Whether it’s a sports injury, car accident, or freak accident that has left you incapacitated for a period of time, the mental and emotional side of an injury is often just as bad as the physical side of things.
Signs of PTSD after an injury
Almost everyone experiences some sort of mental or emotional side effects as a result of an injury. An athlete, for example, might suffer temporary depression after learning that her torn ACL will prevent her from competing for a championship with her team. A working father of five might experience extreme anxiety after learning that a traumatic brain injury suffered in a car accident will keep him out of work for at least two to three months.
These are totally normal reactions. However, sometimes the mental response to an injury can linger. In these cases, it’s worth considering whether normal stress and anxiety have morphed into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or something similar.
Here are several signs and symptoms that you should pay attention to:
- Severe anxiety about returning to the activity that caused the injury (i.e. playing a sport, driving, etc.)
- A general feeling of uneasiness that follows you everywhere
- Excessive irritability and mood swings (outbursts of anger, in particular)
- Nightmares and intense flashbacks
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep (especially if you had no sleep issues prior to the injury)
- Paralysing and irrational fear
- Feelings that you aren’t connected to other people or events in your life
If you have trusted people in your life, you might want to ask if they’ve seen any of these signs or symptoms in you. (Sometimes it can be difficult to self-identify PTSD and emotional side effects.)
5 Tips for recovering
If you’re experiencing intense and/or prolonged mental health issues associated with your injury, here are several steps you can take toward recovery:
- Stay organised. One way to keep your mind from wandering too much is by staying extremely organized during the recovery process. This means keeping all medical bills, treatment papers, receipts, and notes carefully filed away. And if your injury was caused by someone else – like in the case of a car accident or medical malpractice – consider hiring an attorney. You may or may not decide to file a claim, but at the very least, they can help you determine whether there’s a case to be made. (Having a professional on your side allows you to hand this off and spend less time worrying about it.)
- Keep a journal. Whether you’re an avid journalist or you’ve never written an entry in your life, keeping a journal during your recovery is one of the best things you can do. It allows you to make notes and track your progress over time. Whenever you feel like you aren’t making any progress, you can flip back over the previous few days/weeks and see how far you’ve come. (There’s also something very therapeutic in the actual process of journaling. Writing helps you articulate your thoughts and bring them into the physical world. This can free up some of your emotional capacity.)
- Focus on what you can control. While you may not be able to control your injury and the feelings that surround it, there are certain things in your life that you still have control over. Focus on these – no matter how simple. Can you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Focus on doing this. Can you take your dog for a walk down the street? Make that your mission. Can you play a video game with your son? Take control in that moment.
- Find a new hobby. One of the keys to moving past an emotionally traumatising event like an injury is to find new things to get excited about. When something fun and interesting captivates your mind, it takes your negative thoughts away from the injury. One way to do this is by discovering a new hobby. Depending on your level of mobility during this time, it may need to be something simple like doing puzzles, painting, collecting baseball cards, or playing video games.
- Spend time with positive people. You become the combination of the people you spend the most time with. You actually soak up their vibes, thoughts, and habits. It might sound like hokey science, but it’s true. And if you want to enjoy a faster emotional recovery after your injury, it’s wise to spend time with positive people who exude happiness and optimism.
Adding it all up
Even after the physical side of things gets cleared up, the emotional trauma associated with your injury can linger. By being proactive with your mental health, you can get ahead of these symptoms and address these issues at the root.
Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.