Acute stress disorder is a mental health condition that refers to how a person reacts after being exposed to extreme trauma. Similar to a post-traumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder is a relatively new psychological diagnosis reflecting a person’s immediate anxiety as well as behavioural changes following a traumatic event. However, acute stress disorder has been recognized as a temporary condition only, persisting for three to thirty days after the event that caused the trauma. If the person continues to exhibit the symptoms of acute stress disorder after thirty days, then it is usually re-assessed as a post-traumatic stress disorder.

It is important to learn and understand the symptoms of acute stress disorder so that immediate treatment or therapy can be applied. There are several symptoms of the condition, but they fall under five general categories – intrusion, dissociative, avoidance and arousal symptoms, and negative mood.

Intrusion Symptoms

The Cambridge dictionary defines intrusion as the act when a person goes to a place or takes part in a situation where he/she is not wanted or does not belong. It applies to acute stress disorder because the patient sometimes goes through recurrent and involuntary memories of what happened, being thrust back into the traumatic moment without his/her discretion.

It even affects the patient’s dreams from time to time, filling the dream’s contents with distressing thoughts, characters or events related to the source of trauma. The flashbacks are not limited to images, sounds or memories, there have also been recorded instances wherein the patient gets flashbacks of specific emotions, like how he/she felt at the time. of Intrusion symptoms also include having an intense reaction to internal or external cues that remind the patient of certain aspects of the traumatic event, either psychological or physical.

Dissociative Symptoms

Dissociative symptoms refer to the indicators that the patient’s mental process is starting to form a disconnect from his/her own thoughts, feelings, memories and to a certain point, his/her grip on reality. Contrary to intrusion symptoms, patients exhibiting dissociative symptoms have an inability to remember relevant segments of the traumatic event while creating an alternate reality as a coping mechanism. They often lose awareness of their real surroundings while being too focused on the imaginary environment they have created.

acute stress

Avoidance Symptoms

People suffering from acute stress disorder make an effort to avoid any memories, thoughts or feelings that can be associated with the traumatic event. They purposefully avoid any external reminders like people, places, or objects that can remind them of any distressing event in relation to the cause of trauma.

As a result, they often seem extremely guarded because they tend to withdraw from normal situations and feelings. They avoid having conversations fearing the other person would bring up something that might remind of the trauma, and they begin to give a sense of a foreshortened future – they stop looking forward to things like career, marriage, a future family with children, and even believe their lifespan will significantly shorten.

Arousal Symptoms

Patients of acute stress disorder also show arousal symptoms, most commonly in the form of sleep disturbances. They have difficulty sleeping and often get insomnia, and in the hours they are awake they tend to show irritable behaviour coupled with angry outbursts.

While this can be attributed to the lack of decent sleep, they also display difficulty concentrating and an exaggerated startle response. They can seem tense, anxious and worried even when alone. In some cases, patients also show aggression, either verbally or physically.

Negative Mood

Perhaps what most people associate with psychological disorders is a negative mood. People under mental health disorders sometimes show an inability to experience positive emotions of any kind, from satisfaction and happiness to love and passion. Instead, their comfort lies in negative thoughts, low mood, and feelings of sadness and loneliness.

How to Manage Acute Stress Disorder?

As with most health conditions, the first thing to do if you want to beat it is to learn more about it. This is quite easy now with the internet giving access to loads of important information with just one click. Learning more about the condition, especially the symptoms listed above, can greatly increase your chances of helping out someone who has acute stress disorder, more so if it is you. Being knowledgeable about the condition’s basic symptoms can lead to early identification, treatment and recovery.

Two things that often get taken for granted when combating mental health conditions are physical health and an able support system. For your mental health to improve, you need to have good physical health first so that your mind can focus on healing itself. Eat healthy foods and try to exercise regularly, you can start slow and always work at your own pace.

Understand that this can be a hard time for you and don’t hesitate to seek out a strong support system. It can be your family, your friends, a loved one, or whoever makes you feel safe and comfortable. Spending time with people who you can trust and you know want what is best for you is a significant boost in getting back on your feet.

The road to recovery can be hard, but always be patient with yourself. While the things mentioned above are all helpful in getting better, don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health specialist for evaluation. If you’re suffering from acute stress then it’s something you need to treat, there are specialists stress treatment clinics such as Brain Wellness Spa who can help you to break free from the shackles of stress in your life.

This is a contributed post.



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Claire Kirby

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