Acute Stress Disorder Symptoms: Understanding the Signs and Treatment Options

Acute stress disorder (ASD) is a psychological disorder triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that around 8% of the population experiences ASD at some point in their lives. While both men and women can be affected by ASD, women are more likely to develop the disorder than men.

If you or someone you know has experienced a traumatic event recently, it’s normal to feel distressed or overwhelmed. However, if these feelings persist and interfere with everyday life, it may be a sign of ASD.

In this article, we’ll explore the symptoms of acute stress disorder, risk factors, and treatment options.

Symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder

ASD can present with a range of physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms that develop within four weeks of experiencing a traumatic event. Here are some of the most common symptoms of ASD:

1. Re-experiencing Symptoms

People with ASD often relive the traumatic event through flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts. They may feel like they are back in the traumatic situation, even if they are safe at home or work.

2. Avoidance Symptoms

ASD can also cause people to avoid anything that reminds them of the traumatic event. This might include people, places, or activities that they used to enjoy. They may also become emotionally numb, feeling disconnected from others and their own emotions.

3. Hyperarousal Symptoms

People with ASD can become easily irritable, angry or jumpy. They might also have difficulty sleeping or concentrating, and be on high alert for potential danger.

4. Negative Mood Symptoms

ASD can also cause people to feel depressed, anxious or guilty. They may struggle to find pleasure in activities they used to enjoy, and have trouble feeling positive emotions.

It’s important to note that experiencing any of these symptoms following a traumatic event doesn’t necessarily mean you have ASD. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, anxious, or scared after a traumatic event. However, if these symptoms excessively disrupt your daily life, you should seek professional help.

Risk Factors for Acute Stress Disorder

Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop ASD. However, some risk factors can make you more vulnerable to the disorder. Here are some of the most common risk factors:

1. The Severity of the Trauma

The more severe the trauma, the higher the risk of developing ASD. It’s also more likely for ASD to develop after a sudden or unexpected event, such as a car accident or natural disaster.

2. Personal Factors

Individuals with a history of mental health problems, including anxiety or depression, are at a higher risk of developing ASD. People with a history of previous trauma or abuse are also more likely to experience ASD.

3. Lack of Support

Having a strong social support system can help individuals cope with traumatic events. Conversely, individuals who lack social support and experience stressors such as discrimination or financial difficulties are at a higher risk of ASD.

Treatment Options for Acute Stress Disorder

ASD is a treatable condition that typically involves a combination of therapies, including medication and psychotherapy. Treatment may focus on addressing symptoms, reducing anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.

1. Medications

Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may be prescribed to help alleviate symptoms such as anxiety or depression. Additionally, anti-anxiety medications may also be helpful for managing hyperarousal symptoms.

2. Psychotherapy

A variety of psychotherapy approaches can be effective in treating ASD, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR).

CBT can help individuals recognize and change negative thought patterns related to the traumatic event. Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing individuals to the feared situation, helping them learn to cope with their anxiety.

EMDR involves a trained therapist guiding the individual through eye movements and reprocessing traumatic memories. Multiple studies have shown EMDR to be effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD and ASD.

3. Support Groups

Joining a support group with others who have experienced a similar trauma can offer a safe and supportive environment for individuals with ASD. Support groups can also help those struggling with feelings of isolation and hopelessness.

Coping Strategies for Acute Stress Disorder

While it’s essential to seek treatment for ASD, there are specific coping strategies that can help individuals manage their symptoms.

1. Prioritize Self-Care

Caring for yourself involves getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and engaging in regular physical exercise. Taking care of yourself can improve moods, boost resilience, and help maintain a sense of control.

2. Avoid Triggers

Avoiding things that trigger distressing memories or emotions can help lessen the intensity of symptoms. This might involve avoiding specific places or activities, limiting exposure to news reports, or talking to a therapist about coping strategies.

3. Reach Out for Support

Talking to family, friends, or a mental health professional can help individuals process and make sense of what has happened to them. Seeking support can also foster connections and remind individuals that they are not alone.


ASD is a common psychological disorder that can affect individuals following a traumatic event. Symptoms can include re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoidance, hyperarousal, and negative mood symptoms. If you or someone you know is displaying any of these symptoms after a traumatic event, seek professional help.

Effective treatments for ASD include medications and psychotherapy, such as CBT and EMDR. Support groups and self-care strategies can also aid individuals in managing their symptoms.

Remember, if you or someone you know is struggling after a traumatic experience, it’s essential to seek help. Treatment can help manage symptoms, reduce distress, and improve quality of life.


FAQs about Acute Stress Disorder Symptoms

What are the symptoms of acute stress disorder?

Acute stress disorder is characterized by symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, fear, and avoidance behaviors. The symptoms usually occur within a month after the traumatic event, and can last for up to a month. People with acute stress disorder may also have physical symptoms, such as headaches or muscle tension.

What triggers acute stress disorder?

Acute stress disorder is triggered by a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, physical assault, or accident. The event can be direct, such as experiencing a car crash, or indirect, such as witnessing a violent event. The severity of the traumatic event can also impact the severity of the acute stress disorder symptoms.

How is acute stress disorder treated?

Acute stress disorder is typically treated with a combination of medications and therapy. Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications can be used to manage symptoms, while therapy is used to help the person cope with the traumatic event and learn healthy ways to manage their symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, in particular, has been shown to be an effective treatment for acute stress disorder.


1. Breslau, N., Koenen, K. C., Luo, Z., Agnew-Blais, J., Swanson, S., Houts, R. M., … & Miller, M. J. (2014). Childhood maltreatment, juvenile disorders and adult post-traumatic stress disorder: a prospective investigation. Psychological medicine, 44(9), 1937-1945.

2. Ginzburg, K., Ein-Dor, T., Solomon, Z., & Shalev, A. Y. (2010). Trajectories of posttraumatic stress disorder following war: A prospective community study. Journal of clinical psychiatry, 71(7), 213-219.

3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5™ (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association.