Acute stress is a condition that arises out of fear. An acute stress response is defined by the experience of a threatening, frightening situation. In fact, many psychologists refer to acute stress as ‘mental shock’ or simply ‘shock.’
When humans are calm, neuron interactions are fired sporadically. But when humans find themselves under acute stress, these neurons fire uncontrollably. This causes nerve endings throughout the body to react, releasing norepinephrine that constricts blood vessels, over-stimulates the heart and respiratory systems, and toughens the muscles.
Also affected in the presence of fear is the production of adrenaline (or epinephrine) that generates a powerful ‘fight or flight’ response.
Adrenaline production is probably the most innate attempt at survival, which enables us to endure an extreme situation with more ease, as well as evaluate it (even when in fear) and summon an immediate response. If adrenaline levels are too high, however, heart rate and breathing increase, pupils dilate, and ‘shock’ sets in.
The origin of stress in both PTSD and ASD is the same, which is why acute stress is closely related to this disorder. Acute stress is easy to recognize, as it will manifest itself in noticeable symptoms such as perspiration, panic attacks, anxiety, tachycardia, a state of withdrawal, confusion, and in many cases, depression. Many also experience numbing, dissociative amnesia, depersonalization, and social withdrawal.
Alike PTSD, acute stress response is characterized by recurrent representations of the trauma manifested through flashbacks, thoughts, or dreams. The difference between acute stress response and PTSD is that acute stress is immediate to a traumatic event, hence the name ‘shock.’
PTSD, on the other hand, is a long-term acute stress. If the acute stress response isn’t managed, it can develop into PTSD.
Acute stress disorders are characterized by having a positive prognosis with symptoms subsiding after just a few days or weeks.
In the case that an acute Stress disorder develops into a PTSD, the prognosis will be based on the specific data of that particular condition.