Car accidents are unfortunately part of our lives as drivers. It’s not uncommon to drive past the scene of an accident on our way to work, school, or errands. According to the US National Highway Traffic Administration, upwards of 5.25 million road accidents will take place across the world each year. While some of these accidents will be minor, others can be quite severe: in 2015, there were over 1,200 fatal vehicle accidents in Australia.
It’s also not uncommon to be part of a car accident in some way. We could be the most conscientious, alert drivers on the road, and we will still be susceptible to car accidents. Whether they are minor or major, being part of an accident can have a lasting effect.
Getting into a car accident can either create anxiety or make pre-existing anxiety worse. It makes a lot of sense: after a car crash, our brains are become trained to make sure that such an incident never happens again. But that knowledge is of little help to us when we experience anxiety in car – even as a passenger.
For most of us, we need to be able to transport ourselves via cars in order to live our lives. Thankfully, there are a few things we can do to help handle – or perhaps even beat – anxiety following a car accident:
The mind, the body, and the breath are all intricately connected. When we are stressed – physically or mentally – our body goes into flight/flight/freeze mode. Usually this involves a quickening heartbeat and short, rapid (or even locked) breath.
However, this connection is a two-way street. There are plenty of breathing exercises we can do to help tame the oncoming anxiety. The simplest trick is to breathe slowly and deeply through the nose, paying attention to how each breath feels. We can play around with breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.
We can focus on one spot of the body – perhaps the tip of the nose, or the ribcage – and just notice how breathing affects that area.
Most of us have heard the term “take a deep breath.” This is our chance to help reset that fight/flight/freeze response. With time and practice, we can use our breath as a way to help balance out our anxiety.
What we say and think have a profound effect on our mindset. If we tell ourselves that we’re terrible drivers – or that we’ll get into another crash – we will create a negative mindset that makes driving that much more difficult. However, telling ourselves the opposite of that can help produce healthy, positive thinking.
The affirmations can be very short: I am safe. I am secure. I am okay. We can think them or say them out loud. We can even tell ourselves these affirmations before we get into the car. Sometimes it helps to be proactive with affirmations: telling them to ourselves before the anxiety hits, or when the anxiety is very low.
One might feel that playing music could help keep the mind occupied. For some, this might be the case. For others, the music will be added stimulus to an already overstimulating environment. It might help to turn off the radio when we drive – or, if we do want something to listen to, we can turn the radio to a classical music station, or create a playlist with soft, calming music.
It does us no favours to berate ourselves for the accident, or for experiencing anxiety after the accident. We need to give ourselves time to heal, which means making sure we set time aside to rest, relax, and recharge. Whether that means giving ourselves a personal day off, making sure we go to bed at a decent time, or keeping a close eye on our diet so that it stays healthy and nutritious, we have to take care of ourselves in order to be able to rise above the anxiety.
Many of us might be hesitant to see a counselor or therapist, but – the same way we’d see a doctor if knee issues were making it difficult to live our lives – sometimes we need to see a professional if mental distress is making it difficult to live our lives. At the very least, it gives us someone to talk about our worries with in a no-judgment zone. In Queensland, the cost of therapy can be claimed via the compulsory CTP insurance of the at-fault driver. Compulsory third party insurance (CTP) means there is a way to claim for these costs, so it does not have to be an out-of-pocket expense for us.
While it would not be for everyone, medication could be a route to help make the anxiety manageable. Every person will need something different out of their medication, so it is important to work closely with your doctor to find something that is right for you, if this is an avenue we want to take.
Anxiety can be a powerful force, but we don’t have to have it take over our lives. A car crash will undoubtedly create anxiety and worry where there might not have been any, but we have tricks up our sleeve to help keep it under control.