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What is trauma?

Every year tens of thousands of Australians will suffer bewildering symptoms in the aftermath of even minor road collisions. These symptoms are a response to having experienced a traumatic event.

A traumatic event is one where you have:

  • Perceived threats to your life or body
  • Were exposed to or involved in a life threatening event (which explains why witnesses and people who are first on scene can sometimes experience these responses),
  • Hearing about unexpected violence to or death of a person close to you.

  • It is quite normal to have a range of reactions - physical mental and behavioural to a road collision. People's reactions range from a mild stress response, through to moderate stress during which your normal coping mechanisms are overwhelmed through to a more severe post traumatic stress response. Some people (about 1:10) have no reaction at all. For most people, these reactions do not interfere greatly with their lives, and usually they fade after about one month to six weeks. If you continue to experience them for a longer period of time, or you feel they are greatly affecting their life, you may find a visit to your doctor or a call to the Road Trauma Support Team is helpful.

    Common Reactions to Trauma

    PHYSICAL: Nausea, Diarrhoea, Trembling, Fast heart beat, Sweating, Restlessness, Problems getting to or staying asleep.

    THINKING: Difficulty with memory or concentration, unable to understand own reactions, thinking that you shouldn't be having these reactions (judging yourself harshly), seeing or hearing the event as though its still happening.

    FEELINGS: Anxious, numb, Sad, angry, guilty, mood swings, feeling unsafe.

    BEHAVIOURS: Easily startled; avoiding reminders of the collision (Eg. An intersection), tearful, increase in alcohol and/or drug use.

    Self Care Strategies

    It is important to take care of yourself in the aftermath of a road collision. If you are experiencing reactions, remember that these may affect you for 4 - 6 weeks, so you may need to be patient with yourself. Other strategies for looking after yourself are:

  • Talk with people who you love and accept their offers of support
  • Recurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks are normal - so don't try to fight them -they should decrease over time
  • Light physical activity can be helpful
  • Avoid alcohol and/or drug consumption (excepting prescription drugs)
  • Eat regularly - if you are feeling nauseas, you may find eating small amounts more frequently is easier to manage
  • Maintain your normal bedtime routine. If you wake early, try not to worry about it. If you don't go back to sleep within about 20 minutes, get up and do a quiet activity until you feel sleepy again and then return to bed.

  • If you notice that your response is severe, or not fading with time, you may consider calling the Road Trauma Support Team to talk with one of our counsellors.