What to expect as you recover from a crash

Being in a car crash may be stressful. Knowing what to expect can be difficult. It helps to understand the common physical symptoms and emotional responses that people can experience.

You may experience some or none of these, and some may seem unusual, but they are all considered normal. There is no right or wrong way to respond.

Some emotional responses can include:

  • poor attention and memory
  • intrusive images and thoughts
  • fear, avoidance and withdrawal
  • tearfulness, low mood and depression
  • feeling ‘on guard’ and constantly ‘alert’
  • frustration, anger, regret and guilt
  • stress, anxiety and panic

Some common physical symptoms can include:

  • tiredness
  • disturbed sleep
  • nausea
  • nightmares
  • restlessness
  • headaches
  • pain

You can download this guide.

How long will it take to recover?

Everyone’s recovery is different.

Some people will have strong emotional responses such as fear, sadness, guilt and anger (and other people won’t).

These feelings are usually brief and should begin to reduce in the days and weeks after the crash.

After a car crash, 70% of people are back at work within eight weeks.

When should I seek professional help?

We all respond to a car crash differently. If you’re suffering from any of these things, consider seeking help:

  • symptoms lasting longer than you expected
  • feelings that things are not returning to normal in the time you expected
  • not returning to work and other usual daily activities
  • finding that relationships with family and friends are suffering
  • finding you are withdrawing from family and friends and your usual activities
  • feeling unable to cope with or handle the intense feelings or physical sensations
  • having disturbed sleep or nightmares

Where to get help

Your doctor is a good place to start. They might also recommend you see another health professional like a physiotherapist or psychologist.

If you are receiving treatment you should notice improvements. If you are not improving then the treatment might not be right for you. You can talk to your doctor about other treatment options.

If you need treatment, you may be eligible to make a claim under the NSW Compulsory Third Party Scheme.

Visit our treatment advice centre for information and resources for health professionals to help injured people recover.

What to do to help recovery

The good news is that there is a lot you can do. It's useful to remind yourself you have had a stressful experience and to 'take charge' of your recovery.

Find what works for you

The best person to manage your recovery is you. Find ways to manage your symptoms and cope with difficulties.

Stay positive

Focus on all the things you can do and those you enjoy doing. Keep motivated. Try not to get frustrated if things don’t happen as quickly as you would like.

Stay active

Maintain your normal routine at work, at home, with friends and in your day-to-day activities as much as possible.

Focus on staying or returning to work

Staying at work is good for you, even if you can only manage a shorter working day or lighter duties to begin with.

If you are away from work, start planning to return to work.

The sooner you return, the better your recovery is likely to be.

Look after yourself

Ensure you exercise, eat a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep. Avoid alcohol and drugs and take time off to relax.

Talk to family and friends

Spend time with people close to you. Talk to them about your feelings and about how they can help you recover.

Pace yourself

You don’t have to wait until you feel 100 per cent recovered to resume activities. However, you should pace yourself and build up your activities gently.

Don’t ignore pain and ensure you have proper rest.

Stay in touch

If you are away from your normal activities, whether at work or socially, stay in touch with your work mates, friends and family.

Talk regularly with your doctor, employer or anyone else involved in your recovery.