Acute Stress Disorder

Most people who experience trauma will have some kind of psychological reaction, such as feelings of fear, sadness, guilt or anger. However, in the first few weeks after a trauma some people experience more intense reactions that cause them a lot of distress and begin to interfere with their lives. These reactions are known as acute stress reactions.

Acute stress reactions include:

  • unwanted memories and images of the traumatic event
  • nightmares
  • a high level of distress when they are reminded of the trauma
  • jumpiness or feeling constantly “on guard”
  • poor sleep
  • greater irritability or snappiness than normal
  • problems with concentration
  • a desire to avoid situations or activities that remind them of the trauma
  • a desire to avoid thinking about or talking about the trauma
  • feeling strange, as if the world is different to normal (e.g. things seem unreal, time speeds up or slows down, feeling ‘outside’ your normal self)
  • feeling numb

An individual may be diagnosed with Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) if they are experiencing many of these acute stress reactions during the first month following a trauma.

It is important to note that all of these reactions are quite normal and are commonly experienced shortly after a trauma. For most people, these reactions will start to improve naturally within the initial weeks. However, some people who experience a lot of distress because of these reactions, or who find that these reactions are interfering with their normal lives, may benefit from a short-term treatment program. Brief treatment programs for ASD have been shown to be very effective in preventing the development of more long-term difficulties.