Home Mental Health & Well-Being The Emotional Toll of Suffering a Traumatic Car Accident

The Emotional Toll of Suffering a Traumatic Car Accident

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Auto collisions are one of the leading causes of physical, accident-related injuries worldwide. They can also create immediate or long-lasting financial burdens related to medical or vehicle expenses. While some of these effects are visible to the naked eye, others are more hidden. After a car accident, it is quite common to immediately feel overwhelmed or panicked, feelings which we would generally consider to be the extent of any psychological impacts caused by the incident. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as a car accident of any severity has the potential to incite more intense emotions that can last for months to years. 

The psychological distress that an individual undergoes following a car accident can vary depending on the specific circumstances surrounding the incident- mainly, how traumatic the incident was perceived to be. While some individuals may immediately be able to recognize the emotional effects of the accident, others may deem the effects too minor to be considered ‘traumatic,’ thus not receiving the appropriate support. It is noteworthy that if you are impacted by the incident in any way, your trauma is not insignificant. A few common examples of the emotional toll of a traumatic car accident include the fear of driving, anxiety while sitting in a vehicle, PTSD, and more, which we will be further expanding on. 

Driving anxiety

Anxiety can be a confusing disorder to suffer from, especially if your anxiety was not present before the accident. You may suddenly begin experiencing panic or fear when thinking about setting off for your driving destination. These emotions can develop into trembling hands on the steering wheel or paranoia concerning other drivers while out on the road. Even being in a motionless vehicle can be triggering for victims of an auto collision. 

Anxiety can be reduced through numerous means, with the most common being meditation and therapy. Easy practices to work through anxiety or panic attacks include yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises. Many free tutorials for these can be found on video streaming platforms, such as YouTube. 

Posttraumatic stress disorder

PTSD is generally attributed to veterans or those who have been in severely traumatic situations. Regardless, car accident injury victims can also develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms of this disorder are long-lasting and can interfere with your health and mental well-being. They may include, but are not limited to: night terrors, vivid memory recalls, and changes in behaviour.

A large indicator of PTSD is avoidance, as individuals who have undergone traumatic incidents with specific objects will frequently go out of their way to avoid that object in their daily lives. PTSD is typically treated using therapy or medications and can be quite lengthy, but not impossible. 


Shock is one of the more obvious signs of emotional distress after a car accident, and can last well past the initial incident. Individuals who are ‘still in shock’ may often find the memory of the accident to be surreal, or fantasy altogether. Avoidance frequently occurs simultaneously with shock, meaning that they will typically avoid the duties or issues surrounding the accident due to not having processed it yet. 

Shock can be tricky to identify; however, a few of the common symptoms to note include unusual fatigue, feeling displaced in social or public settings, panicking upon perceiving reminders of the accident, and brain fog. Seeing a therapist or counselor can be helpful in working through the emotions associated with the cause of the trauma. If you prefer a more personal setting, support groups or leaning on your individual support network are also excellent approaches for treatment. 


Drivers involved in an auto collision may sometimes find themselves wondering if they were to blame for the accident. This can occur even if there is evidence suggesting that they are not at fault. The guilt from these feelings can be incredibly damaging to one’s self-esteem, and even invoke a fear of driving if they linger. Sometimes, we may find ourselves in situations where we have unintentionally caused harm to others. The guilt derived from such incidents is normal but can be quite damaging as well. 

Healing from one’s guilt begins with showing yourself kindness and not neglecting your care. Occasionally, the weight of emotional distress can be overbearing; therapy, counseling sessions, support groups, and leaning on family and friends for support are all viable options for assistance. 

Why seeking support is important

Sufferers of car accidents can experience many different mental effects, including guilt, anxiety, shock, fatigue, paranoia, fear, sadness, and embarrassment. The emotional toll caused by the incident can impact one’s daily life and interfere with routine activities. Seeking support can provide a clear path for healing and improving your mental health. 

In the modern world, there are plenty of mental health treatment options available that are suited to meet specific needs. With virtual therapy, counseling sessions can be done from the comfort of your couch at home. For those frequently on the go, text therapy is also an amazing option. With the world at our fingertips on devices such as phones or laptops, hundreds of options can be found for support. The bottom line is- help is always accessible if you need it.

Tim Williamson, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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