Acute Stress Disorder: Definition, Symptoms, Causes, And Treatments.

How is stress defined ? Isn’t stress just an everyday part of modern life? If that is true. Often, after going through a particularly stressful situation or event, it will take time to refocus and get back on track, however, for people with acute stress disorder , things are not so simple. In this article, on this type of stress, its causes, diagnosis and some of the many treatments available.

What is acute stress disorder?

It is a psychological condition that arises in response to a frightening or traumatic event, or witnessing a traumatic event that induces a strong emotional response within the individual. Not to be confused with the unrelated circulatory condition of shock, it can develop into a delayed stress reaction (better known as post-traumatic stress disorder ) if stress is not managed correctly.

It is characterized by reliving and avoiding reminders of an aversive event, as well as generalized hypervigilance after initial exposure to a traumatic event, it differs from post-traumatic stress as a disorder that precedes it, and if symptoms last for more than a month, it will develop the same. Therefore, it can be considered as the acute phase.

People with acute stress disorder have a decrease in emotional responsiveness, find it difficult or impossible to experience pleasure in activities they previously enjoyed, and often feel guilty about performing normal life tasks, may experience difficulty concentrating, experiencing the world as unreal or like a dream, or having increasing difficulty remembering specific details of the traumatic event ( dissociative amnesia ).

In general, it is believed that the more direct the exposure to the traumatic event, the greater the risk of mental damage. Therefore, in a school shooting, for example, the student who is injured will likely be the most affected psychologically, and the student who sees a classmate or is killed is more affected than the student who was in another part of the school. . For this reason, all children and adolescents exposed to violence or disaster, even if only through graphic media reports, should be watched for signs of emotional distress.

Symptoms of acute stress disorder

For a diagnosis, symptoms must persist for a minimum of three days and last no more than a month after the trauma.

A person with acute stress disorder can be described if other mental disorders or medical conditions do not provide a better explanation for the person’s symptoms, if symptoms persist after a month, the diagnosis becomes post-traumatic stress disorder .

Dissociative symptoms

You will have three or more of the following dissociative symptoms if:

  • You feel numb, detached, or be emotionally numb.
  • You have reduced awareness of your surroundings.
  • Derealization, which occurs when your environment seems strange or unreal to you.
  • Depersonalization, which occurs when your thoughts or emotions don’t seem real or don’t seem to belong to you.
  • Dissociative amnesia , which occurs when you cannot remember one or more important aspects of the traumatic event

Physical symptoms

Physical symptoms are caused by the release of stress hormones into the bloodstream, as well as by excessive activity of nerve signals in different parts of the body. Symptoms it may show include:

  • Sickness.
  • Palpitations
  • Headaches.
  • Chest pains
  • Respiratory problems.
  • Abdominal pain

Re-experiencing the traumatic event.

You will continually re-experience the traumatic event in one or more of the following ways if you have:

  • Recurring images, thoughts, nightmares , illusions, or flashback episodes of the traumatic event.
  • Feeling like you are reliving the traumatic event.
  • Feeling distressed when something reminds you of the traumatic event.


You can avoid stimuli that cause you to remember or re-experience the traumatic event, such as:

  • People.
  • Conversations
  • Places.
  • Objects.
  • Activities.
  • Thoughts.
  • Feelings.


Symptoms can include anxiety and increased arousal, which include:

  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Being irritable
  • Have difficulty concentrating
  • Not being able to stop moving or stay still.
  • Being constantly tense or on guard.
  • Freaking out easily or at inappropriate times.
  • Anguish.

Symptoms can cause you distress or disrupt important aspects of your life, such as your social or work environment. You may have an inability to start or complete necessary tasks, or an inability to inform others about the traumatic event.

Causes of acute stress disorder

A person must be exposed to a traumatic event to be at risk for acute stress disorder, people may be at higher risk if they have been previously diagnosed with a mental disorder, perceive the traumatic event to be very serious, have a coping style avoidant when they experience distress or have a history of previous trauma. Women are more likely to develop acute stress disorder than men.

When a fearful or threatening event is perceived, humans experience an automatic response aimed at facing or fleeing the threat (hence the term “fight or flight response”). Characteristics of the acute stress response are an almost instantaneous increase in heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, respiration and metabolism, and muscle tension.

Increased cardiac output and accelerated metabolism are essential for mobilization for action, when people experience trauma, they may perceive constant threats in their environment based on perceived danger (due to intrusive memories or dreams, for example) and, therefore, you experience the acute stress response more frequently than at your baseline.

What are the treatments for acute stress disorder?

No treatment may be necessary, as the symptoms generally disappear once the stressful event is over and you treat it. Understanding the cause of symptoms and talking to a friend or family member can help, however some people have more severe or prolonged symptoms. One or more of the following can help:

Cognitive behavioral therapy

It is talk therapy and is based on the idea that certain ways of thinking can trigger or fuel certain mental health problems, the therapist helps you understand your current thought patterns . In particular, to identify any harmful, useless and false ideas or thoughts. The goal is then to change your ways of thinking to avoid these ideas and to help make your thought patterns more realistic and helpful, when used for acute stress reactions, it is known as trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy .


This may be an option if symptoms are persistent or severe, counseling helps you explore ways to deal with stress and symptoms of stress, this may be available locally, but some charities also offer online resources and help lines that can be helpful.


Taking a medicine may be an option:

  • beta blocker is a medicine that can help relieve some physical symptoms caused by the release of stress hormones. Beta-blockers are not addictive, they are not tranquilizers, and they do not cause drowsiness or affect performance. You can take them as required.
  • The Diazepam is a tranquilizer benzodiazepine, these are very rarely used and are reserved for exceptional cases for very short periods, is addictive and quickly lose its effect when taken for more than a few days.

Acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder

Acute stress disorder (ASD) is a serious condition, and people with it are at increased risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over time. Due to dissociation symptoms, a person may not be able to remember important parts of the event, as well as the emotions they experienced, this could interfere with a person’s ability to fully process the impact of the event and their emotions about the event, making the recovery process difficult.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a difficult-to-treat and heartbreaking condition that can have a major impact on the peace and well-being of trauma survivors, it is hoped that by being able to identify acute stress disorder through these criteria Those who are at risk of developing PTSD will be better identified and monitored so that they can be helped before their symptoms progress.

Most people with ASD develop PTSD, but many people diagnosed with it do not have a prior history of ASD. However, in addition to having predictive value for PTSD, ASD is a serious condition that deserves careful care and treatment in its own right.

If you think you may have ASD, it is important that you meet with a trained mental health professional to evaluate and treat it, the earlier you recognize and address these symptoms, the greater the chance of preventing the development of PTSD and the greater the chance that it will start. immediately to cope with the symptoms you currently have.

Can acute stress disorder be prevented?

Because there is no way to guarantee that you will never experience a traumatic situation, there is no way to prevent this disorder, however there are things that can be done to reduce your chance of developing it.

Receiving medical treatment within hours of experiencing a traumatic event can reduce the likelihood that you will develop it. People who work in jobs that carry a high risk of traumatic events, such as military personnel, can benefit from training and counseling to reduce their risk of developing ASD or PTSD if a traumatic event occurs.

Preparation for training and counseling may include misrepresentations of traumatic events and counseling to strengthen coping mechanisms.

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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.