I’ve been in a car accident – now what??
Whether it’s stress, anxiety, depression, shock, tearfulness, sleeplessness, or countless other impacts, we all respond to and experience a traumatic event differently. When it comes to an MVA, this may depend on how much physical damage was done, the nature of the accident itself (how shocking was it – did you see it coming or not?), whether you are also experiencing physical injuries, and how you are making sense of what happened (are you blaming yourself? Or blaming others?) These factors can absolutely play a part in a person’s recovery. But there are things that EVERYONE can do NOW to help them get on the best possible course towards healing. These basic principles may even reduce the likelihood of developing PTSD:
1) Make self-care a top priority.
They may seem basic. But eating well, creating conditions where you can sleep well (enough), and maintaining some degree of a regular routine can really make a difference in the early days.
2) Change your expectations of yourself.
If you are physically or psychologically injured, you are not going to operate at the same level that you did earlier. Period. It is an adjustment for sure, especially if you are used to being very active and motivated. But meeting yourself at your current level of functioning will allow you to set reasonable, achievable goals and work upwards from there. Many people can get hung up on feeling frustrating with the disruption of the accident.
3) Acknowledge the ways in which you were able to respond.
Sometimes an MVA, especially if it was without warning, can leave people feeling completely blindsided, like they had no control over it. And although there is truth to this, it can be helpful to think about in what ways did you respond that were helpful. This may your reaction to hit the brake, or to call 9-1-1, or to try and protect your passengers. Sometimes it is simple things that you do after the accident, like checking over your body to see if you are ok. Sometimes people are in a state of shock – which can feel unhelpful but actually is our body’s way of protecting us from further trauma. Acknowledge the small ways you tried to protect yourself or others.
4) Stay connected with people.
Sometimes if an MVA is serious enough, you may be off work for a period or become isolated. In this case, it becomes even more important to be proactive in your connections with others. Especially if you used to rely on work and other activities as your main social outlet.
5) Journal or talk to others about feelings that you are noticing.
– be they negative thoughts, frequent worrying, guilt, sadness, or any other strong emotion. These are often part of the expected response, but sometimes these can be indicators that bigger things are going on, such as clinical depression or anxiety, which would benefit from treatment.
6) Catch yourself using avoidance strategies.
You will likely be tempted to avoid things that remind you of the accident – like driving or being a passenger. Do your best to continue to expose yourself, even if in small increments, to those things, while also using relaxation strategies like breathing to help you remain calm. The more you avoid, the bigger the problem is likely to become.
7) Connect with a counsellor.
…and other professionals as soon as possible. If you live in British Columbia and you’ve been physically or emotionally injured, you may be eligible for free counselling through ICBC. As of April 1, 2019, you are entitled to 12 pre-approved sessions within the first 12 weeks following an accident, regardless of whose fault it is. So get started right away to maximize this benefit.