Acute Stress Disorder: Symptoms, Causes & Support

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)

What Is Acute Stress Disorder?

Acute stress disorder (ASD) occurs due to a stressor or a traumatic experience. Stress can cause symptoms such as anxiety, avoidance, mood swings, and dissociation.  

Experiencing any kind of stressor (eg physical, psychological, social) or witnessing someone else go through a traumatic event may cause acute stress disorder.  

ASD symptoms may appear immediately and can last for 3 days to 1 month. 

Research indicates that between 14% and 33% of people worldwide with trauma develop acute stress disorder. 

Symptoms of ASD and post-traumatic stress are comparable; however, these conditions differ based on the duration of symptoms.  

Some people can have both ASD and PTSD, while others may have only one of the two disorders.  

Similarly, a person can have a comorbidity of other conditions along with ASD, such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder

If you have significant distress that affects the quality of your life, relationships, and performance at work – you may need clarity on how to cope with the disorder. 

Before diagnosing, a Singaporean psychologist may rule out other potential causes, such as physical health issues, side effects of medication, or substance abuse. 

You may benefit from online counselling if you identify with three or more of the symptoms below. 

This section expands on the 4 main categories of ASD symptoms, which include: 

  • Intrusion 
  • Dissociation 
  • Avoidance 
  • Arousal 

1. Intrusion Symptoms

Similar to intrusive thoughts (ie unwanted, disturbing images/ideas), intrusive symptoms include thoughts or flashbacks that intrude the mind with no warning.  

Common signs of intrusive symptoms include: 

  • Having unexpected flashbacks of the traumatic event 
  • Experiencing nightmares of the trauma or stressor 
  • Feeling disturbed or uncomfortable when recalling or talking about the trauma 

2. Avoidance Symptoms

Avoidant symptoms could include intentionally avoiding contact with the trauma, including places, people, accessories etc. Avoidance can, therefore, lead to isolation and loneliness.  

Common signs of this category include: 

  • Deliberately avoiding thoughts or conversations about the trauma 
  • Avoiding people who may have been present or aware of the traumatic event 
Acute stress disorder in the family.

3. Dissociative Symptoms

Dissociative symptoms involve a sense of detachment from reality. When a person dissociates, they may also experience their emotions or thoughts from a ‘third person point of view’.  

In other words, the person would view themselves as someone else having these feelings.   

Common dissociative symptoms include: 

  • Forgetting some or all details about any trauma one may have experienced 
  • Feeling numb or detached from themselves and the world 

4. Arousal Symptoms

ASD can trigger symptoms of anxiety and increased arousal. Arousal often refers to both positive and negative feelings.  

However, in this case, arousal symptoms could include: 

  • Feeling ‘keyed up’ 
  • Finding it hard to fall asleep 
  • Feeling irritated or having high and out-of-control emotions 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Having a startled response to normal events or situations 

Causes of Acute Stress Disorder

There is no one specific cause to develop acute stress disorder. Stress disorders usually emerge after a traumatic experience.  

A few common examples of traumatic events could include the following: 

  • Natural disasters 
  • Accidents 
  • Emotional or physical abuse  
  • Sexual assaults 
  • Being in a war  
  • Experiencing major loss during genocide or ethnic cleansing 
  • Escaping from a near-death experience 

Not everyone exposed to trauma may develop ASD; however, it is a common cause of the disorder.  

Research shows that there is a strong connection between the severity of the trauma and the likelihood of developing acute stress disorder. 

Certain risk factors such as environmental stress, personality type (eg avoidant personality), or having a history of mental health conditions could also cause ASD.  

In certain cases, biological factors such as gender could also cause ASD. For example, studies indicate that biological female people are more prone to this condition.  

Professional Support for Acute Stress Disorder

Professional support for acute stress disorder could include seeking counselling from a Singaporean psychologist, using medications, or psychotherapy.  

While some people may benefit from talk therapy alone, others may show progress after using medications along with the therapeutic plan. 

What works for one person may not necessarily work for others. Hence, your psychologist will conduct a clinical interview during your session and develop a personalised plan to meet your unique needs.  

Psychotherapy sessions to reduce acute stress disorder.


Some research indicates that CBT, or cognitive behavioural therapy, is the most common and effective approach to treat acute stress disorder. CBT is also helpful in preventing PTSD. 

With CBT, your psychologist may teach you how to deal with the effects of your trauma and how to avoid triggers in the future.  

Other common interventions used during therapy may include: 

  • Exposure and response prevention 
  • Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing 
  • Psychodynamic therapy 
  • Narrative therapy 

During the initial sessions, your psychologist may collect information such as your background, family history, medical history, personality traits, mental health history, relationships etc.  

With the given information, the professional may perform clinical observation to identify patterns in speech and behaviour that you may not be aware of and may be contributing to the symptoms.  

After clarifying your doubts and as and when the psychologist develops a clear picture of your life and problems, they may focus on developing a therapeutic plan. 

At Talk Your Heart Out (TYHO), your psychologist will share the plan with you and provide regular clinical impressions.  

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to discuss them with your online psychologist. 

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Interested in joining our newsletter and staying connected?

Drop your email address below to receive mental health news, latest TYHO articles, and tips delivered to your inbox monthly.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) | TYHO | Talk Your Heart Out