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Acute Stress Reaction

An acute stress reaction, also known colloquially as nervous breakdown, is triggered by a traumatic event. For example, the patients suffer from memory gaps, nightmares or tachycardia. If the symptoms persist for more than two days, this is called an acute stress disorder. Those affected can be helped by psychotherapeutic support or medication. Read all about the acute stress reaction here.

Acute stress reaction: description

Colloquially, the acute stress response is also referred to as a nervous breakdown. It is a temporary, extreme reaction to a stressful event. It is one of the possible psychological reactions to a traumatic experience. Depending on the length of time in which the symptoms persist, the following forms are eliminated:

  • Acute stress response (up to 48 hours after the event)
  • Acute stress disorder (up to 4 weeks after the event)
  • Acute post-traumatic stress disorder (up to 3 months after the event)

Other reactions related to those mentioned are:

  • Chronic post-traumatic stress disorder: symptoms persist even after 3 months after the onset of the adverse event.
  • Adjustment disorder : Due to drastic experiences, such as the loss of the partner, everyday life can no longer be coped with.

How many people in Germany are restricted each year by an acute stress response is difficult to say. It is assumed that there is a high number of unreported cases, as many patients are afraid of getting a doctor’s help if they have mental health problems and are not always seeking professional help. This is particularly true when, as in the case of the acute stress reaction, the symptoms disappear comparatively quickly on their own.

Acute stress reaction: symptoms

An acute stress reaction is manifested by a variety of symptoms. Nervous breakdown-typical complaints can be:

  • Altered perception (derealization, depersonalization ): The patient takes the environment or himself as a foreign and unknown
  • Concentration of consciousness: The thoughts of the patient revolve around only a few topics – in this case the stressful situation
  • Reliving the exceptional situation in nightmares or flashbacks
  • Memory lapses
  • Overexcitation in the sense of insomnia , lack of concentration , dreadfulness, increased irritability
  • Avoidance behavior such as social withdrawal
  • Emotions (affective disorder) such as mood swings between aggression, fear and grief or inappropriate crying and laughter
  • Physical symptoms (eg blushing, sweating, palpitations , paleness, nausea)
  • Speechless horror: The patient can not put words into words and thus process them worse

Acute stress response: causes and risk factors

The reason for an acute stress reaction is a traumatic experience. It does not matter if something terrible happens to your own person or if you are an observer, a relative or a helper in the situation. The event is often life-threatening and is capable of turning the world upside down for the person affected. Everything that seemed familiar and safe is perceived as dangerous and confused at such moments. These include above all:

  • Injury
  • War
  • Flight
  • Sexual violence
  • Robberies
  • Natural disasters
  • Heavy accidents
  • terrorist attacks

Acute stress reaction: who is affected?

Basically every person can develop an acute stress reaction. There are several factors that increase the risk of having a nervous breakdown. These include:

  • Previous illnesses (physical and mental)
  • Exhaustion
  • Mental vulnerability (vulnerability)
  • Missing strategies to deal with the experience (missing coping)

Acute stress response: examinations and diagnosis

If you suspect an acute stress response, you will be examined by a psychiatrist or psychologist. To find out more about your medical history (anamnesis), he first asks you in detail. He will ask you the following possible questions:

  • How has your condition changed in the time since the event?
  • Which physical symptoms do you perceive?
  • Have you experienced something similar in the past?
  • How did you grow up?
  • Are you aware of previous illnesses?

The doctor or therapist makes sure that you feel safe during the conversation. In addition, he examines you physically to determine various parameters such as heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate. That way, he can tell if your body is responding with symptoms to what happened. He also tries to find out if you have any risk factors that can promote an acute stress response and make it worse.

Nervous breakdown: test

Various tests are circulating on the Internet to test themselves for an acute stress response. In an exceptional situation, seek better advice from a specialist who can make the right diagnosis and at the same time show and offer treatment options.

Acute stress reaction: treatment

Many sufferers try to cope alone with a nervous breakdown. Some help only. There are many answers to the question “Nervous breakdown – what to do?”. In the acute emergency situation, there are different groups of people who are trained to help someone with an acute stress reaction. These include, above all, people who are the first to arrive at the scene of a terrible event: police officers, firemen, soldiers, THW members or paramedics. They alone help by the fact that they are able to bring the patient into a safe environment. Later, the patient may be referred to a pastor, psychotherapist or doctor.

In the first step of the therapy, contact with the patient is in the foreground. He is offered assistance in a safe environment. If a possible risk of suicide (suicidality) is detected in initial discussions with the patient, the patient is usually hospitalized. If there is no evidence of suicidality, treatment can usually be outpatient. It consists of various psychological therapies such as:

  • Behavior therapy (patients should unlearn a disturbed behavior and learn a new one)
  • Psychoeducation (patients should learn to understand the acute stress reaction as a disease and thus be able to cope better)
  • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, the trauma should be re-experienced and better processed by certain eye movements)
  • Hypnosis

For example, if the patient is extremely stressed by sleep disorders, sleep-inducing and attenuating medications such as benzodiazepines, Z-drugs, or sedative antidepressants may be prescribed for a short time.

Acute stress response: course and prognosis

The acute stress response lasts up to 48 hours after a distressing event, as defined. It can then heal without consequences. It is also possible that it passes into the longer-lasting acute stress disorder, which in turn can become an acute post-traumatic stress response. This can subside after three months or become a chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.

In case of an acute stress reaction, it is advisable to seek professional help. This relieves the affected person and reduces the risk that the symptoms last longer. In addition, the patient’s environment should be clarified that it is important to avoid further stress. Above all, the relatives should sympathetically deal with the person concerned and avoid blaming him if he was involved in the situation, for example in an accident. Because awkward and stressful reactions can aggravate the nervous breakdown symptoms of the acute stress reaction.

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