Acute stress disorder is an unpleasant, intense, and dysfunctional reaction that begins shortly after a traumatic event. Symptoms usually last less than a month. With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder the symptoms lasts longer than a month.

People with acute stress disorder have been exposed to a terrifying event which they may have experienced directly or indirectly. For example, direct exposure may involve experiencing violence, serious injury, or the threat of death. Indirect exposure may include witnessing or learning of events happening to others. Acute stress disorder causes people to mentally re-experience the traumatic event, avoid things that remind them of it, and have increased anxiety.


People who are affected by Acute Stress Disorder tend to experience extreme feelings of terror and helplessness in reaction to the trauma, and they may develop both psychological and physical symptoms.

Physical symptoms

Typical physical symptoms include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty breathing

These symptoms generally develop within minutes or hours of the traumatic event and may subside within a few hours or days. However, in some cases, symptoms last for weeks.

Psychological symptoms

Psychological symptoms of acute stress disorder include:

  • Arousal: Inability to focus, hypervigilance sleep disturbances, irritable mood and angry outbursts
  • Avoidance: Determination to avoid people, memories, feelings or places associated with the traumatic incident
  • Dissociation: A sense of physical displacement, e.g. feeling dazed, seeing oneself from outside one's body, difficulty remembering the event
  • Intrusion: Involuntary and recurrent flashbacks or nightmares of the event
  • Negative mood: A generalised low mood, and difficulty expressing feelings or positive emotions


Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is usually the first-line treatment for patients with acute stress disorder (ASD) rather than other psychotherapies or medication. During treatment, Marésa will work with you to develop effective coping strategies.

CBT usually takes place over six to eight weekly sessions of about 50 minutes each; additional sessions will be added if necessary. Therapy typically takes at least two weeks after trauma exposure. This allows time for symptoms and post-trauma stress to ease.