Looking after yourself in the early days

Looking after yourself, and seeking support for your own needs, in the first days and weeks following being bereaved in a road crash is important. Early support can help people bereaved in road crashes to cope with their emotions and reactions, help those emotions and reactions to subside over time, and help prevent long-term damage to health and quality of life. This page gives some suggestions regarding looking after yourself in the early days. 

Strong feelings that may change suddenly

Bereaved road crash victims often say they have different strong feelings at different times. In the early days after being bereaved so suddenly and violently, feelings may change and arise suddenly, which can be exhausting and stressful, both for you and for others around you. This can be particularly challenging if in a public place or when undertaking responsibilities, such as work. 

It may help to let people around you know your emotions may be unpredictable and to ask these people to be understanding and supportive. 

If you are supporting someone bereaved in a road crash, it can help to remember that emotional welfare matters, and your role is important. Looking after someone who is experiencing a strong emotion, regardless of where or when that happens, is a valuable thing to do. Simple actions, such as listening sympathetically, or ensuring someone has eaten something, show that you care and can help. If you have also been affected by a road crash, think about your own emotional needs and seek support for yourself too from someone else.

Knowing what happened

Many people bereaved by road crashes, who didn't witness the crash themselves, say that it was better to learn what happened, from a reliable, supportive witness,  than imagine things that did not happen. It may help emotional welfare to know what happened. 

Variable energy 

Sometimes people bereaved by road crashes say they do not have enough physical energy to be as active as they wish. If you are suffering in this way it can be upsetting, particularly if you are normally energetic and get things done.

It can also be a struggle to engage in challenging conversations. This can be particularly frustrating for people who are normally good at talking, feel very strongly about something or have a need to say something.

It can be helpful to try to do one thing at a time, for now, and not set unrealistic goals. Rest is important too. If there is someone else who can do certain, demanding tasks, let them. Higher energy levels should return.


Some people bereaved by road crashes say that they forgot to eat properly or found eating difficult. But it is important to look after nutritional needs.

It is a good idea to try to eat a little, often, and have food available that is nutritionally valuable, comforting but takes little time to prepare.


People bereaved by road crashes may be undertaking physical activity as part of their day to day work. But if not, it is common to not feel like exercising at all. However, gentle physical exercise, such as going for a short walk, particularly if accompanied by someone supportive, may be helpful to emotional wellbeing.

Be aware, however, that very energetic exercise can release chemicals into your system called endorphins that can trigger strong emotions.

Use of substances

Some people bereaved by road crashes find themselves tempted to use alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs in an attempt to feel more able to cope. However, it is not a good idea to use any substance, whether stimulant or tranquilliser, to manage feelings.

It is harder to identify and address feelings if they are masked by substance use, and the effects of substance use are likely to be negative rather than positive.

If someone suffers from a substance abuse problem, then now is the time to seek treatment to stop. 


It is common to struggle sleeping. Yet continuous lack of sleep is damaging to health. It can also be a cause of danger, for example when driving or undertaking other safety-critical tasks such as looking after children. It can also impair ability to do any kind of work.

It is important to try to get as much sleep as possible. It helps to do something physical, avoid caffeine, do something relaxing before bedtime and try to sleep whenever tired. Sleeping drugs may also help, although this is not a long-term solution. 

Relaxation techniques

People bereaved by road crashes often describe feel very tense. Breathing in and out deeply and slowly for a few minutes can help encourage more calm feelings. This is something anyone can do anywhere. Sitting somewhere peaceful, being massaged, or other therapeutic solutions may also be helpful at this very challenging time. 

An example of a breathing exercise

Anyone can do this anywhere, anytime. It can be useful if feeling stressed in a public place.

  • Breathe in deeply, then breathe out deeply, then count to two.
  • Breathe in deeply, then breathe out deeply, then count to three.
  • Breathe in deeply, then breathe out deeply, then count to four.
  • Continue with the exercise, increasing each count by one each time, up to no more than a count of six or less depending on what you feel comfortable with, then go back to two.
  • Try this exercise in your own home first to see if it works for you.

Creating positive memories

Creative expression may help someone to commemorate, positively, a loved one's death and preserve memories of them. For example, by making a memory box containing items that belonged to them, painting a picture, writing down  memories, creating a song or a poem, or planting flowers or a tree. There are hundreds of ideas and many unique ways people can express themselves positively and therapeutically. 

Some clothing that belonged to the person who died may carry the smell of that person. Some people wish to preserve that smell. Keeping items in an airtight ziplock bag can help.

Taking time out to do such things is not frivolous. It may be helpful to recovery and give reassurance that someone’s memory is being kept alive.

Enjoying activities and making plans

Many people find that things they enjoy doing, such as playing music, or looking after pets, are therapeutic for them.

Some people find that routine tasks, such as cooking or tidying, are a stable and reassuring aspect of their life that gives them a sense of control and continuity.

It is a good idea to think about what might help a little, and try to do that, in moderation.

Think about what the day might bring and avoid unnecessary activities that are likely to cause sensations to worsen. For example, it may be upsetting to watch a movie or read a book featuring sudden death. Or it may be upsetting to visit a public place with lots of people and noise. Alternately, it may be more upsetting to not see anyone. 

It may be a good idea to make plans for something to look forward to, such as seeing a friend. However, it might not be a good idea to make complex plans nor make big decisions too soon. It is easy to make wrong decisions under stress. For now, it may help to focus on just one thing at a time.

Copyright Brake 2017