Coping with emotions and feelings

Coping with how you feel emotionally

When someone is seriously injured in a road crash, it is traumatic for the person injured and their close family and friends. People react in many ways and it is natural and normal to experience strong feelings.

This section outlines some feelings you and your loved ones may experience and provides practical advice to help you cope. While physical injuries will be the over-riding concern, it is important to give feelings the attention they deserve too. Strong feelings can lead to serious medical conditions, such as depression. With good support, these conditions are less likely to develop, or can be identified early and appropriate care provided.

I can’t believe it has happened

It can be very hard to come to terms with the shock; the fact that the crash has really happened. Shock can be particularly hard to bear if the crash has resulted in life-changing injuries, shortened life, or if someone died in the crash. It may all seem unfair; ‘why has this happened?’ is a common thought.

It is common to mull over the circumstances leading up to the crash and wonder if you, or others, could have done anything to stop it happening. ‘If only…’ is a usual and particularly painful thought process.

What you can do
Seek immediate support from the people around you

Many people find it difficult to share their feelings with others. However, sharing feelings does help, particularly with close family and friends who may be experiencing similar feelings.

Sometimes, family and friends find it challenging to share thoughts with each other because they are trying to be “strong” for each other, or for other reasons to do with their relationships with each other. However, mutual support can be very helpful, and stop you feeling a sense of isolation.

If you can’t share your thoughts with someone close to you, or you find that this doesn’t help, seek help from someone who can provide a confidential, listening ear and comfort you. This could be a local counsellor, doctor, teacher, spiritual leader, or some other responsible member of your community who you know and trust.

Crying often helps when talking about what you are going through. It is usually better to express your feelings than try to hold back tears.

I have very strong feelings

Sometimes, feelings experienced may be strong, and at times over-powering and exhausting.

Anger is a common feeling. It is common to feel angry if someone is being held responsible for the crash. It is common to feel angry with society for not treating road safety seriously enough. This can be particularly hard to bare if you are not used to feeling angry.

It is also common to feel angry at other people who say things that you rightly consider inappropriate or who even behave as if nothing has happened. (This is usually because they are afraid they may say the wrong thing.) You may feel that “nobody understands”.

Anxiety is another common feeling. It is common to feel worried and suffer feelings of panic. You may worry about the safety of yourself or other loved ones, particularly on the road but also generally. You may be scared about what the future may hold

Stresses previously taken as being part of life can sometimes become unbearable. You may get upset at small things as well as the big things. You may feel tense or restless. You may also find you forget things and have difficulty concentrating.

Some people feel as though the future is bleak. They feel there can’t ever be a time when it will be possible to feel happiness again. Plans for the future may be wrecked.

Some days may feel much worse than others. Some people feel like they are on a rollercoaster of emotions.

What you can do
Understand these feelings are normal, keep talking, and take your time

An important way to cope with such strong feelings is to understand they are symptoms resulting from what has happened. It is not your fault that you are feeling this way, and it is normal in the circumstances. These feelings are not part of your character, and, if you take care of yourself and seek support, they can subside over time and be replaced by more positive feelings.

Treat yourself to simple comforts that are likely to make you feel a tiny bit better or calmer. This could be as simple as a cup of tea, listening to calm music, or sitting in the sun for ten minutes.

Some people find that being creative helps them to be calm. For example, writing, drawing or mounting photographs can be positive, peaceful activities. Find something small to look forward to, such as a visit from a friend.

It is easier to make mistakes at times of severe stress. Take extra time and care if you or a loved one is driving, cooking, or doing other potentially dangerous jobs. Try to avoid making big, difficult decisions. Treat yourself gently.

For some people, it is tempting to resort to alcohol or illegal drugs. However, these are stimulants that do not help, and have damaging consequences. Tranquilisers prescribed by a doctor may be helpful in the short term but some can become addictive and are not a long term solution.

It can help to explain to other people how you are feeling so they are not surprised if you display these feelings around them. If you work, it can help to talk to your employer and colleagues. If you are at school, it can help to explain things to your teacher and friends. Enable these people to give you the time and space you deserve.

There has been no justice

Some people affected by a road crash are unhappy with the punishment given to someone who was held to blame, or the outcome of a claim for compensation. It can also be hard to bear if there is no-one to blame, or if you, or a loved one, was in some way to blame.

You may have other on-going concerns that have direct impact on your emotional well-being, such as issues around appropriate housing for someone with life-changing injuries.

What you can do
Seek support from relevant organisations

Brake’s helpline can provide practical assistance if you feel you need help getting justice, or help liaising with a relevant authority.

My symptoms are extreme and not going away

Some people suffer extreme emotional symptoms and / or physical symptoms. This includes flashbacks, when you feel the crash is happening again, or extremely vivid and scary thoughts and dreams. Other people suffer suicidal feelings on a regular basis.

Physical symptoms resulting from emotional stress include problems eating, problems sleeping, or aches and pains not related to any injury. Some people develop problems such as a stutter, or suffer from shaking limbs, or develop a phobia, such as an inability to leave the house. Other people may struggle to get out of bed and do day-to-day tasks due to emotional upset.

Such symptoms usually fade away with support and care, but sometimes they don’t. If your symptoms are still extreme and have been continuing for more than a month, it is important to seek professional help.

What you can do
Seek professional help

Usually, appropriate treatment is regular sessions of confidential counselling, over many weeks, with an appropriately qualified counsellor who is experienced in helping people who have suffered a traumatic event. Often this counselling is referred to as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This kind of counselling is appropriate whether you are an adult or a child.

You may find that hospital staff or your GP offer you the chance to see a counsellor for free. It is, however, important to ensure they are offering you a service provided by a counsellor who is appropriately qualified and experienced, and also is available soon. It is not a good idea to delay getting this support, or to agree to support from someone who is not qualified or experienced in treating people who have suffered a major traumatic event.

The NHS often has waiting lists; but your needs are important, now. Ask your GP to ensure you are seen as soon as possible. If you think you need help seeking the right support, quickly, call the Brake helpline on 0808 8000 401. Brake can liaise, on your behalf, with medical practitioners to seek the support you need.

It is usually appropriate that, firstly, you have your symptoms identified and assessed. This may result in you being diagnosed as suffering from a condition such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or depression. NHS guidelines on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guideline no. 26) can be viewed at

Being diagnosed with a condition does not mean you are a weak person. Such conditions are normal following a traumatic event, and it is possible to treat these conditions successfully. This treatment is likely to include at least ten counselling sessions, and often more. Drug treatments can help some people but are not recommended by the NHS as preferable to talk-based therapy.

If you cannot obtain help quickly through the NHS, you may wish to consider paying for private treatment. Sometimes this is possible to fund as part of a claim for compensation.

Lists of providers of therapists who can assess your needs, some through the NHS, some privately, are available from the following organisations:

British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy

United Kingdom Psychological Trauma Society

If you are feeling suicidal, call The Samaritans on 0845 790 9090. The Samaritans is a counselling line, open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, for anyone in need. It is staffed by trained volunteers. You can also email

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