Seeking acute stress disorder treatment can be one of the most beneficial and profound choices someone can make in the aftermath of trauma. Treatment can help reduce distressing symptoms, improve self-esteem and enable a person to move forward in their healing process. Professional care for acute stress disorder typically involves evidence-based therapy, medications and alternative treatment methods.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based therapeutic modality that allows people to better understand their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. CBT is both a structured and collaborative process where the clinician and client work together to create reasonable goals for change.
CBT for acute stress disorder may include:
- Identifying the cognitive distortions that result from the trauma, such as all-or-nothing thinking or catastrophizing
- Learning relaxation and mindfulness techniques
- Reframing messages and thoughts associated with the trauma
- Identifying healthy coping skills to manage uncomfortable triggers
Exposure therapy may be used in conjunction with CBT to help individuals confront situations or people they want to avoid. Exposure therapy may involve a technique called flooding, where the individual is rapidly exposed to feared situations. In other cases, therapists use a method called “systematic desensitization,” where they expose the individual to the distressing triggers gradually and use relaxation exercises to decrease anxiety levels.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an integrative therapy designed to help people process, cope and heal from trauma. The goal of EMDR is to support individuals by providing them with a comprehensive understanding and positive emotional state to promote healthy behaviors and thoughts.
The clinician will teach the client several relaxation techniques to manage stress and trauma activation and guide the client through a series of lateral eye movements while focusing on a traumatic memory. During EMDR therapy, the clinician may also use other forms of bilateral stimulation to reduce unwanted thoughts and feelings.
Taking medication for acute stress disorder can help support an individual’s recovery by reducing symptoms associated with depression, anxiety and overall mood dysregulation.
Some of the medications most commonly prescribed for acute stress disorder include:
- Antidepressants (Celexa, Zoloft, Prozac, Lexapro): Antidepressant medications work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, which helps regulate sleep, mood and appetite.
- Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, Valium): Benzodiazepines may be prescribed as a short-term treatment to help regulate anxiety and sleep. While they may provide some initial relief, they can become habit-forming, which can result in a benzodiazepine addiction.
- Beta-Blockers (Sectral, Zebeta, Lopressor): Used to treat a variety of conditions, including high blood pressure, migraines, and chest pain, beta-blockers appear to reduce the emotional fear associated with the trauma.
Alternative Strategies for Managing Acute Stress Disorder
In addition to psychotherapy and medication, individuals with acute stress disorder may benefit from a combination of the following strategies:
- Physical exercise
- Art therapy
- Journaling and expressive writing
- Cultivating hobbies
Developing healthy coping skills is a crucial part of the recovery process. These coping skills are most beneficial when used alongside more formal treatment approaches.
Additional useful alternative strategies for managing acute stress disorder include mindfulness, stress reduction techniques and support groups.
Mindfulness and Stress Reduction Techniques
Individuals with acute stress disorder experience a heightened startle response, increased anxiety and trouble focusing and concentrating. In other words, acute stress disorder can make it difficult to stay in the present moment. Fortunately, mindfulness and stress reduction techniques can help.
Some of the most common mindfulness and stress reduction techniques include:
- Meditation: This practice can help individuals clear their minds and focus on the here-and-now. Meditation can be as short as a minute or as long as several hours. While some people prefer to use guided scripts, others focus on a single, internal word or the rise-and-fall of the breath.
- Yoga: Yoga is a form of active mindfulness that helps people align with their breath and their physical bodies. Research continues to show that body-based work, such as yoga, can help increase the sense of safety and awareness of one’s body, which can reduce the symptoms associated with acute stress disorder.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Progressive muscle relaxation is a relaxation technique that can help with anxiety, sleep problems, and physical pain. The process entails contracting a specific muscle group for 5–10 seconds and then releasing the tension for another 5–10 seconds. Work up or down the body by contracting and releasing each muscle group.
Professional and peer support reminds individuals that they are not alone on their healing journeys from trauma. Many mental health clinics, nonprofit organizations and private practice clinicians offer support groups for individuals with acute stress disorder.
Treating Acute Stress Disorder and Co-Occurring Conditions
Acute stress disorder treatment can help individuals restore their confidence and get their lives back on track. While recovering from trauma isn’t easy, it is possible to rewrite the story of what happened to you and develop healthy coping skills for managing current and future stress.
Many people struggle with both acute stress and co-occurring disorders, such as drug or alcohol addiction. Because you cannot deal with one issue without focusing on the other, seeking appropriate treatment for co-occurring disorders is essential.
If you or a loved one lives with co-occurring addiction and acute stress disorder, The Recovery Village can help. Contact us today to learn more about your available treatment options.
American Psychological Association. “Prolonged Exposure (PE).” July 31, 2017. Accessed March 28, 2019.
EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs. “What is EMDR?” 2019. Accessed March 28, 2019.
Yager, Joel. “Propranolol as an Adjunctive Treatment of PTSD.” NEJM Journal Watch, January 12, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.