Not everyone who develops PTSD will have the same symptoms. Just because you're not experiencing all the symptoms doesn't minimize how you feel and the devastating impact of PTSD. Here are some of the most common symptoms:
Anger - When we feel helpless or are subjected to pain, it can make us feel angry. Events after the accident can trigger sudden bouts of anger in an individual suffering from PTSD, even if the event doesn't have anything to do with the car wreck. People living with PTSD may grow angry quickly and lash out without warning.
Intrusive thoughts and feelings - People living with PTSD may have invasive and unpleasant thoughts and feelings that play over and over again in their heads like a broken record. Even though these thoughts and feelings are undesirable, the recurrence is hard to control.
Flashbacks to the accident - When individuals are suffering from serious PTSD, pushing thoughts of the accident out of their minds becomes challenging. Reliving the accident time after time can become an obsession as the victim tries to cope. They may be trying to reimagine the accident, looking for clues about how it could have been avoided or what they might do should another accident occur. Some may be trying to sort out who is at fault for the accident. Some flashbacks can be overwhelming, and the victim is thrust right back to the moment the accident happened, along with the pain and terror at the point of impact. A flashback can be very real for some, including sensory input like smells, sounds, and visuals. Flashbacks can be brought on by something reminiscent of the accident, or no external stimuli may be involved at all.
Depression - Feeling depressed after an accident that leaves you with serious injuries is not uncommon. However, with PTSD, depression can dramatically interfere with day-to-day living. Some people may need the help of a therapist or medication to break out of the cycle.
Anxiety - Feeling anxious all the time can be highly disruptive to anyone's well-being. Anxiety might peak when confronted with the scene of the accident or while driving or riding as a passenger. However, feelings of anxiety can impact a sufferer of PTSD in routine situations that don't involve driving, like meeting people or going into public settings.
Sleeping problems - Sleep issues can impact those that suffer from PTSD differently. Some people may sleep more than usual to escape thoughts of the accident. In contrast, others may lose significant amounts of sleep by dwelling on the car wreck. Nightmares are not uncommon, making getting a decent night's sleep challenging.
Trouble concentrating - Living with the effects of PTSD can make it difficult to focus on tasks like work, household responsibilities, and even things that once brought joy, like hobbies and recreational activities. Individuals may be consumed with thoughts about the car wreck and little else.
Withdrawal - It can be scary to deal with PTSD. Some may withdraw from family and friends because they don't want to burden them with their troubles. Others may withdraw because they don't think others would understand what they're going through. Either way, withdrawal from the support of family and friends can make PTSD worse.
Being easily startled - The lasting effects of PTSD often render individuals more easily startled while engaging in activities that remind them of the accident. For instance, they may overreact to someone merging into their lane or might slam on their brakes even though they have plenty of time to slow down. However, they might startle more easily in regular situations like being approached from behind while unaware.
Hyper-alertness - Similar to being easily startled, people living with PTSD may exhibit signs of hyper-alertness after an accident as a means to avoid further trauma. They may pay extreme attention to road activity or movements or other situations. Some studies have shown that someone who has PTSD continues to produce fight-or-flight hormones even when they are no longer in a dangerous situation which may be the reason for hyper-alertness and being easily startled.
Avoiding situations that remind them of the car wreck - Some people with PTSD will avoid settings that remind them of the accident, like getting into vehicles or driving past the accident scene. Some may try to cope by abandoning trying to travel via car completely.
Fatigue - Recovering from an accident can be tiring for anyone. Still, when you suffer from PTSD, you may feel perpetually tired and have to sit out on activities you once enjoyed. Dealing with emotional and mental trauma can be exhausting, and you may struggle with everyday tasks because of feeling fatigued.
Suicidal thoughts - Feeling suicidal after an accident, particularly a bad one, can occur if an individual feels they are at fault for the accident. They may feel misplaced guilt or blame and may think their family might be better off without them.