Acute stress disorder (ASD) is an anxiety disorder, and more specifically a trauma and stressor related disorder, where the person has suffered a trauma, or witnessed a trauma, and certain symptoms follow. The disorder may sound very similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), and some argue that ASD is a precursor to PTSD, as they are very similar. The differences include ASD having solely anxiety and fear-based symptoms, while PTSD has some symptoms that are not normally associated with anxiety. For an ASD diagnosis, the symptoms must occur anywhere from three days after the traumatic event, to one month later.
Acute stress disorder symptoms can include:
- A subjective sense of numbing, detachment, or absence of emotional responsiveness
- A reduction in awareness of his or her surroundings (i.e., “being in a daze”)
- Dissociative amnesia (i.e., inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma)
While it is easy to see what causes acute stress disorder, it is harder to determine who will develop this anxiety disorder. The stressful event is obvious, but many people are able to cope with trauma without developing ongoing symptoms. What is known is that people with other mental health conditions seem to be more vulnerable to developing ASD. Also, having had a history of trauma and stress, and an avoidant coping style are shown to be connected to developing ASD and PTSD. An avoidant coping style means that a person attempts to bury their problems rather than address them.
One thing that is known to help people cope with trauma and stress is a psychological debriefing, following the stressful event. A psychological debriefing is often very helpful in preventing the development of any further mental health problems after a trauma. A debriefing is a structured group session, where everyone involved in the trauma talk about what they saw and experienced, their reactions, and receive some basic education on what is normal coping and what is potential problematic coping. Preventative interventions are frequently seen as the intervention of choice after a traumatic event.
There is also treatment available for people who have already been diagnosed with ASD. Cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness interventions have been shown to help treat anxiety disorders. Medication is available to help treat some of the symptoms of the disorder, and education of appropriate, and helpful ways to cope with an anxiety disorder.
Being a part of a life-threatening trauma can be hard enough, but sometimes it’s the after effects that are most painful. If this sounds like you or someone you care about, please reach out for help. The sooner you get the help you deserve, the easier it will be to overcome the symptoms.