Last Updated: August 8th, 2019 at 3:15 pm
Read Time: 7 Minutes
Defining Pain and SufferingPsychological trauma, also referred to as mental anguish, is what the law refers to as pain and suffering. Though many assume their emotional distress following a car accident is just something they have to deal with, that could not be farther from the truth. Your suffering should - and can be - compensated. As with physical trauma, psychological trauma claimed in a personal injury case must have been the direct result of an accident caused by someone else's negligence. There is also a statute of limitations of four years for personal injury cases. Psychological trauma is frequently caused by a sudden damaging or stressful experience outside the realm of ordinary experience, such as an auto accident.
Symptoms of Psychological TraumaWhile emotional distress can wreak havoc among one's mental health, the effects can also deeply impact the physical being of the individual. The psychological trauma that can occur following a car crash can vary greatly among victims. However, it is important to note that you are not alone in experiencing these symptoms. Symptoms of emotional distress include:
- High levels of anxiety
- Mood swings
- Change in personality
- Loss of consortium
- Heart palpitations
How Can Psychological Trauma Present Itself?
The symptoms of psychological trauma can be unpredictable, arising at any time throughout the day or night. In some cases, psychological trauma is only triggered by painful memories or emotions that have been mentally tied to the accident. On the other hand, the emotional trauma of an auto accident may not appear for weeks or even months after the event for some individuals. While at first, it may seem that the individual is recovering, they actually may be suffering from delayed shock.
How psychological trauma affects an individual is reliant on many variables, including the personality and characteristics of the individual, the type and characteristics of the accident, socio-cultural factors, and more. After living through an extremely frightening or distressing event, emotional trauma can damage or injure the psyche, resulting in challenges in functioning or coping.
Coping with Car Accident Psychological Trauma
At its core, psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, often making you feel helpless or like you're defenseless in a dangerous world. For this reason, car accident psychological trauma can evoke tumultuous emotions, memories, and anxiety that can make you feel numb, disconnected from daily life, and unable to trust other people.
Individuals coping with post-traumatic stress often suffer from "re-experiencing," or flashbacks of the event. This is when the memory of the accident is involuntarily recalled, typically due to triggers in the environment that are somehow associated with the trauma. Flashbacks can be overwhelmingly emotional and incredibly vivid, making you feel as though the event was actually happening right at the moment. A similar phenomenon can be experienced in post-traumatic nightmares.
Psychological Effects on Nightmares
Post-traumatic nightmares are generally defined as frightening or threatening dreams that evoke intense negative emotion, such as fear, sadness, or anger. These dreams often abruptly wake the dreamer, causing sporadic insomnia. Post-traumatic nightmares may occur several times a week and can cause significant distress both during the dream and after waking.
At least 50 percent of post-traumatic patients suffer from nightmares in which they re-experience their trauma, often having dreams which incorporate clear elements or exact replications of the event. Another 20 to 50 percent of patients experience post-traumatic nightmares that are not an exact replica of the memory, but are still symbolically or indirectly related to the traumatic event. This can be detrimental to the mental health of a car accident survivor – if they can't feel safe in their own bed, where can they feel safe?
Delayed Shock When Driving after a Car Accident
One of the most overlooked aspects of suffering a car accident is the paralyzing fear that can take hold when trying to drive after the crash. For most drivers, your vehicle is a safe space. Your car is an extension of you, taking you wherever you need to go, keeping you dry in the rain and cool in the South Florida heat. However, when you're hit by another driver, that sense of safety is immediately robbed from you.
An accident can affect how you perceive the world, and from the time of your accident, you can immediately begin to feel unsafe in not just your car, but in any vehicle. Many individuals involved in a traumatic accident will become hypervigilant about other drivers. An overwhelming sense that the car next to you is drifting into your lane or is following too close can make driving a nerve-wracking experience.
The emotional trauma of an auto accident can erode your perception of safety. Some drivers can never get behind the wheel again. Some become overly-paranoid about safety while driving. And others try to avoid being in a car altogether. This overwhelming sense of fear is not something you should have to deal with alone, and it's something your attorney can help fight to compensate you for.
How to Feel Better After A Car Accident
There is no quick remedy for how to get over emotional trauma following a car accident. Just as broken bones need time to heal, so does damage inflicted to your mental health. To begin the process of healing, work with a trusted psychologist. A knowledgeable doctor can help you process the many emotions you're juggling as well as help control flashbacks and nightmares.
If you're unsure who to contact, your personal injury attorney can help get you in contact with an experienced psychologist who is familiar with car accident trauma. There is absolutely no shame in seeking help in this tumultuous time.
Additionally, try these tips at home to help reduce anxiety and get back to feeling like yourself:
Make Your Bedroom a Safe Space. If post-traumatic nightmares have been keeping you awake in terror, create a space to sleep that evokes a feeling of security and safety. While your room prior to the accident may have been dark, consider using a nightlight to help you feel comfortable. Ask a friend or family member to keep you company while you drift off to sleep.
Find Outlets to Release Emotions. Identifying a healthy outlet to release anger, anxiety, and fear is key for how to feel better after a car accident. The last thing you want is to form unhealthy habits that will only further the trauma. Instead, spend time journaling your thoughts, working out, practicing yoga, or other forms of healthy expression.
Don't Force Sleep. Following the trauma of a car accident, your body needs sleep. If nightmares or insomnia are keeping you awake at night, avoid letting sleeplessness become another stressful trigger. When you can't sleep, get out of bed and do a quiet activity like reading or drawing until you feel ready to try and sleep again. Brief naps or rest periods during the day can keep you feeling less sleepy and encourage a more regular sleep cycle.
Caring for Your TraumaAs with all personal injury cases, the first step you should take is consulting a medical professional. While as a personal injury lawyer it's my goal to help you gain financial compensation for the damages you've suffered, as your trusted confidant I do put your health first and foremost. Psychological trauma can put a strain on your personal and family life. After being involved in an auto accident, it is not uncommon for victims to experience heightened anxiety when driving or being a passenger. Trouble sleeping at night, depression, even fear before exiting the home - these are issues which deserve medical attention. Receiving proper medical care not only ensures that your mental wellbeing is being treated, but it also aids in your legal and financial fight for justice. In order to claim the resulting emotional distress of an accident, it is crucial you document the symptoms you experience. Evidence of pain and suffering includes:
- Psychiatric assessment
- Medical care
- Journals of your feelings
- Letters from your family and friends