Understanding Acute Stress Disorder

What is Acute Stress Disorder?

A mental health disorder that occurs immediately after or within a month of a traumatic life experience.  It can last anything from three days to a month and has symptoms similar to but not as severe as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).


You can develop acute stress disorder at any time during your life, as a result of witnessing or experiencing a traumatic life changing event, often something that is life threatening or perceived as life threatening at the time.  This can include Physical or sexual assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, the diagnosis of a potentially terminal illness, natural disasters or a serious accident.


You are believed to be more at risk if you have previously suffered a traumatic event, had a dissociative reaction to that event, or suffer from other mental health disorders.  It is more likely to affect females and people under forty and can lead to PTSD if left untreated.  

Physical Symptoms

These usually occur within minutes or hours of the event and can last anything from a few hours, days or weeks and are a result of hormones such as adrenaline and the overactivity of the nervous system, they include:

·      Nausea

·      Sweating

·      Headaches

·      Chest pain

·      Difficulty breathing

·      Palpitations

·      Stomach pains

Psychological Symptoms

There are several psychological symptoms which fall under the following categories:

·      Arousal

Problems sleeping like insomnia or sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, feeling tense, irritable or on edge. Feelings of anger which can lead to verbal or physical aggression. Being easily startled for no reason.

·      Avoidance

You may avoid places or situations that remind you or cause you to re live the traumatic event you suffered.  This can include avoiding people, thoughts, feelings, conversations, objects or activities.

·     Dissociation

A sense of being physically detached from yourself like an out of body experience.  Not being able to remember everything about the event, feeling numb or emotionally unresponsive.  Feeling like your thoughts and emotions are unreal or belong to someone else, feeling like your surroundings are strange or unreal.

·      Intrusion

Having intrusive thought or flashbacks of the event that you are unable to control and find distressing.  Nightmares or dreams where you re live the event.

·      Negativity

Feelings of low mood or sadness and the inability to shake off negative feelings or be able to express positive thoughts and emotions.



There is information available on line to help you deal with managing your stress as well as details of organisations or support groups that can help.  You can also find details on self-help such as, exercising, meditation, relaxation exercises and mindfulness.

Professional Help

You should always consult your doctor if you are struggling with mental health issues, so they can rule out any underlying physical conditions that could be the cause.  Many people will recover from acute stress disorder without medical intervention, but your doctor can prescribe medication such as antianxiety medication, antidepressants or SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) if required. 

They should also refer you to a psychotherapist who will tailor a treatment plan using therapies such TFCBT (trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy) which will help you identify and change any negative or unhelpful thought patterns or behaviour related to your trauma.  Hypnotherapy and exposure based therapies can also prove helpful.  Written by Jan, Jeana and Wendy at Barnsley Hypnosis and Counselling (UK). For more free Information click above link.