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Stress is one of the leading causes of health problems in the United States. Patients experiencing high-stress levels, especially after experiencing a traumatic event, can develop further harmful health complications, like rapid heartbeat, headaches, insomnia, low energy, and skin conditions. Acute stress disorder is a significant ailment that can compound all of these adverse effects of stress.

Stress disorders can easily seem like general anxiety disorders and bouts of depression. That's why knowing the essential facts of acute stress disorder can help you and your doctor better understand what is affecting you.

What is Acute Stress Disorder?

Acute stress disorder, or ASD, is any strong negative response to traumatic events. Instances of ASD usually last anywhere from three days to one month. Anyone can experience ASD and can respond in different ways to negative life events.

Some examples of stress triggers can be:

  • Death
  • Violence
  • Injury
  • Natural disasters

and other outside events that can traumatize an individual. Symptoms depend on the individual, as well as the severity of the event. Everyone reacts differently to these external events.

Now that the basics are out of the way, let's go over the essential facts you need to know about ASD.

1. There's A Difference Between Acute Stress Disorder and PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a more severe and longer-lasting condition.

ASD is the initial disorder, usually occurring soon after a stressful or traumatic event. PTSD can follow if the initial ASD doesn't dissipate.

"Acute stress disorder is the initial reaction after trauma and distress can last for a few weeks. This is normal. What we recognize as post-traumatic stress disorder is instead the longer-term effects from that particular trauma or inciting incident. If certain symptoms last longer than a month, it may be considered PTSD, and further evaluation is recommended," explains Dr. Elizabeth Nikol, the manager of Integrated Behavioral Health at Summit Health.


Likewise, the symptoms of PTSD last much longer than the initial ASD symptoms.

However, many of the symptoms such as these appear similar:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Sensitivity to stressful triggers
  • Recurring memories of stressful events
  • Sleeplessness
  • Depression
  • Lack of emotion
  • Trouble concentrating

2. Anyone is At Risk for ASD

While there are some individuals with an increased chance of developing ASD (like those with existing mental illness or previous episodes of ASD), theoretically, anyone can develop ASD.

Depending on the patient's age, the severity of the inciting event, and the symptoms, some instances of ASD may be more severe than others.

3. There Isn't a Method to Prevent It, But Treatment Exists

While searching for methods to prevent ASD will net zero results, the stress disorder treatment options are potent and effective in many cases.

The best way to decrease the severity of ASD and the chances of full-fledged PTSD is to seek medical treatment soon after a traumatic event. This is where effective counseling, care, and other coping mechanisms can reduce anxiety and other ASD symptoms.

Many of the same treatment programs exist for both ASD and PTSD such as short-term or long-term therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication regimens.

Regardless, leaving PTSD or ASD unchecked and unacknowledged can adversely affect one's life.

4. ASD Affects 6-33 Percent of People Who Experience a Traumatic Event

Depending on the traumatic event, the higher the chances of individuals experiencing ASD and PTSD symptoms. The American Journal of Psychology found that ASD symptoms develop in 33 percent of people involved in a mass shooting. This is the most severe trigger for ASD, only followed by traumatic brain injury and assault.

5. There Are Some Risk Factors for ASD Symptoms

Although anyone can experience ASD, there are those with a propensity for the stress disorder. Some risk factors for acquiring ASD are things like:

  • Genetics
  • No coping mechanisms
  • Substance use
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • High stress

Stress in America and COVID-19

It's crucial to recognize the stressful pitfalls many fall into, especially in light of the past year's events.

"Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many adults have reported a significant negative impact on their mental health and well-being—everything from trauma and anxiety to bouts of depression. As the pandemic wears on, people are losing sight of that promised ‘light at the end of the tunnel,’ and this is resulting in deeper depression that can lead to trouble getting through the day. At Summit Health, we give our patients the tools they need to manage their struggles and build resilience,” explains Dr. James Korman, the chief of behavioral health and wellness at Summit Health.

In a survey regarding stress and the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Psychological Association found that 8 in 10 adults felt that this unprecedented event had had a negative impact on their lives. Additionally, 7 in 10 adults reported feeling increased levels of stress throughout the pandemic.

It's safe to say that the events of 2020 could very well be the beginnings of chronic stress, and even PTSD, in a large swath of the global population. That's why now is the time to explore different ways to minimize and cope with stress for a healthier life.

Final Thoughts on Acute Stress Disorders

While anyone is potentially at risk for developing stress-related disorders, it doesn't mean that all is lost.

For more resources, be sure to visit Summit Health's behavioral health management services. We treat things like ASD, PTSD, grief, loss, depression, and anxiety. Many of our specialists offer cognitive behavioral therapy and other invaluable treatment methods for recovery.