Stressed person crouched down and holding head.

Acute Stress Disorder and Post‑Traumatic Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder and Post-traumatic stress disorder are mental health issues that occur after someone is exposed to a traumatic event. Acute stress disorder symptoms are similar to symptoms of PTSD but occurs shortly after the traumatic experience and only lasts up to one month. If symptoms continue after one month, then an individual will meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD. Some examples of traumatic events include:

  • Major accidents such as a motor vehicle accident
  • Warfare
  • Sexual and physical assault
  • Child abuse
  • Natural disasters
  • Sudden loss of a family member
  • Witnessing a traumatic event such as domestic violence or someone being harmed
  • Any threat to one’s life in which someone believes they will be seriously harmed or killed
  • Repeated exposure to horrific events such as first responders, police officers, etc.

Most people who have experienced a major trauma will not go on to develop PTSD. However, there are some risk factors that can increase your chances of developing PTSD including genetics, female gender, severity and duration of trauma, having repeated traumatic experiences such domestic violence, child abuse, and frequent exposures such as for first responders, substance abuse issues, having other mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, and not having a good support network of friends and family.

According to the DSM-V, some of the key signs of PTSD include:

  • Recurrent and intrusive memories of the traumatic event
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks or reliving the event as if it were happening again
  • Persistent avoidance of any activity, person, or place that reminds you of the trauma
  • Persistent negative beliefs about self and the world
  • Persistent distorted blame of self or others regarding the cause or consequences of the trauma
  • Diminished interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Feeling alienated from others
  • Mood issues, irritability, and/or aggression
  • Self-destructive or reckless behavior
  • Hypervigilant and easily startled
  • Problems with sleep and concentration

While acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress can be a serious and debilitating disorder, there are many effective treatment options available. As in most of my treatment offerings it is important to treat the whole mind body and spirit, and this is even more important for PTSD. Oftentimes, traumatic experiences that have affected the body or resulted in pain are stored in the body as well as the mind. These “body memories” can have a negative impact on physical health and recovery. Medications and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) are key biological considerations in the treatment of PTSD. In addition, EMDR (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy, mindfulness-based trauma therapy, and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral treatment (particularly for youth and their families), are specific therapies that have particular usefulness in treating PTSD. Finally, trauma-informed (sensitive) yoga is another great mind-body modality to promote healing. Given the severity of PTSD, I typically recommend combining several of the above modalities to maximize a patient’s treatment.

If you or a family member has experienced one or more traumatic events and are struggling with some or most of the symptoms listed above, please reach out to a mental health professional for a thorough evaluation. PTSD can be a chronic and debilitating illness that can significantly impact quality of life in so many ways. Recovery is possible with the right treatment. Have questions? Please reach out, help really IS a phone call away.

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