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How to deal with trauma after a road accident

Understanding the symptoms and what to do about it…

Those unfortunate enough to have been involved in an accident at some point may remember the feelings associated with trauma. For some, the symptoms that come with trauma can be debilitating and have a major impact on your every day life, even though these effects may only occur much later in life.

This is why it is so important to take care of yourself after an accident. Seeking trauma counseling is the first place to start.

“Motor vehicle accidents are considered the leading cause of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the general population and car accidents are the number on trauma for men and the second most frequent trauma for women,” says Arrive Alive.

Below is some handy information by Arrive Alive to help you understand what the symptoms of trauma after a motor accident are, and what to do if you or someone you know may be affected:

What are the symptoms?

It is important to note that developing symptoms is never a sign of weakness. People who go through traumatic experiences often have certain symptoms and problems afterward. How severe these symptoms are depends on the person, the type of trauma involved, and the emotional support they receive from others. Reactions to and symptoms of trauma can be wide and varied, and differ in severity from person to person. A traumatized individual may experience one or several of them. Sometimes these responses can be delayed, for months or even years after the event. Often people do not initially associate their symptoms with the precipitating trauma.

Common personal and behavioral effects of emotional trauma:

  • substance abuse
  • compulsive behavior patterns
  • self-destructive and impulsive behavior
  • uncontrollable reactive thoughts
  • inability to make healthy professional or lifestyle choices
  • dissociative symptoms (“splitting off” parts of the self)
  • feelings of ineffectiveness, shame, despair, hopelessness
  • feeling permanently damaged
  • a loss of previously sustained beliefs

Common effects of emotional trauma on interpersonal relationships:

  • inability to maintain close relationships or choose appropriate friends and mates
  • sexual problems
  • hostility
  • arguments with family members, employers or co-workers
  • social withdrawal
  • feeling constantly threatened

Additional Symptoms Associated with a Severe Precipitating Event

Symptom Characteristics

Re-experiencing the trauma

  • intrusive thoughts
  • flashbacks or nightmares
  • sudden floods of emotions or images related to the traumatic event

Emotional numbing and avoidance

  • amnesia
  • avoidance of situations that resemble the initial event
  • detachment
  • depression
  • guilt feelings
  • grief reactions
  • an altered sense of time

Increased arousal

  • hyper-vigilance, jumpiness, an extreme sense of being “on guard”
  • overreactions, including sudden unprovoked anger
  • general anxiety
  • insomnia
  • obsessions with death
Coping with Trauma and Emotional Stress

Why can an event cause an emotionally traumatic response in one person and not in another? There is no clear answer to this question, but it is likely that one or more of these factors are involved:

  • the severity of the event
  • the individual’s personal history (which may not even be recalled)
  • the larger meaning the event represents for the individual (which may not be immediately evident)
  • coping skills, values and beliefs held by the individual (some of which may have never been identified)
  • the reactions and support from family, friends, and/or professionals

What if symptoms don’t go away, or appear at a later time?

Over time, even without professional treatment, symptoms of an emotional trauma generally subside, and normal daily functioning gradually returns. However, even after time has passed, sometimes the symptoms don’t go away. Or they may appear to be gone, but surface again in another stressful situation. When a person’s daily life functioning or life choices continue to be affected, a post-traumatic stress disorder may be the problem, requiring professional assistance.

The good news is that psychological interventions are effective in preventing many long-term effects.

Traditional approaches to treating emotional trauma include:

  • talk therapies (working out the feelings associated with the trauma)
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) involves changing one’s thoughts and actions, and includes systematic desensitization to reduce reactivity to a traumatic stressor
  • relaxation/stress reduction techniques, such as biofeedback and breathwork
  • hypnosis to deal with reactions often below the level of conscious awareness

An Intervention and Support Strategy could include the following:

  • Critical Incident Stress Management
  • Follow-up support and counseling
  • Assessment and referrals for therapy

Much attention, effort and funding have been focused on creating awareness of road safety. It is also important that we do not neglect the injured victims, survivors and the professionals who have to deal with trauma every day. The Arrive Alive Road Safety website commits towards providing information on trauma counseling to increase awareness of this important aspect of road safety. For more information click here.

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