When most people think about trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, they think of a soldier who is experiencing anxiety following an experience in combat. Yet there are many traumatic events that cause people to react with more severe, persistent anxiety response. Motor Vehicle accidents in which your or your loved one’s life was threatened or in which you observed a loved one die is incredibly traumatic and frequently produces PTSD symptoms.
Can a Car Accident Cause Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
The CDC reports that in the United States, about 100 people die every day from a motor vehicle accident, making this a high probability death risk in the US.
Car accidents are incredibly common. Most of us have been in a fender bender once or twice. But when the accident results in us witnessing the death of someone that we love or threatens our life, our body often reacts in a different way.
As uncomfortable as anxiety is, it does serve a purpose. Anxiety allows us to be aware of our surroundings, avoid potentially negative situations and learn from past events to protect our safety and well-being. It stinks. It’s uncomfortable. But it’s a good thing overall.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, on the other hand, is an anxiety response in overdrive.
Slam on your breaks and nearly hit the car in front of you, you may feel anxious for a few hours to weeks. But see your life flash before your eyes and your amygdala (the fear center of your brain) wants to be sure that you never forget.
What Are Some Warning Signs of PTSD Caused By An Auto Accident?
- Initially many people will find that they keep “replaying” the accident over and over in their head. In any moment of calm or quiet, the scenes from the accident can start replaying in their head.
- More severe forms of PTSD may trigger flashbacks that make the individual feel like they are back in the situation again, flooded with anxiety, distress and dissociation.
- Some may experience more distress at night with recurrent, upsetting dreams leaving them feeling exhausted and unable to go back to sleep.
- Visuals and conversations that remind them of the accident can suddenly elicit strong feelings of anxiety and often are avoided to reduce the feelings of distress.
- Overtime, people may notice that they have a shift in their mood, feel less interested in things that used to be enjoyable, and may even struggle to feel positive emotions.
- Physical changes can also occur resulting in a change in concentration, increased startle response, irritability, and feeling very on edge.
While much of this response is simply our body trying to protect us from future danger, it makes many of our lives miserable. This response goes above protecting us, and makes it difficult for us to enjoy or live life the way we have in the past.
Yet the good news is that PTSD is treatable, and many are able to find ways to reduce their anxiety and feel positive again.
What are suggested treatments for PTSD?
There are a number of effective, evidence-based treatments for PTSD. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), supportive talk therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) are common ways to approach treatment.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – This focus on the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Our thoughts, emotions and behaviors can become tied to a certain event and triggers. CBT looks to find ways to break these associations and may result in individuals feeling less anxious and more calm.
Supportive talk therapy – Trauma can become even more anxiety provoking when it challenges our sense of safety, worldview, and view of ourselves. This kind of therapy is able to help individuals develop a healthy sense of self, feelings of control over their world, and make sense of the car accident.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – This treatment helps individuals feel less triggered by traumatic memories by helping them reprocess the way they experience these memories. Using bilateral simulation (tracking a moving light with their eyes, or holding on to buzzers in their hands) individuals are asked to recall a traumatic event and will often feel less triggered or traumatized by the memory following the recall.
Seeking help for PTSD
Ultimately, there is no one size fits all in treatment. This is why our therapists always take a tailored approach to each person’s needs and experiences. Car accident trauma, anxiety, and PTSD are always handled with extreme care allowing the client to feel in control of their story, treatment and experience in every session.
There is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to posttraumatic stress disorder. When our lives or the lives of those we love are threatened or lost, we feel it. It leaves a mark on our psyche. Yet, it doesn’t have to cause severe distress forever.
PTSD following a car accident is a very treatable concern and the psychologists and counselors at Biltmore Psychology and Counseling would be more than happy to help.
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Dr. Melissa Estavillo is a Licensed Psychologist and founder of Biltmore Psychology and Counseling. With over 7 years of experience, she specializes in both individual and couples therapy in Phoenix and Scottsdale, AZ. She integrates complementary methodologies and techniques stemming from Emotionally Focused Theory, Psychodynamic Theory and Other Evidence Based Practices to offer a highly personalized approach tailored to each client.