What is Acute Stress Disorder?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

What is

What is Acute Stress Disorder?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Stress can knock you down and leave you in the mud.

Most people have heard of the granddaddy of all the Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, far fewer people have heard of the smaller member of this family, Acute Stress Disorder.

Acute Stress Disorder is a condition in which something bad happens and it knocks you for a loop but eventually, it goes away. We do not want to make the normal problems of living into a mental disorder so we only begin counting things as possible disorders when the stressor is still affecting your life at least 3 days after the incident.

A great many people experience some stressor which does not end up becoming PTSD. If you are still having symptoms a month after the event we start thinking this may become long-term and then you get the designation of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

We want to keep normal life events out of this equation, so expected events like having an elderly person in your family die an expected death do not count as a trauma disorder, either Acute Stress Disorder or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

The full text of the DSM-5 includes a detailed description of how to recognize Acute Stress Disorder but here is a short description of the condition.

Four conditions need to be met for this trauma to be Acute Stress Disorder.

  1. You get exposed to something that could kill or seriously injure you or someone close to you.
  2. It happens in the real world. Movies, TV or your imagination do not count.
  3. This is unexpected.
  4. You can’t escape the results of this experience. You re-experience the events in more ways than one. Think of people who investigate child abuse or first responders at shootings or those who recover body parts in the war zone in addition to those who were the direct victim.

This experiencing and re-experiencing causes you problems.

The DSM-5 lists 14 symptoms. I will not repeat them all here. For the full text see the DSM-5. These 14 symptoms are clustered in 5 categories. To get the Acute Stress Disorder you need to have at least 9 of the 14 symptoms but they can be from any category.

1.The experience keeps coming back.

You may have nightmares, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, spacing out and this may be triggered by either internal thoughts or external triggers.

2. This experience bums you out.

Basically, you get into and stay in a really negative mood.

3.The trauma spaces you out.

You may get overwhelmed and just “bounce” mentally. In more clinical language we would call this dissociation.

4.The result of the experience is it keeps you away from things.

You may find yourself avoiding people, places or things that remind you of the trauma. Some people do not like to be alone or they may use drugs and alcohol to knock themselves out rather than just falling asleep.

5.You are on edge and stay that way.

This could come out as poor sleep, being irritable or angry all the time, be losing your ability to concentrate, or being easily triggered by any little thing. People in this condition are always on high alert for something that might go wrong. The door slams down the block and those with Acute Stress Disorder will jump at a sound others will not notice.

As with the other things we are calling a mental illness, this needs to interfere with your ability to work or go to school, your relationships, your enjoyable activities, or cause you personal distress. Otherwise, you may have the issues but you will not get the diagnoses if this is a preference, not a problem. If the only time this happens is when you are under the influence of drugs or medicines or because of some other physical or medical problem this problem needs to be more than your situation would warrant. These other issues need treating first, then if you still have symptoms you could get this diagnosis.

FYI These “What is” sometimes “What are” posts are my efforts to explain terms commonly used in Mental Health, Clinical Counseling, Substance Use Disorder Counseling, Psychology, Life Coaching, and related disciplines in a plain language way. Many are based on the new DSM-5; some of the older posts were based on the DSM-IV-TR, both published by the APA. For the more technical versions please consult the DSM or other appropriate references.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

How Stress destroys your health.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Stress person

Stress.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Your body stores up stress and then makes you sick.

Most of us know the effects that stress can have on our mental health but few people notice that the way they feel emotionally is affecting their physical health. We use that same word “feel” for both sensations in the body and emotions we attribute to the mind. This leads to lots of confusion. Your mind, by which most people mean their thinking, is not all that separate from your body.

What you think about can take its toll on your physical health.

Physical symptoms are often the first indicators of a serious mental illness. It is smart to get your health checked out by a medical doctor. Having physical illnesses that are caused by stress or trauma does not mean you are going crazy and it sure does not mean that your problems are “all in your head.” Your body participates in everything your mind experiences.

When we say someone is a pain in the neck, take that literally. That unpleasant experience has caused your neck muscles to tighten. That person who makes you sick to your stomach really is affecting your digestion. So if you have seen a doctor and they can’t find anything medically wrong with you, consider getting some emotional help.

Here are some of the physical signs and symptoms that you are under too much stress or that your feelings are signaling your body they need some attention.

Appetite changes reflect feelings.

Can’t eat? Constantly hungry? Changes in appetite that are not connected to physical activity and caloric needs are a common indicator of an emotional crisis. Changes in appetite along with a loss of pleasure are at the top of the list for symptoms of depression. Loss of appetite can signal an anxiety disorder. Relationship issues and all manner of other stresses change your appetite.

Sleep responds to emotions.

Sleep, too much or too little is another mental health indicator. Sleep changes are a feature of depression. Low need for sleep or not sleeping at all and having plenty of energy could be signs of Bipolar Disorder. Just because you have not been diagnosed with Bipolar in the past is no reason to ignore this. Many people have had only episodes of depression and the blues before that first big manic break.

Aches and pains can be from stress.

Stress impacts your nerves and your muscles. One study reported that more than half of those with Fibromyalgia also met criteria for PTSD. Living with lots of stress or trauma extracts a price from your nervous system. Do not wait till your nerves quit to get that stress under control. While thinking things away will not cure physical illnesses alone, what you do about that stress can affect the course of your physical illness.

Cravings signal something is going on in your feelings life.

Cravings for foods could be a nutritional deficiency but it could also be the warning sign of depression coming. Craving for behaviors or chemicals are hallmarks of addiction. While most behavioral addictions have not yet made the list of recognized mental illness, counseling is helpful if you find yourself craving things that could be harmful to your health or your life.

Loneliness can cause or be caused by emotional issues.

Feeling lonely or emotionally needy is a sign that your feelings life is in need of help. You should not hesitate to get assistance for emotional cravings. Loneliness is a recognized cause of relapse for substance use disorders. What is often missed is that feelings of loneliness and neglect can be triggers for mental and emotional disorders.

Lowered resistance to colds and flu may have an emotional cause.

Depression, Trauma, and stressor-related disorders all lower your resistance to illness. Happy people have more resistance to physical illness and are more resilient to emotional letdowns. If you are having trouble getting over a physical illness, take another look and see if your emotions need mending also.

Temperature regulation – sweating could be anxiety or panic disorder.

Sweating and poor temperature regulation has been connected to anxiety and stress-related disorders. Learn deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness. Cut back on the high rumination diet and see if your body does not stop sweating things.

Out of willpower – procrastination? Is it caused by stress?

Lack of energy, low willpower, and a general malaise are all signs of emotional disorders. Depression and anxiety are the chief suspects here but other mental disorder can result in low motivation and a lack of willpower.

Irritable – low blood sugar – the two are connected.

Low blood sugar makes people more irritable and leads to anger and conflict. The opposite connection can exist. Poor emotional regulation can play having with your efforts to regulate blood sugar and other hormones. Make sure you are taking care of your emotional health and see if that does not help you improve your physical health.

Panic happens more often when you are stressed.

Panic may be appropriate if they are shooting at you or if the lion is hunting you. Panic in the sense of a sudden mobilization of effort. But if you are having panic attacks on a regular basis, if the setting on your anxiety or panic meter is turned up way too high, your emotions are going to create a lot of physical symptoms that will not respond well to the doctor’s prescription of medication.

Is emotional stress having an impact on your physical health?

Anxiety

Depression

Emotions and Feelings.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders (OCD)

PTSD & Stress

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Six David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Dark Family Secrets: Some family secrets can be deadly.

What if your family secrets put you in danger?

Letters from the Dead The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead?

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive?

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon.

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Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking, and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter.

PTSD or Acute Stress?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Words about PTSD

PTSD.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

What’s the difference between PTSD and Acute Stress?

Stressed

Feeling stressed out?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has made the news a lot recently. This is a good thing. More recognition of PTSD should result in more treatment and less suffering from those who have PTSD. Stress caused problems may or may not be from a Trauma.

What hasn’t gotten as much notice and should have, is the role of Acute Stress Disorder in the events that knock people down and cause a lot of suffering. Acute Stress Disorder creates a lot of problems for a lot of people. Reactions to severe stress can cause long-term changes in people’s feelings and behaviors. Many of these changes go unrecognized and untreated. Acute Stress Disorder may be missed more often than it is diagnosed. More on that later in this blog post.

Stress can harm you.

We know stress is a problem a lot of the time, for a lot of people. Outside the field of mental health, there are lots of blog posts and books on stress, what it is and how to deal with it.  I have written posts about stress and managing it for those of you who have too much stress in your life even if it does not get you a diagnoses or disability.

Stress, plain simple stress, can break people down even if they never meet the criteria for a mental illness. Think of stress like this:

Remember those spectacular car crashes at those televised car races? Some of those crashes were the result of car parts (or drivers) under stress. All day, for hundreds of miles that car and that poor car part, ran hard and fast. The stress just kept coming, then suddenly that part breaks, that car goes all which way and the crash occurs.

Stress on people can be like that. Too much stress too long and the person develops mental health problems. Some of those problems need a day off, others become diagnosable illnesses. In the past, we tended to think of stress related disorders like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as close cousins to Anxiety. That has started to change.

Beginning soon mental health professionals will begin to use new coding systems. The DSM-5 or the newer ICD codes. In those systems, Stress and Trauma-Related Disorders get their own chapter. While Stressor-Related Disorders can cause anxiety and have some symptoms in common with anxiety disorders they also have some differences.

Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders.

From the day you are born till the day you die too much stress can cause you a problem. One key factor in Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders is that there has to be a specific thing that happened to you, the stressor. Trauma is the king of all stressors.

So these things do not just suddenly happen for no reason and they are presumably not something you are born with. This fuzzes up the expression that mental illness is a brain disorder, in that the cause of these disorders are things that happen to you.

If life events result in acquiring a mental illness, then events, as in therapy and learning, can be helpful in treating that disorder.  Much of the treatments for stressor-related disorders are cognitive type therapies.

Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders also can have features that are similar, we might even say overlap, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and the often overlooked dissociation. Not every other mental illness is caused by stress or trauma. We just need to be aware that sometimes there can be connections. This similarity to other issues results in a lot of stress-related disorders not being diagnosed until years later when the person is severely mentally ill or disabled.

What is Acute Stress Disorder and why is it important?

Acute Stress Disorder has two sets of “symptoms,” the things people experience that are a problem for them and the technical things professionals use to give out the diagnosis.

Some of the things you might experience as a result of having Acute Stress Disorder are also symptoms of other mental health issues or other mental illnesses. There are a variety of diagnoses that someone might get as a result of injuries they sustained due to stress.

These symptoms can impact your life in long-term ways. People may find their personality has changed.

Poor or no sleep is a cause for worry. Poor sleep now, predicts mental health issues down the road. In the aftermath of stressors, many people report that they do not sleep well. Some report bad dreams, nightmares or night terrors. A few days of bad sleep after you are stressed and you should get back to normal. If the sleep disturbance goes on for very long it starts to change your functioning and your life.

Panic attacks are common in the first month after a severe life stressor. The time period of thirty days becomes important when we try to separate Acute Stress Disorder from other problems. This panic attack may first be experienced immediately after a stressful incident and then go on to become Panic Disorder.

If you have been through a severely stressful incident it is not unusual for you to blame yourself for not expecting it, not doing something differently and not being able to prevent it. Rationally you should know that it may not have been possible to prevent what happened, but people commonly experience guilt or even shame over not being able to stop that trauma.

After a trauma, some people report that the happiness or joy has been sucked out of life. They stop caring about themselves or others. They may begin to take risks that they never took before. They drive too fast, gamble, take more sexual risks. Some trauma or stress survivors become angry, bitter and more argumentative. They get in more fights, verbally and physically. It is as if they have changed who they are and they no longer care.

If you knew about the traumatic experience you might understand why the changes in behavior occurred. If that trauma survivor kept the trauma a secret, and many do, you might think this was all bad behavior.

Trauma survivors, even those who do not go on to develop more serious mental health problems, may become confused or think they are losing their minds. They may get tested for or treated for concussions. They could have both a concussion and a longer term mental illness.

After a trauma or a crisis from the buildup of long-term stress, you may find it difficult to go back to places that remind you of the trauma. People become unable to go back to work, visit certain places or they avoid social situations.

How do professionals diagnose Acute Stress Disorder and why is that diagnosis so rare?

The official criteria for Acute Stress disorder are found in the DSM-5 or DSM-4-TR if your agency is still using that one. The DSM’s are published by the APA and you can order the full text from them. Here is my oversimplified plan language version of that criteria. I hope I do not make errors in this explanation.

A warning

Self-diagnosis or diagnosing your family and friends is a risky behavior. If after reading all this you believe you or someone close to you has Acute Stress Disorder, another Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorder or any other mental health problem, go see a professional and get it checked out. There are treatments available for all of these conditions and there is no need to suffer alone.

There are 5 things the professional needs to look at for Acute Stress Disorder

  1. Did you experience a really bad Traumatic Stressor Recently?

There is a “waiting period” of 3 days. Most people have difficulty for a few days after a serious trauma. Then there is the requirement that the problems you are having must last UP TO 30 days. This is a huge thing for Acute Stress Disorder. If your problems go on more than 30 days the name we call this (diagnostic code) changes to something more long-term like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)

The result of this time factor is that a whole lot of people who have this problem do not ever get diagnosed. In outpatient settings, it can take 30 days to get your insurance settled and to get in for an appointment. In hospital settings this diagnoses may be found more often using “strict criteria” but in most other places the results of trauma do not show up till years later and the issues then get called something other than Acute Stress Disorder.

  1. You must have at least 9 of 14 possible symptoms.

This leads to lots of ifs. Depending on who is doing the evaluating some things get counted and not others. Another problem is that trauma victims do not like to talk about their trauma. One symptom is avoiding reminders of the trauma and talking about it again is a reminder. So not having said they have a symptom can rule people out who did, in fact, meet criteria and do have Acute Stress Disorder.

I will not go through all the 14 criteria here, just a few of the big ones.

You can’t get the trauma or stressor out of your head.

This is sometimes called intrusive thoughts. You may also have dreams and things will trigger the memories so much you begin avoiding those emotional triggers. After the 30 days waiting period this may become PTSD.

From now on you are in a bad mood and can’t get out of it.

The happiness and joy get sucked out of your life. You are in a bad mood all the time for no apparent reason. Some people, kids, and men mostly, become irritable, angry and possibly violent. In my view, Acute Stress Disorder and its aftermath are involved in a lot of these unexpected violent incidents.

People may “space out.”

Researchers have noted that zoning out, technically called dissociation, is common, almost universal in the first three days after a trauma. If that dissociation continues after the third day we think it indicates Acute Stress Disorder. After thirty days that dissociation gets diagnosed as something else. I believe that there are more cases of dissociation than get recognized. Some are ignored and some get another name like Psychosis NOS (not otherwise specified.)

Acute Stress Disorder is time limited.

Acute Stress Disorder must last more than three days and less than thirty. Beyond the thirty the name gets changed. Many people try their hardest to cope and do not report symptoms. They can’t work and go on disability for a while until that runs out. Some end up alone and homeless. They get angry, depressed or anxious and their relationships suffer. They develop panic attacks or obsessive-compulsive disorders. Some get other mental illness diagnoses.

Having Acute Stress Disorder really matters.

This disorder, like most things we call mental illness, really makes a difference in people’s lives. It interferes with their ability to work or go to school. Having Acute Stress disorder can interfere with or destroy relationships with family and friends. It causes the people who have it a lot of suffering even when they can’t express how or why they are suffering. It can also damage other important areas of your life, such as religious observances, hobbies and so forth.

Acute Stress Disorder is not something else.

Professionals are continually reminded to avoid putting the wrong label (diagnoses) on things. If you only have these symptoms because of a medical issue or because you are drunk or high when you have the symptoms then we do not say you have Acute Stress Disorder.

This does not mean that people with medical problems or who use drugs can’t get Acute Stress Disorder, we just want to be careful we do not get the diagnosis wrong and count as symptoms things that were not caused by the stressor.

One last thing to consider.

There are two other groups of mental health problems in the Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorder chapter. Attachments Disorders, those problems that begin in very early life and Adjustment Disorders, which are reactions to stress that may not be life-threatening but have a huge impact on your mental health. These groups of life problems, sometimes, they rise to the level of a mental illness or a mental health problem.

I have written elsewhere about how Attachment Disorders and Adjustment Disorders can wreck someone’s life if not attended to. I am out of time and space here to talk about these other groups of Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders.

Hope this post did not run too long. I do not think I have written a post of this length in the past but this seemed like a topic that needed more space and discussion.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

6 ways to recover from Complex Trauma or Complex PTSD

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Words about PTSD

PTSD.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

You can recover from Complex Trauma or Complex PTSD.

Complex Trauma or Complex PTSD is the result of repeated injuries, each of which creates additional trauma. Complex Trauma frequently arises in children who are abused or neglected over long periods of time or survivors of sexual assaults who are re-assaulted.

Being injured once is bad enough but repeated traumatization can result in problems far in excess of those caused by a single trauma. People who were traumatized in childhood and then retraumatize in later life are likely to develop severe and debilitating symptoms. Some researchers have suggested the name of Complex Trauma or Complex PTSD for this condition.

It appears that many people can experience severe trauma, recover and not develop PTSD. Some of the symptoms of PTSD are normal reactions to experiencing a trauma – in the short run. If the reaction is excessive, interferes with a job, friendships or relationships then it first becomes Acute Stress Disorder when the symptoms continue for long periods of time and seriously interfere with functioning the name and diagnosis is changed to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Complex Trauma adds trauma upon trauma and results in long-term suffering.

Some treatments make the symptoms of Complex Trauma worse and some things are effective in treatment. Here are the basic rules for recovering from Complex Trauma. I based this on the research of Conner & Higgins and their description of the work of Chu, with my own usually twists.

1. CAUTION – do not start digging until you know what is buried out there, avoid black holes.

The first reaction of someone trying to recover from complex trauma and the approach of many counselors is to go searching for the buried details. People ask “Why can’t I remember things?” Counselors are tempted to try to recover those lost memories. This can result in more trauma and pain and runs the risk of digging up stuff that wasn’t really buried in your yard but the yards of neighbors or even fictional characters.

Some serious damage has been done by forcing people to remember things way before they were ready and by hunting for things that you are not sure happened. Ask a kid often enough about sexual abuse and they will begin to “remember” things that “may have happened” or they “think” happened. These contaminated memories have resulted in a lot of extra pain.

There are a number of other steps that need to be completed before you go digging into the past for answers. The brain tries to protect us by hiding details from us that might keep us from functioning well enough to survive. Trust the process.

2. Have a supportive therapist or counselor as well as a support system in place.

You can’t make this journey of healing alone and the more capable the companions you have on the journey the better. Professionals are important because there may be things you need to tell them that you won’t feel safe telling others. Peers are also helpful for similar reasons.

Group counseling can be especially effective when and if you are ready to talk in front of others.

3. Ensure your personal safety

If you are in a dangerous situation healing is not likely until you deal with the current emergency. Make a safety plan and execute it. You need to feel safe and have reliable food clothing and shelter before you think about other aspects of recovery. But don’t put off recovery waiting for the day you will miraculously feel safe. Get started on the safety part first. Just taking steps to move to a safe place can be empowering.

Challenges to your safety don’t only come from outside. You may be a big part of the danger. Avoid, control or work on urges and cravings. Confront any urges to commit suicide and seek help immediately if you have thoughts of suicide. Recognize and deal with non-suicidal self-injury, substance abuse, eating disorders and the urge to try out risky behaviors. Don’t put yourself at risk to be victimized anymore.

4. Get your daily routines and rituals in place.

Most people who experience a crisis lose that ability to get up, eat, care for themselves and then move about their day. The sooner you re-establish your daily routine the better.

When children are involved the recommendation is the sooner you can resume family rituals the better. Get back to your spiritual home. Remember to have some sort of ritual in your life; birthdays, Christmas or any other familiar activity makes everyone feel better.

Returning to a job or other activity can be a great way to begin your recovery. If you can’t work at a paid job consider volunteering. Having a reason to get up and out of the house can jump-start your recovery.

A regular and consistent amount of sleep is important. So is some form of exercise. Be as consistent as possible with mealtimes and bedtimes. Include time for relaxation and positive activities.

5. Learn as much as you can about stress, acute stress and the more difficult forms PTSD and Chronic Stress. Learn to manage your primary symptoms.

Knowledge is power. When you know you are not “crazy” or “losing your mind” but that the things you are experiencing are common responses to what you have been through, then it is easier to look for the things others have found useful in recovering from their chronic stress.

Accept what you feel. Try to learn to feel what you are feeling rather than run from the uncomfortable feelings. The feelings will come and go. Learn that you don’t have to run from feelings, but you do need to move away from real danger.

6. Begin work on your long-term issues, the chronic stress symptoms, the problems you had before the stressor and lastly the actual event.

Often people who develop PTSD or a chronic stress disorder discover they had other issues before the stress that put them at risk for the PTSD.

Begin to talk about you. What does the experience mean to you? Who are you aside from the trauma? What does the trauma say about the person or thing that hurt you? What if any sense can you make of this?

The discussion of what actually happened should occur when you are ready to tackle this information.

7. Have patience with yourself and the persistence to work through your problems.

Recovery does not happen all at once. There may be sudden leaps forward or slips back but a continued effort will get you to recovery.

Use tools like positive affirmations. You are a worthwhile person no matter what has happened to you. Give yourself credit for the things you accomplish.

You can recover from Complex Trauma or Complex PTSD.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Acute Stress Disorder vs. PTSD

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Stress.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

What is the difference between stress, Acute Stress Disorder, and PTSD?

Stress is a normal human reaction to something that threatens us or challenges our ability to cope. When challenged our bodies respond. Even good things we have looked forward to, like new jobs, marriages or the birth of a child, can cause stress. Negative events, loss of a job, divorce, sickness or the death of someone we love can be even more stressful. Stress is a normal part of life unless it gets out of control.

Acute stress disorder is when something stresses us out and this stress results in impairment of our ability to function. It goes far beyond just being stressed out and needing time to recuperate.

Acute Stress Disorder is a diagnosable mental illness, though much of it goes untreated and unnoticed and like adjustments problems or a mild depressive episode may go away by its self, untreated. If it becomes severe enough it needs treatment before the symptoms get out of hand. The symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder must last for at least two days and must happen during the thirty days after the stressful event. Once the episode lasts more than 30 days we reclassify it as PTSD. PTSD may also intensify and produce symptoms that are in excess of those seen in Acute Stress Disorder.

Acute Stress Disorder.

Acute Stress Disorder is not just being stressed out or needing time off from work, it is far more debilitating than those symptoms.

Here are the things that need to happen for the stress to be Acute Stress Disorder. This is in my words, not the official DSM language.

Warning: This description is not meant as a diagnose-your-self project. If you think you recognize yourself, a family member or friend in these descriptions you really should see a professional.

1. You experience or see something that makes you afraid you or someone close to you like a friend or family member will be killed or seriously injured. This could be an actual event or someone who threatened you and you believed them. As a result of this harm or risk of harm, you become intensely fearful, helpless, or horror-struck. Note this is pretty bad stuff, not just being chewed out by your boss or the risk of being fired. Those milder things are stressful and might result in an adjustment disorder if they affect you enough, but those non-life-threatening things don’t get called Acute Stress Disorder or PTSD.

2. You get lots of DISSOCIATIVE symptoms – 3 or more. Dissociative symptoms, those are bad.  Here is the list:

A. Numbing or not feeling emotions

B. You don’t feel like things are real – called derealization

C. You can’t be sure you are you – called depersonalization

D. You get dissociative amnesia – can’t remember big chunks of what happened.

3. You keep reliving this experience, like that episode of Star Trek where every day they got up and it all happened again. Your life turns into a rerun.

4. You would go a mile out of your way to avoid places or people like that again.

5. You are on edge, jumpy and the least little thing sets you off again.

6.  You get so upset you can’t go to work, avoid friends and are afraid to talk about this let alone ask for help.

7. This experience and all its terror lasts 2 days to 30 days.

8. By the way, if you did bad drugs and imagined this or there is something medically wrong with you – forget all the above and get to a doctor right away.

So what makes it PTSD?

If you have the above and it goes on over thirty days we change the name to PTSD. But then the longer this goes on the more the symptoms. This is one reason we are thinking that if we could get to people who have been injured and treat them right away we just might keep this Acute Stress Disorder from turning into PTSD. That means treating some people who could get better on their own without treatment in order to prevent others getting PTSD, but given the long-term debilitating results of PTSD, a little extra treatment might be worth it.

Not sure what you think, but I believe that if we could provide appropriate services to all those returning GI’s from the Middle East we could prevent a lot of long-term suffering.

Those guys are worth the effort right? For the accountants out there, prevention saves a lot of money on long-term treatment also.

As Acute Stress Disorder goes past the 30-day mark lots of more severe symptoms develop, nightmares, extreme efforts to avoid anything that might remind them of the trauma and lots of drug and alcohol abuse. PTSD and alcoholism are best friends.

There is disagreement right now about the best way to treat PTSD. I will write more in future posts on PTSD, stress and some available treatments and new approaches that sound really interesting.

For more information on Stress and PTSD see:

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD and bouncing back from adversity

8 warning signs you have PTSD

Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) vs. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.