Acute Stress Disorder: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Reviewed Jul 2, 2018

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Summary

Treatment includes:

  • Counseling
  • Medications
  • Exposure therapy

Mental health workers use the term acute stress disorder (ASD) to describe a mental health condition caused by a trauma. The term is used during the first three to 30 days after the trauma. Examples of trauma include rape, car crashes, shootings, war, floods, and fire.

Signs and symptoms

People who develop an acute stress disorder may feel spacey or like they are acting in a movie. They may be less aware of things around them. They may be cut off from their feelings and forget important details of the trauma experience.

People with ASD may repeat or replay the trauma in their thoughts or dreams. They may have moments when they feel like it is occurring all over again. These moments are called flashbacks. They may be very upset when they see things that remind them of the trauma. People with ASD may avoid thinking about the trauma or talking about it. They may avoid going to the place where it happened. They may avoid doing anything that might remind them.

They also may have trouble calming down. They may startle at sounds that remind them of their experience. They may also find it hard to focus. They may feel on edge or jumpy, or have a lot of trouble sleeping.

People with ASD have a hard time with everyday life, at home and at work. They may find it too hard to get things done. They may not be able to seek help.

These signs can last longer than a month. They may start a month after the trauma. If this is the case, the person may have what is called post-traumatic stress disorder.

Treatment

Treatments for ASD include:

  • Counseling including cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep muscle relaxation, autogenic relaxation (letting go of certain muscles), and imagery relaxation (thinking about pleasant events from the past using all five senses)
  • Medications such as antidepressants
  • Exposure treatments that begin with imagining a peaceful encounter with the source of fear and progress to actual encounters
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing during which a counselor will have the person call to mind brief parts of the trauma. While the person remembers, she will have the person fix their eyes on the counselor’s rapidly moving finger. This technique helps with reprocessing the trauma so the memories don’t feel threatening in the present.
  • Alternative treatments such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, homeopathy, meditation, art therapy, and yoga
  • Spiritual practices such as pastoral counseling, prayer, or attending worship services
By Ronald G. Nathan, Ph.D.
Source: Prevalence and Consequences of Child Victimization: Results from the National Survey of Adolescents, Final Report (Document No. 181028 NIJ Grant No. 93-IJ-CX-0023) by Dean G. Kilpatrick and Benjamin E. Saunders. National Criminal Justice Reference Service, 2000; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition. American Psychiatric Association, 2013; "Prevalence and Prognosis of Stress Disorders: A Review of the Epidemiologic Literature" by Jaimie L Gradus. Clinical Epidemiology. 2017; 9: 251–260; Bryant, R.A. et al, "Treatment of acute stress disorder: a randomized controlled trial." Archives of General Psychiatry, June 2008;65(6):659-667; "The Physician's Role in Managing Acute Stress Disorder" by Michael G. Kavan, Ph.D., Gary N. Elsasser, Pharm.D., and Eugene J. Barone, M.D. American Family Physician. 2012 Oct 1;86(7):643-649.
Reviewed by Laurie Nadal, M.D., Vice President, Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

Treatment includes:

  • Counseling
  • Medications
  • Exposure therapy

Mental health workers use the term acute stress disorder (ASD) to describe a mental health condition caused by a trauma. The term is used during the first three to 30 days after the trauma. Examples of trauma include rape, car crashes, shootings, war, floods, and fire.

Signs and symptoms

People who develop an acute stress disorder may feel spacey or like they are acting in a movie. They may be less aware of things around them. They may be cut off from their feelings and forget important details of the trauma experience.

People with ASD may repeat or replay the trauma in their thoughts or dreams. They may have moments when they feel like it is occurring all over again. These moments are called flashbacks. They may be very upset when they see things that remind them of the trauma. People with ASD may avoid thinking about the trauma or talking about it. They may avoid going to the place where it happened. They may avoid doing anything that might remind them.

They also may have trouble calming down. They may startle at sounds that remind them of their experience. They may also find it hard to focus. They may feel on edge or jumpy, or have a lot of trouble sleeping.

People with ASD have a hard time with everyday life, at home and at work. They may find it too hard to get things done. They may not be able to seek help.

These signs can last longer than a month. They may start a month after the trauma. If this is the case, the person may have what is called post-traumatic stress disorder.

Treatment

Treatments for ASD include:

  • Counseling including cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep muscle relaxation, autogenic relaxation (letting go of certain muscles), and imagery relaxation (thinking about pleasant events from the past using all five senses)
  • Medications such as antidepressants
  • Exposure treatments that begin with imagining a peaceful encounter with the source of fear and progress to actual encounters
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing during which a counselor will have the person call to mind brief parts of the trauma. While the person remembers, she will have the person fix their eyes on the counselor’s rapidly moving finger. This technique helps with reprocessing the trauma so the memories don’t feel threatening in the present.
  • Alternative treatments such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, homeopathy, meditation, art therapy, and yoga
  • Spiritual practices such as pastoral counseling, prayer, or attending worship services
By Ronald G. Nathan, Ph.D.
Source: Prevalence and Consequences of Child Victimization: Results from the National Survey of Adolescents, Final Report (Document No. 181028 NIJ Grant No. 93-IJ-CX-0023) by Dean G. Kilpatrick and Benjamin E. Saunders. National Criminal Justice Reference Service, 2000; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition. American Psychiatric Association, 2013; "Prevalence and Prognosis of Stress Disorders: A Review of the Epidemiologic Literature" by Jaimie L Gradus. Clinical Epidemiology. 2017; 9: 251–260; Bryant, R.A. et al, "Treatment of acute stress disorder: a randomized controlled trial." Archives of General Psychiatry, June 2008;65(6):659-667; "The Physician's Role in Managing Acute Stress Disorder" by Michael G. Kavan, Ph.D., Gary N. Elsasser, Pharm.D., and Eugene J. Barone, M.D. American Family Physician. 2012 Oct 1;86(7):643-649.
Reviewed by Laurie Nadal, M.D., Vice President, Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

Treatment includes:

  • Counseling
  • Medications
  • Exposure therapy

Mental health workers use the term acute stress disorder (ASD) to describe a mental health condition caused by a trauma. The term is used during the first three to 30 days after the trauma. Examples of trauma include rape, car crashes, shootings, war, floods, and fire.

Signs and symptoms

People who develop an acute stress disorder may feel spacey or like they are acting in a movie. They may be less aware of things around them. They may be cut off from their feelings and forget important details of the trauma experience.

People with ASD may repeat or replay the trauma in their thoughts or dreams. They may have moments when they feel like it is occurring all over again. These moments are called flashbacks. They may be very upset when they see things that remind them of the trauma. People with ASD may avoid thinking about the trauma or talking about it. They may avoid going to the place where it happened. They may avoid doing anything that might remind them.

They also may have trouble calming down. They may startle at sounds that remind them of their experience. They may also find it hard to focus. They may feel on edge or jumpy, or have a lot of trouble sleeping.

People with ASD have a hard time with everyday life, at home and at work. They may find it too hard to get things done. They may not be able to seek help.

These signs can last longer than a month. They may start a month after the trauma. If this is the case, the person may have what is called post-traumatic stress disorder.

Treatment

Treatments for ASD include:

  • Counseling including cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep muscle relaxation, autogenic relaxation (letting go of certain muscles), and imagery relaxation (thinking about pleasant events from the past using all five senses)
  • Medications such as antidepressants
  • Exposure treatments that begin with imagining a peaceful encounter with the source of fear and progress to actual encounters
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing during which a counselor will have the person call to mind brief parts of the trauma. While the person remembers, she will have the person fix their eyes on the counselor’s rapidly moving finger. This technique helps with reprocessing the trauma so the memories don’t feel threatening in the present.
  • Alternative treatments such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, homeopathy, meditation, art therapy, and yoga
  • Spiritual practices such as pastoral counseling, prayer, or attending worship services
By Ronald G. Nathan, Ph.D.
Source: Prevalence and Consequences of Child Victimization: Results from the National Survey of Adolescents, Final Report (Document No. 181028 NIJ Grant No. 93-IJ-CX-0023) by Dean G. Kilpatrick and Benjamin E. Saunders. National Criminal Justice Reference Service, 2000; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition. American Psychiatric Association, 2013; "Prevalence and Prognosis of Stress Disorders: A Review of the Epidemiologic Literature" by Jaimie L Gradus. Clinical Epidemiology. 2017; 9: 251–260; Bryant, R.A. et al, "Treatment of acute stress disorder: a randomized controlled trial." Archives of General Psychiatry, June 2008;65(6):659-667; "The Physician's Role in Managing Acute Stress Disorder" by Michael G. Kavan, Ph.D., Gary N. Elsasser, Pharm.D., and Eugene J. Barone, M.D. American Family Physician. 2012 Oct 1;86(7):643-649.
Reviewed by Laurie Nadal, M.D., Vice President, Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, assessments, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological, or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2019 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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