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5 Symptoms of An Acute Stress Reaction

We all know what stress feels like, regardless of how minor or major the stressor was. How we respond to those stressors, though, is what matters. Some can experience an external event and process their stress response effectively. Others may not have the same mechanism in place, which is where what was an acute stress reaction could develop into something deeper.

Causes of an Acute Stress Reaction

An acute stress reaction is an initial response to a major event that triggers the body’s natural stress response. In response to a traumatic experience, this may lead to a long-term response known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unlike ongoing PTSD, an acute stress reaction typically lasts 3 to 30 days following the event.

Approximately 5 to 20 % exposed to a traumatic event will develop an acute stress reaction. When a traumatic event occurs, the body has a built-in stress response that kicks into either a fight, flight, or freeze mode, and traumatic events can be caused by many things.

A few traumatic events that can cause an acute stress reaction include:

  • Death of a loved one
  • The threat of severe injury or death to oneself or a loved one
  • A motor vehicle accident
  • Sexual assault, rape, or domestic abuse

Trauma of any sort can affect a person differently depending on how they handle the stress emotionally, physically, and mentally, and the symptoms can also range in severity. So, what are the five symptoms of acute stress?

Psychological and Physical Symptoms of An Acute Stress Reaction

The psychological symptoms of an acute stress reaction can vary in intensity from person-to-person, and include the following five main categories:

  1. Intrusion Symptoms – These symptoms occur when a person cannot stop thinking about the traumatic event through flashbacks, memories, and dreams.
  2. Dissociative Symptoms – These symptoms include an altered sense of reality and feeling numb and detached without a clear recollection of the event.
  3. Arousal Symptoms – These anxiety-like symptoms can involve sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, easily startled, agitated, and extremely tense.
  4. Depressed Mood Symptoms – These symptoms may encompass negative emotions such as feeling worthless, broken, sad, depressed, and potentially suicidal thoughts.
  5. Avoidance Symptoms – These acute stress reaction symptoms include purposely avoiding anything that reminds that person of the traumatic event, such as thoughts, feelings, people, or places.

Physical Symptoms of An Acute Stress Reaction

When stress occurs, the body has a physical response by releasing adrenaline (epinephrine) as well as putting the nervous system into overdrive, causing the following:

  • Heart palpitations and or a pounding heart
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

These physical symptoms tend to develop within minutes to hours and may last for weeks. In some cases, symptoms can be even more severe, especially if a person has any risk factors present.

Some people are at a higher risk of developing an acute stress reaction.

  • Any prior confrontation, experience, or witnessing of a traumatic event
  • A personal history of having acute stress reactions or PTSD
  • Being under 40 years of age
  • A history of other mental health disorders

Acute Stress Reaction Versus PTSD

Besides the timeline of acute stress reaction taking place sooner and PTSD occurring later, for PTSD to be diagnosed, the person’s symptoms must persist for more than 30 days or first appear more than one month after the traumatic event occurred.

Managing Acute Stress Reactions for Balanced Coping Strategies

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Regardless of the severity of an acute stress reaction’s symptoms, there is hope! The treatment plan should include ways to reduce the symptoms, improve coping mechanisms and prevent PTSD from occurring.

One of the best forms of treatment for an acute stress reaction is trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which effectively develops solid coping skills. CBT also helps the person affected identify and challenge irrational and unwanted thought patterns.

At Miami Hypnosis and Therapy, we offer a wide variety of therapies, including CBT. We create individualized treatment plans because we know each person has unique needs in their quest for wellness. We may also incorporate other forms of therapy, such as hypnotherapy which can help clients attain treatment goals faster.

The benefits of therapy can be an extraordinarily life-altering experience. Not only can you learn how to cope with debilitating fears, but you will also acquire the ability to have a better handle on future events that may cause an acute stress reaction. Find help for reframing whatever life throws at you with a more neutral and balanced approach, and rediscover joy!

Take that first step in living a more joyful and stress-free life, and book your appointment today so you can conquer anything tomorrow!

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