How to Deal with a Trauma: 7 Steps to Take After a Car Accident

PTSD, trauma, somatic experiencing, healing trauma, trauma healingMinor car accidents are one of the many little traumas we encounter in life. What may seem minor at the time, however, can become something major if the effects of the trauma are ignored. We can deal with these traumas with a very easy technique that will stop them from becoming big traumas that stay in the body and wreak havoc later in life.

In the act of living, we constantly encounter events in our lives that are challenging. In trauma, a challenge is any event that is perceived as a threat and causes us to “rise to the occasion” to deal with it. That is, we summon all our strength, focus our attention, and direct our actions to bring the challenge to a satisfactory conclusion. When we meet the challenge successfully, we feel strong. It was a little trauma. If we don’t, it can impact our wellbeing for years to come–a big trauma.

So let’s say on the way to the supermarket, you round a corner and find the traffic has come to a sudden stop—too sudden for you to stop. You rear-end the car in front of you. Yikes! What now?

Before you can even blink, the body has already launched a survival response. The first response? How can I get away or flee? Which is usually not an option if it is your car.  Since you can’t run, the second response follows in a split second—the urge to fight. But who are you going to fight? The driver of the car you hit? That could create more trauma.

So what is left? Since you couldn’t respond with the first two survival urges, your body will temporarily shut down. You freeze after impact and sit there stunned.

But then the neocortex kicks in. You jump out of the car and quickly start planning the next course of action. You confront the driver you hit, drop to your knees and apologize, exchange contact information, drop to you knees again and beg the other driver not to report it to the insurance companies, etc.

Later, you go home. You feel extremely tired. You just want to sleep, or check out by watching TV, or drink a case of beer. For days afterwards you feel tired. That little trauma has become a big one. And it links up with all the other impact traumas you had before this accident and will anchor itself to the ones that follow.

What could you have done to completely bypass the effects of the trauma? You could travel back in time and avoid the accident. But that isn’t a very good option at this time.

Here is the secret to preventing a trauma: Do nothing. And do it by yourself.

1.     If at all possible, you should slip out of the car and sit on the curb—by yourself.

  • If people come up to you, you can shoo them away by saying something like, “I have rabies and feel like biting.” Or perhaps, “I need a few moments to myself.”

2.     As you sit there, turn your awareness away from the chaos around you, focus it on your body, and find a place in your body that grabs your attention.  Then describe the sensation to yourself.

  • What do you feel in your body? Where do you feel it? What is the exact sensation? Tightness? Pressure? Pulling? All sensate words.

3.     After you have located one sensation, find a place in your body that feels the opposite of that feeling and place your full attention there.

  • If you feel tension in your chest, look for a place somewhere else that either feels relaxed or at least tension-free. Focus on it.

4.     Then bring your awareness back to the original site in your body that had a negative feeling.

  • So you feel tension in your chest. You observe it. Then you find that your toes feel fine. So you focus on them for a few moments. Then you go back to your chest.

5.     You continue to swing your attention between the two areas. This is called Pendulation.

6.     You will probably feel either a soft trembling or shaking throughout your body. This is the nervous energy from the trauma discharging. The discharge is what rids the body of the trauma. Don’t try to stop it or control it. Let it happen. It is good.

  • You may also feel a series of deep breaths and yawning instead of the shaking. These are also signs of discharge.

7.     After you go through the cycle of pendulation with one set of feelings, go to another set and repeat the process. The more you can do, the better.

But at some point you will have to stand up and head back into the fray. Not only will you be surprised by how well you handle the situation now, you will also be free from the reactivation of the trauma in the future.  Instead of becoming upset when you recount the story to your spouse or friends, you will just tell it with the same emotions as relating what you had for breakfast that morning.

If you can’t sit down and handle it at the site of the trauma, you can do it later when you’re alone. Just recall the accident from the moment of impact and follow the above steps. Since the trauma has lodged itself in your body, it will be there waiting either to discharge its energy now or grow into a problem later.

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One Response to How to Deal with a Trauma: 7 Steps to Take After a Car Accident

  1. Mary Liu says:

    Wish I had these tips 10 years ago when it seemed that I was a magnetic for rear end accidents. None was my fault. I must have had 3 or 4 or them in a row in a period of less than 6 months. The big one left me with two herniated discs in my neck. To this day, I need to be the one driving the car to give me (in my mind) some control of the situation behind the wheel of a car. I am thankful, no more accidents since then.

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