Summer is nearly upon us and in these incredible three months that school is out and the weather is beautiful, thousands of families and friends plan and take road trips more than any other time of the year. Enjoy every second of the summer; build a sandcastle, eat an ice cream cone and go swimming. Just remember when you get in the car, that automobile accidents are more frequent in the summer because we drive more in the summer. There are also things about summertime that make roads a little more dangerous:
- Road Construction – most construction is done in the summer because of the good weather, but it causes delays and hazardous driving.
- Tire Blowouts – road construction, underinflation and summer heat can cause blowouts.
- Increased Road Travel – with more people on the road, more accidents happen.
- More Motorcycles and Bicycles – summer driving means more people and different types of vehicles to watch out for.
- Young Drivers – summer months are prime time for teens to take Driver’s Education classes and become new drivers.
All of these things need to be thought about when driving, especially in the summer. Automobile accidents are just a fact of life and it is also a fact that they increase in the summer months. Most car accidents are not fatal, thank goodness. However, even minor accidents can cause physical injury and emotional distress or mental anguish. This summer, nearly every 10 seconds, 6 people every minute, all summer long, will become the victim of a car accident. These accidents can leave victims with not only physical injuries, but also long-term anxiety, fears and phobias of driving or traveling in a car. Many people ignore the symptoms of their emotional injuries from a car accident or do not recognize the accident as the cause of the problem. Identifying emotional and stress-related trauma after a car accident and getting treatment is critical for your overall mental health and well-being. Physical injuries are usually the easiest to see and fix and recover from. Common physical injuries from car accidents are:
- Neck injuries: Whiplash (a neck injury) is perhaps the most common type of neck injury.
- Leg and Knee Injuries: Most people think of the upper body when they think of car injuries, but major accidents commonly result in knee and leg injuries as well.
- Broken Bones: Because of the sudden and forceful nature of a car accident, broken bones are common.
- Back Injuries: Herniated discs, spinal cord damage, back sprains or strains are common in car accidents.
- Concussions: A concussion is a violent shock or heavy blow to the head. It is common for a head to get bounced around in a car accident. Concussion is also very injurious to the brain.
Emotional distress after an automobile accident is real and should not be discounted or made light of. Studies have shown that even when physical injuries are not that serious, emotional distress can linger for a long time after the accident. The most common psychological and emotional problems that occur as a result of automobile accidents are:
- Anxiety: Anxiety is a natural reaction to a stressful incident such as a car accident. Some people experience no symptoms of anxiety at all after a crash, and most people who do experience anxiety will recover in time.
- Depression: Feelings of sadness or depression after a car accident are very common, and often go hand-in-hand with the symptoms of anxiety. As with anxiety, the best way to treat depression is to talk about it, take care of yourself, and get help when you need it.
- Shock or Disbelief: Immediately after a car accident, and for several days after, people usually experience being in shock. Common symptoms include feeling numb, being in emotional distress, continuing to feel afraid even though the event is over, or having unpredictable mood swings. You can also experience shock after an accident even if you weren’t driving the car at the time.
- Anger: After an accident, the driver can feel angry at the driver of the other car, whether they were at fault or not. Many passengers can also feel angry at both the drivers involved in the accident. It is easy for this anger to become overwhelming and show itself to those around you even though it is not them you are angry with.
- Guilt: Many drivers beat themselves up over the accident, especially if they think it was avoidable. The guilt can be overwhelming. Sometimes even those who witness a crash can blame themselves and carry a lot of guilt for not being able to prevent the crash or provide first-aid, or other ideas they may have about what they “could have done.” It’s helpful to remind yourself that these expectations of yourself are not realistic.
Get professional help if necessary and be aware that the internet can be your friend in learning how to deal with these issues. There are many self help sites that teach meditation, yoga, mindfulness and other techniques to help you work through trauma. Start with these self-help strategies:
- Take care of yourself. Eat a balanced diet, exercise often, and get plenty of sleep and rest.
- Keep a balanced schedule between work/school and home. Try to stick to your normal daily routine and activities.
- Talk about your experience with your family, friends, qualified counselors, or other advisers.
- If other family members were involved in the crash as well, talk about the crash as a family and let them know that it is helpful to share their thoughts and feelings.
- If a child or teenager was involved in the crash, make sure that their school teachers and the principal know about the crash and are willing to cut them some slack.
Most of us who have been in auto accidents will have to get back in the car after an accident. It is normal to feel anxious about returning to driving, and will usually drive more cautiously than before the accident. Most have to get in another car immediately as it is the only way to get anywhere after the accident. Getting right back in a car is actually helpful in getting over the anxiety caused by the accident. However, don’t just expect yourself to “get over it” right away; don’t beat yourself up with guilt. It may be that anxiety will accompany you after you have already returned to driving. These are all normal feelings and you will get better.