Navigating Stress and Anxiety After a Car Accident

Reviewed by Louis Patino, JD, DC

Louis Patino, JD, DC
A former U.S. Army Combat Medic, Dr. Louis Patino is a distinguished attorney recognised by Top Attorneys of America, Expertise, and the American Institute of Trial Lawyers. He has a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Texas Southern University and a Doctor of Chiropractic from Parker College of Chiropractic.

stress-after-car-accident

A car crash is a terrifying experience that can happen in an instant. One moment, you’re calmly driving down the road. The next, your world spins out of control with a deafening jolt and the screech of tires. 

Many people are familiar with the physical impact of a collision, but few think about the emotional scars left long after injuries have healed.

Intrusive thoughts, reliving the trauma, panic attacks, and overwhelm are more common than you might think — and entirely normal.

While the aftermath of a crash can be terrifying — sometimes more so than the initial event — support exists to help you deal with stress and anxiety after your car accident.

How Car Accidents Affect Mental Health

Just as physical injuries impact individuals uniquely, there is no predicting how a car accident will affect you emotionally. You may experience constant anxiety, similar to a persistent headache or an ache that won’t go away. For others, symptoms are less predictable and can flare without warning. For example, a loved one might need to go out of town, causing you intense fear they will be hurt in a crash, or hearing a song on the radio that is on your driving playlist might trigger a flashback of being trapped in your car.

Emotional distress can be prolonged and interfere with your daily life or come in quick bursts. One is no less severe than the other — either experience can shake you to the core, causing you to consciously or unconsciously change your behavior.

While fear is the most common manifestation of stress and anxiety after a car accident, it is not the only reaction. 

You may feel angry at the person who caused your accident or at yourself for “letting” the accident happen — especially if others were also hurt. This anger might even be directed toward others, including family and friends, trying to help and support you.

And, like physical injuries, the psychological impact of a crash can be overcome quickly or have a lasting effect. Some people bounce back quite fast, while others face long-term mental health challenges.

The Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety after an Accident

Stress and anxiety manifest in multiple ways. Some symptoms are subtle and may not be apparent until days, weeks, or months after, when they bubble up and become impossible to ignore. These signs can be emotional or cognitive, but they can also influence your physical health:

  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Intrusive memories of the accident
  • Avoidance of situations linked to the accident
  • Changes in your personality or behavior
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
  • Changes in appetite
  • Excessive fatigue or a lack of energy.

It’s normal to be more acutely aware of the dangers of driving on the road after a car accident, but more severe symptoms can indicate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This condition is typically characterized by persistent anxiety, flashbacks or intrusive memories, avoiding reminders of the accident (such as places, people, thoughts, and feelings), and isolation. You may also be hyper-sensitive to potential threats and unable to shake the feeling that something bad will happen — however unlikely or irrational it may seem.

Coping Strategies for Dealing with Mental Anguish from a Car Crash

There’s no rule book on how to cope with the stress and anxiety that can follow a car crash. What works for one person won’t make any difference for another or could even set them back, exacerbating stress symptoms.

That said, several strategies and techniques can help car accident victims manage their emotions and process their trauma. Engaging with these can feel uncomfortable, and feeling some resistance can be a positive sign of growth. That said, you shouldn’t push yourself too hard, which could lengthen your recovery overall.

Moving past trauma is a significant feat and will not happen overnight, so the most important takeaway is to go at your own pace and not compare your progress — or lack thereof — to anyone else’s. This is your journey, and with time, you will come through the other side.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

Acknowledging your emotions after an accident is a vital step, but it can also be the most challenging, especially if you were raised in a culture or environment that taught you to suppress or downplay your emotions. You might even feel you must “stay strong” for your loved ones. It can be helpful to view your circumstances as temporary. Feeling this way, whether you are sad, angry, confused, or any other of the many complex emotions that can manifest after a car accident, is not a sign of weakness, and neither is admitting it — if only to yourself.

That said, it is essential to have a support system.

Your Support System: Who to Talk to about Your Anxiety after a Car Accident

Friends and Family

Often, the best way to cope is by reaching out. Friends and family can be an invaluable line of support, as they are familiar with your personality and how you manage stress. They need not offer advice — a sympathetic ear can go a long way, and simply having a non-judgmental sounding board to air your feelings can take some of the mental load off your shoulders.

Don’t underestimate the practical assistance loved ones can provide, either. Do not be afraid to ask for help with groceries, childcare, and other daily tasks, and try to resist any concerns about being a burden. It can be helpful to remind yourself that you won’t need their support forever, and you can repay their kindness later on.

Peer Support

If you don’t have family or friends you feel comfortable speaking with; you do not have to soldier on alone. There are many reasons you might feel this way — perhaps your family won’t understand, or you don’t want to worry them, especially if they are dealing with issues in their own lives.

Peer support groups composed of people who have experienced similar situations can provide advice and validation. Peer support can take the form of structured group therapy, more informal “drop-in” sessions, or online support if you cannot attend in person or you feel more comfortable interacting online. Like most forms of recovery, the fastest and most effective way to move forward is to take small, measurable steps. Online communities and forums can help you gradually build up to in-person sessions while still providing valuable support.

Professional Support

Seeking professional help for stress and anxiety after a car accident is a significant step. Therapists and counselors are trained professionals who can provide you with strategies and techniques to cope with your feelings, fears, and any related issues, such as insomnia or PTSD. The benefit of this route is that your care plan will be tailored to your unique circumstances.

Seeing a counselor or therapist can be daunting, and there is still a stigma attached — you might feel embarrassed or that your symptoms aren’t severe enough to warrant this type of support. However, a dedicated treatment plan can stop you from fumbling around in the dark, trying different techniques and strategies to see what works and instead give you confidence and help you see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Professional support can take multiple forms:

  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy provides a platform where you can safely talk about your fears and anxieties with a trained mental health professional. In a group setting, sessions may be more structured and focus on a particular issue or theme, whereas one-on-one therapy can be more open and free-flowing, tailored to provide whatever you need at that specific time. The most common type of psychotherapy for addressing accident-related stress is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT works by helping you understand and change thought patterns that lead to harmful behaviors or distressing feelings. 
  • Medication: While therapy is usually the first line of treatment for stress and anxiety following a car crash, medication can help as part of a broader treatment plan. Your doctor may prescribe medication for your emotional or cognitive symptoms — such as antidepressants for mood swings — or for the physical symptoms that manifest due to your anxiety. 

Self-Care

While professional help and a supportive network of friends, family, and peers are critical to managing post-crash stress and anxiety, self-care techniques are just as crucial. These practices can help you establish a daily routine and provide stability as you recover.

Engaging in Activities That Bring You Joy

Participating in activities that uplift your spirit can reduce anxiety. Such activities might include spending time in nature, painting or drawing, reading, and cooking. The goal is to find the things that bring you comfort and take your mind off the negative emotions associated with your accident, if only for a few hours.

Regular Sleep and Rest 

Sleep is vital for your overall health. Fatigue makes you more prone to stress, worry, and mood swings. It can also prolong your physical recovery by compromising your immune system and hindering the release of growth hormones that repair tissue and muscle during deep sleep.

Creating and sticking to a bedtime routine can help prepare your body and mind for sleep — avoid drinking caffeine and eating before bed, limit screen time, and try to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. 

Speak to your doctor if you have insomnia, feel overly tired during the day despite a consistent sleep schedule, or are suffering from broken sleep due to nightmares or pain. Any of these can exacerbate stress and anxiety.

Keeping a Journal

Writing about your feelings helps you process emotions, identify your triggers, and monitor your progression. Moving forward after a car accident is not a linear process. On one day, you may experience little anxiety, only to have a setback the next. On some days, you may even feel like you’ll never get back to your normal, pre-accident self. But keeping a journal can be encouraging — you may look back and find that you’ve come a long way compared to the days, weeks, and months immediately after your accident and that you’ve made significant progress even on your worst days.

Keeping a journal can also be a valuable piece of evidence if you are entitled to claim compensation for your injury, proving how you were feeling on a given day and exactly how your stress, anxiety, and injuries impact you from day to day.

Physical Exercise

The role of physical exercise to alleviate stress and anxiety following a car accident cannot be understated. Regular physical exercise boosts mood, decreases tension and anxiety, and aids restful sleep by releasing endorphins — the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. It can also be a positive distraction by shifting your focus away from stressors that may be triggering your anxiety. 

It’s crucial to choose the right physical exercise. You will experience the biggest long-term benefits if you exercise consistently, which means doing an exercise you enjoy and that won’t exacerbate your physical injuries and delay your overall recovery.

Aerobic exercises such as walking or swimming put little stress on the joints, while mind-body exercises such as yoga can reduce stress and lower your blood pressure.

Remember, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider or a physical therapist before beginning a post-accident workout regimen. They can advise you on exercises that are safe and suitable for your specific situation.

When engaging in any of these strategies for managing stress and anxiety after your accident, it is key to find what works best for you. Trauma recovery takes time, but self-care can promote healing and aid your overall well-being.

Getting Back Behind the Wheel: Combating Fear of Driving after an Accident

After a car accident, it’s natural to feel anxious about getting back behind the wheel. It is vital not to rush the process, but the right strategies can help you regain confidence on the road.

The Importance of Gradual Exposure 

Exposure therapy involves slowly and gently exposing yourself to an anxiety-inducing situation — in this case, driving. You may feel comfortable doing little more than sitting in the driver’s seat in a parked car to begin with. Then, you might sit in your vehicle with the engine on for a few minutes to refamiliarize yourself with the sound and vibrations of the engine running. From there, you can advance to driving; start with a short drive in a familiar area — such as down the road or around the block — before slowly increasing the duration and distance as you gain confidence.

Drive with a Companion

Having someone you trust in the vehicle with you can help alleviate driving anxiety. Over time, you’ll regain your autonomy and have the confidence to drive independently again. 

Consider a Professional Driving Course

Often, car accidents are the fault of another driver. You can take all precautions and abide by the laws of the road and still get injured in an accident because another driver was reckless.

Still, post-accident anxiety often stems from a fear of lack of control. A professional driving course helps you regain confidence in your driving abilities and allows you to play an active role in your recovery by reclaiming some of the control taken away from you when you were in your accident.

Keep on Top of Vehicle Maintenance

Maintaining your vehicle can provide reassurance while you’re behind the wheel. Feeling safe is key to alleviating driving anxiety, so maintaining your vehicle and ensuring your car’s brakes, tires, and engines are performing well can provide reassurance that you have taken all possible steps to minimize the risk of another car accident.

Dealing with stress and anxiety after a car crash can be challenging, but with patience, persistence, and the right tools, coping strategies, and support, you can overcome this hurdle.

Dealing with the Financial Impact of a Car Accident and Your Options for Compensation for Stress and Anxiety

The costs of repairing vehicle damage, medical bills, and time off work can add to the already high level of anxiety you might experience after a car accident.

Fortunately, you may be entitled to compensation if someone else’s negligence or recklessness caused your accident. A claim can alleviate concerns about how you will afford the medical treatment you need or provide for your family while you cannot work.

But filing a claim can be stressful in itself. Insurance adjusters may even take advantage of your anxiety and pressure you to settle quickly. Often, the first offer from an insurer will be less than you deserve and may not cover all of your injury-related expenses, resulting in more stress later on.

A personal injury lawyer can be invaluable, guiding you through the process, explaining your rights, and negotiating a settlement that fairly compensates you not just for your physical injuries but your stress and anxiety, too.

When you choose our accident attorneys in McAllen and San Antonio, you’ll benefit from a partner committed to defending your legal rights and securing the best possible outcome. We’ll determine who is responsible, arrange the best medical care for your physical and psychological injuries, gather evidence to build your case and communicate with insurance adjusters so you don’t have to.

We understand the stress and anxiety that can accompany any type of legal procedure. When you are already experiencing anxiety because of your accident, the process of claiming compensation can be overwhelming. But you are entitled to financial support. We will take everything off your plate and handle the legalities so you can focus on the most important thing: your recovery.

Our car accident lawyer in San Antonio and McAllen is dedicated to fighting for compensation for individuals injured in accidents across the state. We have secured settlements and successfully fought in court on behalf of our clients suffering stress and anxiety after their accidents.

Contact our Texas personal injury law firm for a free, no-obligation case review and find out where you stand. You can call 855-LAW-NINJA, submit a contact form, or visit one of our offices. You can reach us 24/7, and you will not pay unless we win your case.

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