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On the Road Again: Overcoming Fear and Anxiety after a Car Accident

Anxiety and Fear after a car accident

Whether you were the driver, passenger or an observer, its normal to feel stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, even angry immediately after a car accident. It’s also normal to feel many different emotions or not much of anything at all, as everyone deals with trauma differently.

Injuries sustained in car accidents are commonly described as whiplash, neck injuries, brain and head injuries, spinal cord injuries, back injuries, facial/dental injuries and internal injuries. However, it is the “invisible” (psychological) injuries that can sometimes be the most difficult for injury victims to recover from.

Motor vehicle accidents can result in drivers and passengers suffering short or long-term psychological injuries such as emotional distress, post-traumatic stress disorder, persistent anxiety and depression.  These psychological injuries affect every aspect of a person’s life and without treatment, can have long-lasting effects.

Are my symptoms normal?

Some Canadians develop ‘“vehophobia”, a driving phobia caused by a negative experience in the past. This phobia may be mild (fear of driving on highways) to extreme (cannot even be a passenger in a car). It can occur in people who have never been involved in an accident, so for those who have suffered a car accident injury, it is normal to experience feelings of fear and anxiety when thinking about getting behind the wheel again.

These feelings tend to stem from subconsciously reliving the accident when confronted with situations or sounds on the road that remind you of the trauma. Having flashbacks and recurring thoughts like this are a form of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Changes in sleep patterns or appetite
  • Feeling “on edge,” easily startled, or becoming overly alert
  • Crying for no reason, feeling despair, hopelessness or depression
  • Memory problems, difficulty making decisions
  • Feeling scattered, unable to focus on work or daily activities
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Anger or resentment
  • Emotional numbness or withdrawal
  • Sudden over-protectiveness and fear for the safety of loved ones
  • Avoidance of activities, places or even people that remind you of the accident

Many people will notice these symptoms immediately after an accident. For those who continue to experience these feelings on an ongoing basis, there are treatments that can help you feel like yourself again.

Note: In Ontario, your rehabilitative and therapeutic expenses may be covered after a car accident. Learn more about what you are entitled to when claiming car injury compensation.

Join an Anxiety Support Group

Anxiety support groups can be extremely helpful in allowing you to talk through your fears with a group who can relate and understand how you are feeling. This can help you realize your fears and anxieties are understandable, and that you are not suffering alone.

Consider Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

A therapist will work with you so you can learn positive ways to cope with anxiety and control harmful thoughts, feelings and behaviours. If you are suffering from severe fear and anxiety, your therapist may also recommend exposure therapy, where you are guided to gradually and carefully re-live parts of the experience to work through the trauma and face your fears head-on.

Practice Self Love

Minimize (driving) stress by taking care of yourself. Face your fears and deal with them head-on by incorporating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and spending quality time with family and friends. Making sure your mind and body are in balance can be extremely helpful when trying to overcome stress, nerves and anxious feelings.

Enroll in Defensive Driving Courses

Gain a clearer sense of control in driving environments by having a driving instructor walk you through defensive driving procedures. This will help you respond calmly to stressful situations, boosting your confidence and skill on the road.

Most Importantly…

Stay positive! Over time and with treatment, most people injured in a car accident are able to move on and heal, feeling comfortable enough to get behind the wheel and remember the traumatic event without reliving it.

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