Acute Stress Disorder

Our life is full of events, many of which deeply impact the human body and mind. Some traumatic events cause our bodies to have intense and uneasy reactions. As humans, it sometimes becomes difficult to deal with the aftermath of the events, and these chaotic occurrences in our lives start owning us to the point that our bodies cannot function in the ideal way. This is what we can say is the emergence of Acute Stress Disorder.

What is Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)?

As the name suggests, the disorder involves an "acute" surge of unpleasant reactions for a short period. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) is a mental health problem that can occur in the first month after a traumatic event. The symptoms of ASD are like PTSD symptoms, but you must have them for longer than one month to have PTSD. There are many similarities between acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, and you can tell them apart by observing how long it takes for the symptoms to appear. With acute stress disorder, symptoms might start appearing three days to one month after the trauma, but with post-traumatic stress disorder, symptoms may take longer.

As Shannon O'Neill, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, explains, trauma can cause someone to develop acute stress disorder or a particularly strong reaction to it shortly after the event occurs. Described as a short-term response to trauma, acute stress disorder results from a traumatic event. You do not need to experience a traumatic event to be affected by it. Someone close to you or a relative may have witnessed or experienced such an event.

Prevalence Rate

The prevalence rate of ASD is more in women than men, comparison to 23% versus 8%, as the nature of traumatic experiences for women is more severe, which leads to the development of the disorder more in women than men. Also, exposed disaster workers had a high rate of developing ASD compared to the normal population, i.e., 25.6% versus 2.4%.

Categories of ASD Symptoms

Now, diving into the prevalence rate, there are Four categories of ASD symptoms. These symptoms allude to traumatic experiences. A collection of related symptoms is present in each of the four categories. They are as follows:

Intrusion Symptoms

These sudden symptoms occur haphazardly without warning and deviate the body from ideal functioning. These comprise the following:

  • Having repeated and constant flashbacks of the traumatic event with the individual or a relative.
  • Having sleep deprivation due to recurring nightmares and bad dreams about the chaotic event.
  • Having mental stress and anxiety resulting from the aftermath of the traumatic event.

Avoidance Symptoms

Symptoms of avoidance include:

  • One of the most prominent symptoms that cause the individual to run away from the particular stress-inducing place or thing that resulted in the traumatic event. Avoiding the confrontation with the stressor provides the individual with temporary relief from the anxiety.
  • Refrain from revisiting or feeling distressing thoughts, emotions, or memories related to the trauma.

Dissociative Symptoms

Symptoms of dissociation include emotional detachment from things and people. For example,

  • The feeling of detachment from emotions.
  • The person can experience dissociative amnesia, where he has trouble remembering certain information.

Arousal Symptoms

These symptoms affect the person physically and hinder the individual's daily functioning.

  • The person gets distracted easily.
  • Sleep deprivation happens in most cases.
  • Hyper aggression and relatively easy to get angry.
  • Strong reactions to stressors reminding of the traumatic event.
  • High attentiveness and alertness every time concerning your surroundings.

What Does Cause Acute Stress Disorder?

Stress caused by a traumatic event, whether experienced directly or witnessed, causes acute stress disorder. Following are some examples of traumatic events that could lead to acute stress disorder:

Diagnosis of Acute Stress Disorder involves ruling out any substance or drug use or physical injury as the causing factor. Before being diagnosed with acute stress disorder, an individual must meet the following criteria:

  • Whether the symptoms last between three days and one month.
  • The effect of symptoms should hinder the ideal daily functioning of the person.
  • A person should be experiencing dissociative, anxiety, arousal, and avoidance symptoms (at least 9 of the 14 symptoms in these categories are required to be present).
  • No other medical condition is resulting in the above-said symptoms.
  • The person must have witnessed a traumatic event.

The timely diagnosis of the disorder is important, but it should not necessarily be just after a few hours of the traumatic event. In the past, debriefing was thought right after the event was healthy, but "research has shown that the talk-it-out method immediately the following trauma has various effects on people," says Dr. O'Neill, and effects were not always positive. At least three days should be given to understand the feelings, and then the diagnosis can proceed based on that.

Treatment for Acute Stress Disorder

Medication and Psychotherapy can treat acute stress disorders. In some cases, these can be used alternatively or together.

  • Psychotherapy - Cognitive-behavioral therapy is used when the person has some stability and is not experiencing acute symptoms. Other well-known therapies include cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and prolonged exposure (PE).
  • Medication - Medications are always the last resort and are taken only in severe cases with psychotherapy. Some proposed medications are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), benzodiazepines, and hydrocortisone.

Other practices such as mindfulness, daily exercise, and support groups will help a person to develop better coping skills in daily life routines.


Acute stress disorder is a short-term condition. Most people begin to feel some relief after proper treatment, and many recover on their own as well. However, people should go for treatment once they feel the symptoms, so their condition does not worsen. Stress is always good, but too much of anything is bad for life. Therefore, being conscious of your stress and routine will help you live more thoughtfully and subtly.



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