claim. Many providers have deadlines and may not accept medical bills or medical records after an allotted time period. That period varies from state to state, but it is generally seven to 30 days following the crash.
Don’t be afraid to get the help you need. Heading to the hospital — even with a serious injury — does not always mean undergoing invasive treatments, like surgery. Your doctor may also be able to refer you to a physical therapist or other means of rehabilitation, like a local car accident chiropractor.
Get Your Finances Straightened Out
Finances are one of the leading contributors to stress. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), in any given month, at least 72% of U.S. adults experience symptoms of stress thanks to money. That stress can be dramatically heightened — and significantly contribute to your post car accident anxiety — by the expenses following a crash. After a collision, you may have considerable medical expenses, you may miss days or weeks of work, and you may have to foot the bill for vehicle loans and car accident lawyer fees. To minimize this money-related stress, get your finances in order.
First, consult with your lawyer. Your lawyer is there to help you. Unfortunately, insurance carriers may not be as forthright or eager to pay out claims as you would like. At the end of the day, their job is to pay out as little as possible in order to make a profit. If your insurance company puts up extra barriers or attempts to otherwise delay your claim, a lawyer will be able to act as your advocate and help you speed up the process if at all possible.
Next, rework your budget. Make concessions where you need to. While waiting for reimbursement through insurance claims, see where you can pare back expenses to put your mind at ease. Depending on your current spending habits, you may be able to save a significant amount by ordering less takeout or by skipping your daily trip to Starbucks.
Finally, take steps to maintain your credit. If you are particularly strapped for cash after an accident, you may be tempted to take action and to do it fast. While a payday loan may initially seem like a good idea, it is wise to carefully evaluate all options first. For example, many companies will work with you to set up a payment plan. If it helps, you may be able to change the date payments are due each month and defer loan payments for a month or two while you get back on your feet.
Having your finances in order will take a tremendous weight off your shoulders, significantly reducing your post car accident anxiety.
Obtain Professional Help
Remember, after a car accident, you do not have to go it alone! Even minor accidents can result in persistent, lingering post car accident anxiety, and one of the best ways to treat that anxiety is to get professional help. Schedule a therapy appointment to help you work through your feelings.
To find a therapist, use search tools on your insurance provider’s website to see what mental health professionals accept your insurance, peruse online directories like Psychology Today or GoodTherapy, and/or schedule a phone interview or introductory session to determine if you and your chosen therapist are a good fit.
After finding a therapist, he or she will have several different resources to help you. They may walk you through grounding techniques, mindfulness techniques, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) strategies, and more to help you lessen your post car accident anxiety. If you prefer, you can simply talk through your feelings. If you feel unable to put your feelings into words, ask your therapist about less conventional methodologies, like art or music therapy.
Don’t overthink it. Sometimes, the best way to overcome anxiety or otherwise improve your mental health is to practice self-care and treat yourself. There are several ways to reinvigorate yourself after a stressful crash. Consider a trip to a medical spa, spending a day in nature, or surrounding yourself with friends.
A medical spa is a combination of a luxury day spa and a medical center. Medical spas may have doctors on the premises and offer additional cosmetic procedures, like medically approved skin treatments, fillers, or plastic surgery. Nature is restorative and immersing yourself in the woods or other natural environments is proven to reduce stress. Likewise, close friendships reduce stress, boost levels of happiness, and may even help you live longer.
Are you suffering from post car accident anxiety? Don’t suffer needlessly. While some anxiety is normal, there are steps you can take to proactively chip away at your anxiety and make it a more pleasant experience for you to get behind the wheel. Ease into it, take it one day at a time, and get the help you need, whether it is for physical symptoms or your mental and emotional well-being.