Acute Stress Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are mental health conditions that can occur when someone experiences a traumatic event. Learn to look for the signs of acute stress and PTSD, and if you think you suffer from either, it’s probably a good idea to seek support from a mental health professional.

Acute Stress and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders

Acute stress disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are mental health conditions that can occur when someone experiences a traumatic event. Learn to look for the signs of acute stress and PTSD, and if you think you suffer from either, it’s probably a good idea to seek support from a mental health professional.

What is Acute Stress Disorder?

Acute stress disorder occurs when a person has an ‘extreme’ reaction after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, or hearing that a traumatic event has happened to a family member or friend. Everyone responds to trauma differently, and it’s common to feel a range of different emotions. However, acute stress disorder in response to an event impacts a person’s ability to return to everyday life. A person is diagnosed with acute stress disorder when their response to a trauma is immediate – that is, it occurs between three days and a month after the event.

Symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder (and PTSD):

‘Flashbacks’, such as vivid memories, dreams, or feeling like you’re re-experiencing the event

Low mood, where it’s difficult to experience any positive emotions

Changes in thoughts and beliefs about the world, yourself or others (e.g. ‘The world is unsafe’, ‘I’m no good’)

Dissociation, or difficulty in remembering parts of the event, or feeling ‘detached’ from reality

Avoiding thoughts and feelings about the event and trying to stay away from things that remind you of it, including places and people

Feeling ‘on edge’ and finding it difficult to relax, sleep or concentrate.


Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT):

CBT is a type of psychotherapy that has consistently been found to be the most effective treatment of PTSD both in the short term and the long term. CBT for PTSD is trauma-focused, meaning the trauma event(s) are the center of the treatment. It focuses on identifying, understanding, and changing thinking and behavior patterns. CBT is an active treatment involved the patient to engage in and outside of weekly appointments and learn skills to be applied to their symptoms. The skills learned during therapy sessions are practiced repeatedly and help support symptom improvement. CBT treatments traditionally occur over 12 to 16 weeks. 

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a form of CBT that utilizes cognitive therapy to evaluate and change trauma related thoughts. CPT focuses on the way people view themselves, others, and the world after experiencing a trauma. Often times inaccurate thoughts after a trauma keep you stuck and prevent recovery from trauma. In CPT you look at why the trauma occurred and the impact it has had on the persons beliefs. CPT focuses on learning skills to evaluate whether you thoughts are supported by facts and if there are more helpful ways to think about your trauma. There is strong research support showing CPTs effectiveness across a wide range of traumas. 

Cognitive Restructuring. This type of intervention helps people make sense of bad memories. Oftentimes people remember their trauma differently than how it happened (e.g., not remembering certain parts of the trauma, remembering it is a disjointed way). It is common for people to feel guilt of shame about aspects of their trauma that were not actually their fault. Cognitive restructuring helps people look at what happened with fact to get a realistic perspective on the trauma.


Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 40 million American adults have experienced a type of anxiety disorder at some point. That is one in six people!

Why are we so anxious?

Anxiety is defined as feelings of worry or fear that do not easily go away and may get worse over time. The worries/fears tend to impact daily functioning, relationships, and overall life experience. There are several types of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms:

Excessive worrying

Difficulty sleeping


Trouble concentrating/focusing



Panic disorder symptoms:

Increased heart rate

Sudden, intense fear

Difficulty breathing

Thinking you are dying

Social anxiety disorder:

Fear of being in public

Insecurities around interaction with others

Afraid of how others judge you

Avoidance of social events


There are many treatment options for anxiety disorders. Talk therapy or medication (or both) have been found to be effective in treating anxiety. In my practice, I utilize an integrative approach to working with anxiety, drawing from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), solution-focused therapy and mindfulness techniques. 

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free 24-hour hotline at 800-273-8255. 

If  your issue is an emergency call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. Helping Hand Counseling Center does not offer crisis counseling or emergency services.