Each year more than 6 million traffic accidents occur in the United States. If you’ve been in an accident, you might have had many different feelings at the time of the accident and in the days following it. Some of these feelings might have included the following:
- Trouble believing it really happened
- Nervousness or worry
- Fear or uneasiness
In addition, you might keep going over the accident in your mind. You might feel like you can’t stop thinking about it.
Most people who have been in an accident have some (or all) of these feelings. Sometimes, though, these feelings can be so strong that they keep you from living a normal life after the accident.
What’s the difference between normal feelings after an accident and feelings that are too strong?
For most people who are in a traffic accident, their feelings go away over time. However, some people’s feelings don’t go away or they become stronger, changing the way the people think and act. Strong feelings that stay with a person for a long time and start to get in the way of everyday life are signs of a condition called post-traumatic stress. If you have post-traumatic stress, you may have some of the following problems:
- An ongoing, general feeling of uneasiness
- Problems driving or riding in vehicles
- Not wanting to have medical tests or procedures done
- Irritability, or excessive worry or anger
- Nightmares or trouble sleeping
- A feeling that you’re not connected to other events or people
- Ongoing memories of the accident that you can’t stop
How can I cope with the feelings I have after my accident?
- Talk to your friends and relatives about the details of the accident and how you thought, felt and acted at the time of the accident and in the days after it.
- Stay active. Exercise and take part in activities (anything that doesn’t bother your injuries). Your family doctor can help you figure out how much you can do safely.
- Follow up with your family doctor. He or she can give you referrals to other health care providers you may need, watch over your recovery and prescribe any medicine you need.
- Try to get back to your daily activities and routines. Traffic accidents make some people limit what they do. It’s important to try to get back to your usual activities, even if you’re uncomfortable or scared at first.
- Learn to be a defensive driver. Driving or riding in cars might be hard after the accident. You can lower your risk of future accidents or injuries by driving carefully, wearing your seat belt at all times and avoiding distractions while you’re driving. Never drive when you’re tired. Don’t drive if you’ve had alcohol or taken drugs or medicines that affect your judgment.
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD