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Tips for getting over post-accident anxiety

You get involved in a car accident that is not your fault. Another car waits at a two-way stop while you are traveling down the perpendicular road, which doesn't have any stop signs. You have the right of way. Thinking that it is a four-way stop, the other driver pulls out in front of you. You have no time to react as your car plows into the side of their vehicle.

You get out of it with just minor injuries -- a few bumps, bruises and scrapes. It's not a big deal. You do go to the hospital to have a doctor look you over and confirm that you do not have any serious internal injuries, but that's it.

The anxiety sets in

The problem is that you start experiencing extreme anxiety the next time you get on the road. You know very well that you could not have prevented that accident. It leaves you feeling like you have no control over your own life.

What if you had gotten killed in the crash? What if you suffered life-changing injuries, like spinal injuries or a traumatic brain injury? You feel lucky that you did not, but you also realize it's just that: luck. You can't count on that all the time. Will the next accident prove more serious?

You can't break these thoughts and it impacts your life in all sorts of ways. You have a panic attack if forced to get in the car. You can't work. You can't go to school. You can't drive. You have nightmares and flashbacks. If you go past the accident scene, it just gets worse.

What can you do to conquer this anxiety?

Important tips

To help you move forward, keep these tips in mind:

  • Remember that the risk has not changed. You drove for years with the same risk of getting into an accident. Just because it happened does not mean the risk has increased.
  • Focus on learning from the accident. Where there any signs that the crash was about to happen? What did you learn that may actually help you avoid a wreck in the future?
  • Remember that modern life requires driving. If you can't drive, you miss out on social situations and you likely can't hold down a job. Remind yourself how valuable it is to defeat this fear.
  • Focus on small steps. Start by riding with other people. Then start driving for just a short distance -- maybe just a few blocks. Work your way up to it. You do not have to get on the road for a 50-mile trip right away.

It may also help you to work with mental health professionals. If you do, treatment can get expensive, so make sure you know what rights you may have to financial compensation.

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