5 Symptoms of Acute Stress


5 Symptoms of Acute Stress

Life comes at us fast. Oftentimes, situations occur unexpectedly, and it causes our bodies, specifically our central nervous systems, to react. Acute stress is one of those reactions, including symptoms like fast heart rate and shortness of breath presenting themselves as a reaction to a stressful event. However, no matter how severe these symptoms may feel at the time, that intense stress is not long-lasting, and is thus called acute stress or an acute stress reaction.

Acute stress disorder involves having the same symptoms as acute stress, but with just usually with a later onset and lasting less than a month. Acute stress is quite common, although knowing how to manage this stress might not be as common. 

Here are This article will discuss five symptoms of acute stress and some helpful ways to help manage them. a few tips on stress management. 

What is Acute Stress?

Acute stress is one of the most common forms of stress but is the least damaging. 

An acute stress reaction occurs when symptoms develop in response to an overwhelming or stressful situation, such as a natural disaster, motor vehicle accident, or life-threatening diagnosis. The reaction is usually immediate, occurring within hours to days of the stressful event. In the most basic form, acute stress can be managed with simple stress management and self-care techniques. Symptoms generally last no more than one week, or stop when the stressor is removed. 

Acute stress disorder generally occurs in response to the same type of stressful event. It is accompanied by the same symptoms and can appear after encountering the stressful event, symptoms sometimes presenting at a more intense level, though onset of symptoms may be delayed for up to one month. Symptoms of acute stress disorder typically span across five categories: intrusion symptoms, negative mood, dissociative signs, avoidance symptoms, and arousal symptoms. 

For this article’s purposes, we will focus on the most common acute stress reaction symptoms on a general level. 

5 Symptoms of Acute Stress

Avoidance of Possible Triggers 

One of the most common symptoms of acute stress is avoidance behavior. Avoidance behavior occurs in cases of both acute stress reactions and acute stress disorder. In this symptom, the person who has been impacted by the stressful event avoids anything that triggers that memory. They may avoid people, places, thoughts, feelings, specific conversations, and even things that they previously enjoyed.  This avoidance behavior is usually a result of feelings of anxiety or distress. 

Physical Symptoms 

As a response to the negative stimuli, a person may display physical symptoms. These symptoms are similar to those brought on by panic or anxiety. These physical symptoms may include but are not limited to: 

  • Heart palpitations: This occurs when one feels that their heart is pounding, fluttering, or beating repeatedly. It is not uncommon for it to occur due to stress or even excitement. 
  • Chest pain: As a reaction to stress or anxiety, one may notice a persistent or sharp shooting pain in the chest. It may also feel like tension or tightness. 
  • Upset stomach: This may feel like tension or abdominal cramping. In some cases, the problem may lead to gastrointestinal issues such as constipation, indigestion, or diarrhea.
  • Difficulty breathing: This occurs when the muscles that help us breathe tighten as a response to stress. This makes it difficult to breathe and often feels like a person is not getting enough air, and as such, they may begin breathing faster and harder than usual, known as hyperventilating.
  • Nausea or feeling of sickness: Stress may cause one to feel general sickness or have feelings that they’re going to throw up. 

Recurring Dreams or Flashbacks

Having recurring dreams or flashbacks is a common occurrence of acute stress, especially with stress caused by unexpected traumatic events. This may lead to difficulty sleeping or relaxing. 

The flashbacks generally relate to the inability to stop thinking of the memories. Therefore there is a constant revisit of the event, resulting in uncontrollable, intrusive thoughts. 

Negative Mood or Psychological Symptoms

Due to the stressful event, a negative mood isn’t uncommon. In this case, a person may have a low mood, negative thoughts, and general sadness. 

This may also present as difficulty concentrating, sleeping, or eating. A person may also feel distant from loved ones and, as such, want to be alone. Low mood is a common reaction to stress and occurs in that exhaustion stage where a person may feel exhausted and have far less energy than usual. 

Behavioral Symptoms

Behavioral symptoms may range from aggressive behavior to irritability and recklessness, and broadly include any changes in a person’s usual demeanor and character. 

Irritability may occur if one feels threatened and, as a result, causes them to quickly tense or startle easily. Conversely, they may act out in aggressive bursts to people around them. It may also present as reckless behavior that may result in self-harm.

For this reason, it is essential to manage stressful events using proven techniques. Once any symptom of stress has been recognized, stress management should begin, both in the case of mild acute stress or with the possibility of acute stress disorder.

Tips on Managing Acute Stress

As a general overview, it may be noted that acute stress reaction symptoms and acute stress disorder may go away on their own. However, there are things that can be done as management or treatment. 

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)

CBT is one of the most commonly used methods of therapy for stress-induced or anxiety-related conditions. CBT allows for a hands-on approach that works to manage unhelpful thought patterns and other conditions related to behavior. With CBT, there are daily tasks to complete and a clear path for success.

Nutritional Therapy 

Nutritional therapy involves using natural nutritional resources in order to ensure that the individual is meeting daily recommended requirements of vitamins and minerals known to promote mental health and wellness, especially where it concerns stress management. When stressed, our body may become deficient in certain nutrients. By consuming those nutrients on a daily basis through food sources and dietary supplements, we are able to improve our energy and mood. Amino acids and protein have been named as some of the best endorphin-boosting agents that are often used as natural mood builders. 

Herbal Therapy 

Herbal therapy is an element of nutritional therapy where the use of natural herbs and adaptogens are used to improve mental health and promote emotional wellness. This can be in the form of essential oils, herbal supplements, teas, and tisanes. 

For many years, herbs have been used as an ancient tool for health and wellness, however, it has recently received traction and widespread usage in stress management and relaxation therapies. 


Mindfulness is an ancient practice that has been making its way mainstream. Mindfulness techniques have been proven and used to help improve mood and promote calmness and peace of mind. There are various mindfulness techniques that can be used. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Meditation: This is an ancient practice that allows people to quiet their minds. It usually involves focusing on a particular element or chant that brings the mind into the present versus letting it drift to stressful or intrusive thoughts. 
  • Breathing exercises: Calm breathing is essential when dealing with stressful events. One of the symptoms of acute stress is difficulty breathing, so knowing various breathing techniques is an excellent way to combat that. One simple breathing technique is to inhale deeply and slowly through your nose, then exhale through your mouth. 
  • Journaling: Daily writing or journaling has been said to be a powerful stress management technique. It often falls within the mindfulness category, as the objective is to clear your mind through writing as well as bring positivity to the forefront as part of your journaling goals. One form of journaling that has been helpful in stress management is gratitude journaling. This allows for recognizing the good in life and has been proven to improve the overall quality of life. 

Daily Routines

Maintaining a daily routine can be an effective tool for managing acute stress. Once you have set things to do each day there is little time for the mind’s wandering. Your routines can involve daily exercising, breathing activities,  journaling, activities from therapy sessions, and your nutritional meal plan. 

Taking charge of what you do and what you eat will prove to be an effective tool in managing acute stress. 


Acute stress usually occurs as a reaction to a highly stressful or traumatic event. This may be in the form of an acute stress response that occurs within hours to two days from a stressful event or an acute stress disorder that may occur anytime within a month of the stressor. 

Acute stress may be characterized by many symptoms, which include avoiding known triggers, physical symptoms, recurring dreams or flashbacks, psychological symptoms such as low mood, and behavioral symptoms such as aggressiveness. 

When dealing with symptoms of acute stress, it’s important to use various stress management techniques. These techniques range from self-management tips such as mindfulness through journaling, meditating, breathing exercises, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Other tips for stress management includes using nutritional and herbal therapy as well as forming daily routines. 

The most important thing to know is that the acute stress is just that--acute, meaning temporary. While you manage your symptoms in the meantime, make sure to focus on your overall mental wellness, as making improvements to mental health now can still prove beneficial even after your acute stress goes away.