Acute Stress Disorder

Stress disorder of young athletic woman


Acute stress disorder (also known as acute stress reaction) is a psychological condition that arises as a response to a traumatic external event, mostly from the patient’s past. This shock or disorder is initiated by the secretion of adrenaline and noradrenaline into the sympathetic nervous system from the medulla of the adrenal glands. These hormones trigger extreme physical responses like an increased heartbeat, constricting blood vessels and heavy panting.

An increase in the concentration of these hormones in the nervous system triggers the “fight or flight” mechanism in human beings. While this might sound like “regular” cognitive functioning, if the external event is perceived as a major threat, the fight or flight response is highly exaggerated, thereby resulting in paranoia and abnormally aggressive behavior by the patient.

Side Effects

  • Anxiety
  • Fear of being threatened without any perceptible threat
  • Fear of carrying out normal day to day activities
  • Heavy panting during routine events
  • Flashbacks of certain traumatic events
  • Nightmares
  • Absence of emotional responsiveness
  • Depersonalization
  • Dissociative amnesia (i.e., inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma)

Causes and Risk Factors

While most researchers attribute acute stress shocks to psychological aspects, some scholars also agree that biological and genetic factors might be responsible for a neurochemical imbalance leading to such responses. Some of the most common causes of this disorder include:

  • Exposure to a traumatic event like death of a loved one or an accident
  • Exposure to traumatic environment such as areas that experience great danger
  • Major life-changes like being fired from a job or getting divorced
  • Genetic predisposition towards a hormonal imbalance
  • Pre-existing conditions of behavioral disorders including post traumatic stress disorder

Patients are susceptible to a number of risks including:

  • The exact occurrence of a stress shock cannot be determined, therefore, the patient is like a ticking time bomb, ready to explode at the slightest exposure of the stress-inducing event
  • People become excessively aggressive and reactive, thereby putting themselves and everybody around them in danger of violent accidents
  • People are exposed to a risk of suicidal ideation
  • People may develop long term mental illness that may be irreversible in nature


In most cases of acute stress disorder, the condition subsides over a period of time by itself. However, if these shocks keep occurring, they may develop into more serious conditions such as Post-traumatic stress disorder.

In such cases, the patient may have to undergo cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT), which are provided at drug rehabilitation facilities. The patient can enroll in professional behavioral disorder treatment centers where the patient can enroll himself in support groups and other affiliates.


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