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Acute Stress Disorder & PTSD

While most individuals overwhelmed by trauma gradually recover, others experience acute stress disorder (ASD)—an intense, unpleasant or dysfunctional reaction typically lasting a month. 

If symptoms become worse or persist after months or even years, people are diagnosed as having posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—which includes roughly 20% of trauma cases). 

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

Significantly distressing and intrusive thoughts about the event may feel, at times, as though it were happening again. Classic symptoms are nightmares, being easily startled, feelings of detachment, anger outbursts or hopelessness about the future—grouped as follows:

Reexperience or flashback 

    • Fixating on trauma-infused memories or reminders from images, sounds or other sensations. 
    • Experiencing flashbacks, as if reliving the trauma. 
    • Having trauma-related nightmares with symptoms of fear or anxiety (racing heart, rapid breathing, feelings of panic, excessive sweating).

Avoidance and/or dissociation

    • Seeking to avoid reminders, such as being near tall buildings, taking an elevator, going on airplanes or being in crowds—sometimes leaving people housebound.
    • Trying to avoid extremely tense or anxious thoughts and feelings, such as the news. Avoiding anxiety can lead to dissociation or disengagement—by “zoning out” and feeling cut off from surroundings and people.  
    • Paradoxically, seeking out reminders of the trauma. Instead of feeling better, survivors experience increased fear, sadness, anger or isolation. 
    • Feeling guilt for insufficient sadness or compassion for other survivors or others who did not survive the trauma. A feeling of numbness can lead to isolation or withdrawal from social contact.


    • Working overtime, body systems of highly anxious survivors show higher heart rates, blood pressure and sweat response. 
    • Having an exaggerated startle response, involuntarily jumping from a tap on the shoulder or ducking from a sharp noise. 
    • Being irritability or having anger outbursts, leading to other problems, such as violence and child abuse. 
    • Managing anxiety by resorting to drugs or alcohol

Read more about CFI’s specialized treatments for PTSD, Acute Stress Disorder, and related concerns.



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