Many of us associate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with military veterans, but it can happen to anyone that experiences a traumatic event, including auto accidents and bicycle crashes.
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) reports that traffic accidents have become the leading cause of PTSD since the Vietnam War. AAFP also notes that nine percent of survivors of serious auto accidents develop significant post-traumatic stress symptoms, and many others experience PTSD-like reactions.
Considering that nearly 2.5 million Americans suffer injury from a motor vehicle accident annually, PTSD is a serious concern. The condition often goes undiagnosed, so it is important to have some self-awareness if you've had a serious auto or bike accident.
Although people with PTSD suffer a wide range of symptoms, the most common for auto accident victims, according to AAFP, include re-experiencing of symptoms (flashbacks, distressing memories) triggered by environmental cues and stimulus such as newscasts. A person with PTSD may develop driving phobias, place limits on driving, suffer chronic pain, and exhibit anxious behavior as a passenger. Fear or resistance to medical examinations, procedures, or treatments are also common.
A history of traumatic experiences, a history of psychiatric disorders, or an underlying psychiatric condition may predispose a person to PTSD.
If you've been involved in a serious auto or bicycle accident, know that screening for PTSD is important. Early treatment can prevent the occurrence of symptoms; however, know that symptoms often don't manifest for one to three months after the accident. (This is where that all-important self-awareness becomes important. Don't think you can muscle through these issues on your own. Seek help.)
The first step in getting PTSD under control or preventing symptoms in the first place is to talk honestly with your family physician. Your doctor can recommend relaxation techniques and other methods to help control anxiety.
To cope with feelings after an accident, follow these additional tips:
• Talk to trusted friends and family members about the accident and your feelings.
• Stay active. Barring any injuries, exercise and take part in activities you enjoy.
• Return to your daily activities and routine. Don't try to limit where you go or what you do, even if you feel scared at first.
• Drive defensively. Wear your seatbelt, avoid distractions, and drive carefully.
If self treatment provides little relief, professional counseling may be required. Studies have shown that cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT) may be helpful in treating both acute stress and chronic PTSD.
PTSD is a serious, but difficult to recognize, condition. If you experience unusual anxiety after an accident, don't ignore it and hope it will go away. Face the condition head on.