A car accident can cause physical trauma. These injuries can temporarily or permanently disable you from working, managing a home, and caring for your personal needs.

But crashes also traumatize you mentally. Mental trauma can take many forms, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This anxiety disorder is not imaginary or “all in your head.” Changes in your can produce both psychological and physical symptoms.

If you were the victim of a recent car accident, it is essential to recognize the symptoms of PTSD and what you can do if you feel you are experiencing them.

How PTSD Happens

The brain has a fight, flight, or freeze response to protect you from injury. When you perceive danger, your brain releases hormones and neurotransmitters to prepare your body to defend itself. 

These stress hormones, like adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol, cause physical changes in your body, such as:

  • Raised blood pressure
  • Elevated heart rate and respiration
  • Increased levels of glucose in the bloodstream
  • Decreased digestion
  • Suppressed immune response

Together, these physical responses prepare your body to fight, run, or freeze by making oxygen and energy available to your muscles, sharpening your senses, and shutting down non-essential body systems.

Your brain triggers this response based on what it perceives. If you see a bear during a hike, this response can save your life. But sometimes, the brain’s perceptions get miscalibrated.

Trauma Resets the Brain’s Triggers

Your brain can interpret a traumatic event, like a car crash, as a failure. It could believe that your injuries resulted from its inability to protect you. As a result, the brain increases its sensitivity to the risks it perceives.

When this happens, otherwise harmless events can trigger the fight, flight, or freeze response. These triggers often remind your brain of the traumatic event. It uses them to prepare you for a crash that it believes could follow the triggers.

For example, if you were drinking coffee before your car accident, your brain might trigger the fight, flight, or freeze response whenever you smell coffee. Loud crashes, the sight of a particular intersection, or other reminders of the impact might become triggers for the response.

Your brain might even trigger a response whenever you get into a car, disabling you from driving yourself or even riding in a car with someone else.

Symptoms of PTSD

A characteristic symptom of PTSD is panic attacks in response to triggers. These panic attacks result from the cascade of stress hormones that produce:

  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Racing heart
  • Shortness of breath and dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Overwhelming fear

You may even pass out during a PTSD-induced panic attack. Before or during the panic attack, you might experience flashbacks. These memories of your car crash might seem so vivid that you relive the accident.

PTSD can also cause other physical and psychological symptoms, such as:

  • Intrusive thoughts about the trauma, even without triggers
  • Depression
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Sleep disorders, including insomnia and chronic fatigue
  • Nightmares
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Amnesia

PTSD can also cause an overall heightened startle response.

As a result of these symptoms, you might:

  • Withdraw from friends and family
  • Feel detached
  • Avoid triggers
  • Experience emotional numbness, dread, or hopelessness
  • Lose interest in the people and activities you enjoy

The symptoms of PTSD and your responses to them can disable you from working. For example, your reduced ability to focus could stop you from working on detail-oriented jobs or training for a new job.

You might not even be able to care for your daily needs. Driving might become impossible. Shopping could become difficult because being around other people may unsettle you. And your sleep disorders could prevent you from resting at night or getting out of bed in the morning.

Treatment for PTSD

Many people experience PTSD after a traumatic event, even if they do not experience any physical trauma. For example, you could develop PTSD after seeing a loved one get injured or killed in a car crash.

Sometimes, these symptoms go away over time. A minor car crash might only produce mild PTSD that lasts a few weeks or months.

But often, PTSD symptoms require treatment. This treatment could include a combination of anti-anxiety medication and therapy. Mental health therapy for PTSD could include:

  • Identifying triggers
  • Managing the response to triggers
  • Addressing negative emotions about the trauma
  • Reprocessing the trauma

Group and family therapy can also help you process the trauma and the emotions surrounding it. These treatments help the brain recognize that triggers do not need to evoke the stress response to protect your life.

Getting Diagnosed with PTSD

Most doctors recognize PTSD as a treatable health issue. But many accident victims feel reluctant to discuss their symptoms with their physicians. This may be due to many reasons, such as the fear of how their symptoms will be perceived by others. 

If you have experienced symptoms of PTSD, it is important to discuss them with your doctor. They can assess your symptoms and recommend a treatment provider. Both your doctor and therapist owe you a duty of confidentiality. This means they cannot discuss a PTSD diagnosis with anyone without your permission.

Injury Compensation for PTSD

Another obstacle for many PTSD patients arises from the cost of treatment. PTSD might disable you from working, depriving you of the health insurance or money you need for treatment.

Fortunately, in many situations, you can seek injury compensation for PTSD. If your accident happened during the course and scope of your job, you might seek workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits pay for your medical treatment and part of your lost wages.

If your accident resulted from someone else’s negligence, you may be able to pursue an injury claim against the at-fault driver with the help of a car accident attorney. 

You will usually start your claim with the other driver’s insurer. Your claim will include evidence to prove negligence and document your losses. These losses can include your PTSD treatment and the wages you lost.

Dealing with PTSD After a Car Crash

PTSD does not need to destroy your life. A diagnosis of PTSD can lead to the treatment you need to deal with this anxiety disorder. The diagnosis can also give you the records you need to seek compensation for your PTSD injuries, so you can move forward after your crash.

For more information, contact a personal injury attorney that can explain the process for dealing with PTSD in a free consultation.