In the aftermath of a shock or trauma, distressing symptoms may arise – such as an increase in anxiety, feeling on-edge, and/or difficulties with sleeping.
These symptoms could indicate that the individual has developed an Acute Stress Disorder, which may also be referred to as “acute stress reaction”, “psychological shock”, or just “shock.
What is a Trauma?
There are various definitions of the word “trauma”. When used by medical professionals, it describes a physical ailment or injury; however in the mental health field it is used to refer to a particular event, or at other times, the psychological injury resulting from such an event.
Psychological injury (trauma) may occur when a person experiences, witnesses, or is confronted by, a traumatic event that includes some form of serious physical threat – for example, natural disasters such as flood or fire; sexual assault; physical assault; serious accidents; war and military conflict; etc.
It may be a one-off event, or something that has occurred numerous times. Regardless, the traumatic event generates overwhelming feelings of horror, terror or helplessness in the individual.
Obviously, exposure to trauma can cause significant distress, and have an immediate negative impact on the individual’s day to day functioning. However the majority of people are able to recover quite quickly, and do not go on to develop Acute Stress Disorder, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
While Acute Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are very closely related, the key difference is in the duration of the condition. Acute Stress Disorder occurs between 2 days and 1 month after the trauma; while a diagnosis of PTSD can only be made if the symptoms occur and/or persist over a month later.
Distressing Symptoms: Anxiety after Trauma
In order for a diagnosis of Acute Stress Disorder to be made, there must be a number of symptoms present – not just anxiety or nervousness. These may include:
- Upsetting memories, flashbacks and nightmares.
- Feeling of numbness, being in a daze, or being unable to recall important aspects of the traumatic event.
- Avoiding people, places, activities or objects that may trigger memories, thoughts, or feelings about the traumatic event.
- Exhibiting signs of arousal such as difficulties sleeping, irritability, being constantly alert and on-edge, or easily startled.
Recovering from Anxiety after Trauma
Research demonstrates that the therapeutic alliance between the individual and their mental health professional is of critical importance to effective treatment for ASD/PTSD. Developing that alliance and rapport can obviously be much more challenging where trauma has taken the form of sexual assault or torture, and requires warmth and empathy as well as the expert skills of the practitioner.
Treatment aims to reduce both the symptoms – such as anxiety and hyper-vigilance – and their severity. Working together with you, your psychologist may formulate a treatment plan drawing from evidence-based therapies such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), exposure therapy and cognitive therapy.
If you or a loved one is suffering from anxiety or nervousness following any form of trauma, I encourage you to seek professional help.
Author: Nicole Wimmer, B Sc (Psych), MA (Psych), PG Cert Mgmt, Grad Dip Safety Science, MAPS.
Nicole Wimmer is a Psychologist with extensive experience in helping people with various anxiety disorders, including Acute Stress Disorder. While addressing current presenting issues with clients, Nicole also focuses on developing skills in the client to better equip them to deal with future challenges as they arise.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Nicole Wimmer, try Online Booking – Loganholme or Online Booking – Mt Gravatt. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129, or Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.
- Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health (2013). Australian Guidelines for the Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. ACPMH, Melbourne.
- American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.