Acute stress disorder – ASD

Acute stress disorder – ASD

Acute stress disorder
Image by Gerd Altmann

What is acute stress disorder?

Weeks after a traumatic event, it is very likely that you will develop anxiety because of the things you heard, saw, or felt. This is called acute stress disorder, ASD. Acute stress disorder is likely to occur in nothing less than a month after undergoing a traumatic event. It can last between three to thirty days. Symptoms of acute stress disorder are related to those of post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.

What can cause acute stress disorder?

If you have experienced, witnessed, or have been previously confronted with any traumatic event that rendered you helpless and fearful, you can have ASD.
Events that can cause acute stress disorder include:

  • Death of a loved one, neighbor, or someone you have known.
  • Death threats to you or others.
  • Serious injury threats to you or others.
  • A threat to your integrity or those of others.

Between 6 to 33 percent of those who experienced traumatic events eventually developed an acute stress disorder. This is based on submissions from the Department of Veterans Affairs in the US. This rate isn’t conclusive as the severity of the traumatic circumstance determines to a large extent what will become of the situation.

Who is at risk of acute stress disorder?

Just about anyone who has experienced or will experience a traumatic event! But the following can facilitate its development:

  • Past confrontation or witness of a traumatic event.
  • ASD or PTSD history.
  • Specific mental problems.
  • Dissociative symptoms history in the process of traumatic events.

What are the symptoms of acute stress disorder?

Dissociative symptoms

You’ll have not less than three out of the following symptoms:

  • Numb feelings towards people because you have become emotionally detached and unresponsive to them.
  • Less awareness of where you are – your surroundings in essence.
  • De-realization: This describes a state where your environment has become very unreal and strange to you.
  • Depersonalization: A situation where you don’t believe your emotions and thoughts are yours because they appear unreal to you.
  • Dissociative amnesia: When you have dissociative amnesia, you will no longer be able to remember any vital aspect of a traumatic experience.

Re-living the traumatic event

You are likely to re-live the traumatic event persistently in at least one of the following ways:

  • Persistently having illusions, images, nightmares, thoughts, and episodic flashbacks of a traumatic event.
  • Feeling as if you are having that same traumatic event.
  • Feelings of distress whenever you are being reminded of a past traumatic experience.


Any stimulus that makes you remember and re-experience that particular traumatic event should be strongly avoided. Feelings, conversations, thoughts, objects, people, places, activities, or whatever it was that triggered the injurious event must steer clear of.

Anxiety or increased arousal

They come in any of these trains:

  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Irritability.
  • Mental distraction from focusing on a thing.
  • Unexplained restlessness.
  • Constant tension.
  • Being on constant guard.
  • Being easily startled even at times that aren’t appropriate.


Acute stress disorder symptoms may bring you distress or alter vital aspects of your life i.e. work settings, social life, etc. You may develop an inability to initiate a task or finish those you have embarked upon. Plus, you will find it really hard to relate what happened to you to others.

How acute stress disorder can be diagnosed

Your mental health doctor will diagnose you with acute stress disorder by asking you certain questions. Such questions will include those relating to traumatic events and symptoms you are currently having. To be more accurate in diagnosis, your doctor will find out if you:

  • Haven’t been abusing drugs
  • Are not experiencing side effects from the medications you are taking.
  • Aren’t having any health problem
  • Aren’t having other psychiatric challenges

How acute stress disorder can be treated

Any of the following methods can be used to treat ASD:

  • A psychiatric assessment in order to decipher what you specifically need.
  • Hospitalization when you have been suspected to harm yourself and even those around you.
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Assistance in getting your legitimate needs if necessary. Such legitimate needs include food, shelter, and clothing. That might even mean helping you locate your family.
  • Psychiatric enlightenment as it pertains to your condition.
  • Medication to alleviate ASD symptoms. Notable examples are antidepressants, antianxiety drugs, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
  • Getting a CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy. It can triple recovery speed and prevent the development of PTSD.
  • Exposure-based treatment regimen.

Long-term expectations for acute stress disorder

If you have been diagnosed with acute stress disorder, you might consequently develop PTSD. You will be certified to have PTSD if your symptoms don’t go away after a month and if your stress level is highly significant. But guess what treatment for ASD can do?  It can reduce your risk of having PTSD eventually. Not less 50 percent of PTSD conditions resolve within 6 months. Some can take more than 6 months and even years to resolve.

Can you prevent acute stress disorder?

To some extent, no! And to some extent, yes! No, because there are really no ways to make sure you never experience traumatic situations. Yes because there are things you can do to reduce your chances of having an ASD. These are the things you will be reading after now.

  1. Get medical help as soon as you experience any traumatic event.
  2. If you are in the military or your job is very risky, get preparation training and counseling. The training includes enacting you with false traumatic events. It will make you well-prepared to cope with stress.

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