What is Acute Stress Disorder?

Sarah Health

Anxiety disorders impact nearly 40 million people in America alone. In fact, they are the most common psychiatric disorders affecting children and adults. With the increasing stress of living in the 21st century on both personal levels, the subject is getting more attention than ever.

There are several anxiety disorders identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for mental disorders commonly known as the DSM. They share a common theme of excessive irrational fear and worry but each anxiety disorder has its own distinct features and challenges.

Acute Stress Disorder

Acute Stress Disorder is a condition that reflects the anxiety and behavioural disturbances that develop within the first month after exposure to extreme trauma. As with all the anxiety disorders, there are several criteria found in the DSM that establish what constitutes acute stress disorder where much of these are shared with PTSD.

  1. The first criterion is that the person has been exposed to a traumatic event, such as threatened death, serious injury, or threat to the physical integrity of self or others in one or more of the following ways:
  • The person directly experienced a traumatic event;
  • Witnessed or was confronted, in person, the event or events happening to others;
  • Learning that the event or events occurred to a close family member or close friend (in cases of actual or threatened death of a family member or friend, the event or events must have been violent or accidental;
  • Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event or events, such as first responders collecting human remains or police officers repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse
  1. The second criterion is that either while experiencing or after experiencing the distressing event, the individual has at least 9 or more of the 14 dissociative symptoms from any of the five (5) categories— dissociation, intrusion, avoidance, negative mood, and arousal—beginning or worsening after the traumatic event or series of events occurred:

Dissociative symptoms involved:

  • Altered sense of the reality of one’s surroundings or oneself;
  • Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic event(s)

Intrusion symptoms include:

  • Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event(s);
  • Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content of the dream is related to the event(s);
  • Dissociative reactions, such as flashbacks, in which the individual acts or feels as if the traumatic event(s) were still recurring;
  • Intense or prolonged psychological distress or marked physiologic reactions in response to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s)

Avoidance symptoms include:

  • Efforts to avoid distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic event(s)
  • Efforts to avoid external reminders that arouse distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic event(s);
  • Arousal symptoms involved:
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Irritable behaviour and angry outbursts
  • Hypervigilance
  • Problems with concentration
  • Exaggerated startle response

Negative mood consists of:

  • Persistent inability to experience positive emotions, such as an inability to experience happiness, satisfaction, or loving feelings.
  1. The third diagnostic criterion for Acute Stress Disorder is that the person experiences the disturbances for a period of 3 days to 1 month after the exposure to the traumatic incident. There are cases where symptoms may begin immediately after a traumatic event, but they must last at least 3 days for a diagnosis of Acute Stress Disorder to be made.
  2. The fourth diagnostic criterion is that the disturbance causes clinically great distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of the person’s functioning.
  3. The fifth diagnostic criterion is that the disturbance cannot be attributed to the physiologic effects of a substance, such as a prescribed medication or alcohol, or another medical condition; it cannot be better explained as well by a diagnosis of a brief psychotic disorder.

Things You Can Do to Help You Manage Acute Stress Disorder

  1. Spend More Time With Family and Friends

Spending time with your family and friends while recovering the signs and symptoms associated with ASD is very important in order to get back on your feet faster. It is common for people who experienced or witnessed a traumatic event to withdraw from people and just retreat. This behaviour is normal, however, you must realize that doing so will not benefit your mental health as your mind will wander around sensitive areas in your brain that might aggravate your fears, anxiety, anger, frustration, confusion, as well as the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Be with your loved ones and allow them to know how you feel and think. Do not be afraid or shy to express that something’s bothering you as they were the ones who will understand you the most. Acknowledge that you cannot do this on your own and it is okay to ask for help, support and understanding from them. Be patient with yourself and trust the whole process as everything will be alright.

  1. Learn as Much as You Can About Acute Stress Disorder

A lot of essential information about acute stress disorder is now available with just one click of your finger. Having this vital information within your reach is very helpful in order to make all the best and wise decisions in combating this mental condition.

Educate yourself as much as you can about the mental disorder and use this data to assess if you or someone you know have acute stress disorder. It can also prepare you on how to intelligently manage ASD as you will know the basic dos and don’ts approach to combat this mental health condition.

  1. Get Regular Exercise

Schedule physical activity in your daily schedule, such as brisk walking, jogging or swimming. Exercise is an effective way to burn off stress chemicals; it has also been proven to helps a person obtain better sleep and reduces muscle tension.

In fact, a study conducted by the University of Georgia shows that regular exercise can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety. The physical exertion we do during exercise activities help our brain to cope better with stress as it relieves stress and depression, providing a calming effect to the person’s overall mood.


Acute Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that normally occurs after a traumatic event which lasts for about two weeks to one month from the time of the incident. If the symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder persists for more than one month, you may no longer be struggling with this disorder but could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder already. If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, it is probably the best to seek support from a mental health professional because most of the dissociative symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder are much similar with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; they will perform the necessary assessment before coming up with a conclusion that a person is indeed suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Indeed, it is difficult to conquer the recurring thoughts and fears after an unfortunate event. More often than not, the reassuring love and support of family and friends would not alleviate the internal struggles you experience. Hence, it is imperative to have someone expert in this field, such as Brain Wellness Spa, as they know better how to help you get back on your feet.