Understanding Acute Stress Reaction

Recent events in Haiti have been traumatic.  For survivors in Haiti many are going through what is described as Acute Stress Reaction.  Yet, many are who are experiencing the symptoms and difficulties are either to be likely to not be fully aware of the scope of symptoms or also likely to call it post-traumatic stress.  An acute stress reaction eventually could lead to Post-traumatic stress disorder but not necessarily. They share the same symptom set and the main difference is the time element. 

Acute Stress Reaction is symptoms that occur immediately after an acute trauma.  They can last a few days or up to four weeks. There are some basic dynamics involved with producing the symptoms with the label Acute Stress Reaction.  First there is the fact that Acute Stress was experienced. It is beyond what is normal and stretches the limits of how God created us to response emotionally to threats.

Now based on our design, any stressful situation triggers biochemical responses within the body.  According to one article after an acutely stressful experience the brain experiences 37 chemical changes initially and another 256 chemical changes twenty-four hours later. The changes happen due to the assessed threat and are there to help survive.  The changes also produce a heightened emotional state. The trouble is after the initial acutely stressful experience, the body chemicals dissipate, and the chemical levels return to normal, there is in essence a crash that leaves you wiped out and exhausted.  Now, the fact that there would be a crash is intuitive.

Everyone experiences times that after the body has been active everything it slows down and moves to a more relaxed state. It is part of how God created us, with the body reacting to both activity and needing rest to recharge. Well the same is true in acutely stressful situations.

Other symptoms are a little more difficult to understand.  The first of which is the memory related symptoms. After any acute stress situation, replays of the event happen in multiple ways. The memory replay can include images of the event, recalling the specifics of the event, illusions, dreams, or flashbacks.  These memories related issues are moments of re-exposure to the event.  The re-exposure occurs in part because the brain is trying to reduce the distress of the memory but repeated exposure.  The other factor is that in terms of memory, recall is easier for events that have significant emotional connections.   As such, those memories surface more frequently due to the significant emotional marker.

Another symptom area in acute stress is a variety ways that one becomes emotionally numb or disconnected from the world.  This can include a restricting of emotional expression, having things seem dream-like or unreal, feeling detached from self, or even becoming less aware of what is going on around you (in a daze.) These symptoms are trying to reduce the intense emotional content.  In is similar in a sense to physical shock, only in cases of acute stress, the emotion system gets overloaded and the emotional responses are numbed.  This is particularly true when the acute stress situation involves significant threats outside of self.  Everyone seeks for safety and when the world outside of self is unsafe, there can be a retreat internally. 

The other symptoms that occur are our responses to perceived threats and are interrelated.  Those are the symptoms of increased arousal/attention and avoidance responses.  When having faced acute stress it is natural to be more aware of the dangers encountered in the event.  It is far harder to feel safe so paying attention to warning signs increases.  This is even true for less acute stressors that happen unexpectedly like a car accident. People begin to identify certain areas, images, or actions with a trauma, which in turn results in increased emotional response when reminded of the acute trauma.  A person becomes more attentive around the things that bring reminders. The increased emotional arousal and attentiveness can in turn lead to avoiding the things that can trigger that arousal. The arousal/avoidance behaviors are essentially forms of fear and anxiety based responding. Something triggers the perception of a chance of a similar threat and a perceived risk of a chance of having the acute event re-occur.

            Overall, anyone who has been involved in an acute stress situation is apt to develop an acute stress reaction. The symptoms that occur, do so related to how the body works, adapts, and protects self.  The fact is that these situations are those beyond normal experience and end up overwhelming to the point of what are adaptive processes become detrimental to overall functioning.  The symptoms can be scary if you do not understand what is going on, hopefully anyone reading this article will understand a little clearer what is happening. If anything is unclear or have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Timothy G. Blake, MA, LP

Resource Bibliography:

1: http://psychcentral.com/disorders/sx44.htm

 2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acute_stress_reaction

 3: http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/156/11/1780

4. http://efap.torontopolice.on.ca/cis_rd.html

Video Selection: Be Still MY Soul/What A Freind We Have in Jesus- Selah

Be Still My Soul/What A Friend We Have in Jesus


Be still, my soul: The Lord is on your side.

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In every change He faithful will remain

Be still, my soul: Thy best, Thy heavenly friend

Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul:

The waves and winds still know (still know)

His voice who ruled them

While He dwelt below

Musical interlude:

Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh, what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Be still my soul.

Post State of the Union Musings

Tonight the President of the United States gave his State of the Union address. This yearly speech is the one that the President set the legislative goals for the year ahead or uses to set or declare the vision, direction, and agenda for the country in the year  ahead.  Now, the things the President spoke about will please some, anger others.  Certainly those that hold to Judeo-Christian morality will be unhappy with some elements of what the President spoke about.  Personally, it ultimately is irrelevant.

The irrelevancy is not because it will not impact me personally. Certainly it will as this country is where I live and am subject to the laws.  The irrelevancy comes because what matters for me is the state of a different union.  What matters to me is what God is establishing and working in my own life.  What directions is he leading me, am I following his will.  Am I walking fully under His authority.  Do I exercise and walk in adequately the authority of being an ambassador of the Kingdom of God?  What steps do I need to take in the areas God is working in my life? Am I following God’s agenda and in his time or am I off doing my own thing.  Am I sitting passive when I should be active?    For me these matters are far more weighty than the machinations of government and  elements of the power of sword that will be coming ahead. 

Now the questions and reflections are admittedly self-focused.  God does ask us to think and move beyond self.  So there are other questions related to the state of the church as a whole.  The church as a whole, much like this country, is in trouble.  The church is in trouble because of lost focus.  Rather than focus on simply making disciples there get to be other distractions including self-focused Christianity, political enmeshment,  Gospel vacated acts of outreach, and institutional stagnation.  The state of the church is one in need of waking up and remember all that God has revealed and focus on spiritual and eternal matters.  

Now unlike change in this country, changes in the state of relationship with God and in the state of the Church can happen. It involves surrendering to God’s will, walking in faith, and actively pursuing the directions God’s lead in His time.  If you are uncertain of what God is leading, simply pray for wisdom and God will supply, but the answers always involve faith and acting regardless of what is seen.  All in all we need to grow in being aligned and aware with what God is doing with a focus not on the things of this world, but on the eternal matters of God’s Kingdom.

Prayer request: Remember Haiti as attention fades

Yes, the posts about stuff going on in Haiti have faded. There continues to be ongoing work and people being touched in amazing ways.  Please do go to http://livesayhaiti.blogspot.com/   and read some of the stories of God’s working to touch peoples lives with love and aid in the midst of crisis. 

It is even know more important than ever to pray for those in Haiti as the worldwide attention fade.  Sure there will continue to be stories and news accounts of what is going on down there, but the attention of the people of the United States and world will move elsewhere. Haiti as a new story that becomes entertainment and something folks talk about or spend time watching has passed the climax post and will fade more and more into background.  The search and rescue is over and other matters grab attention.  As attention fades, do take even more time to remember the people and struggle in Haiti.  Pray for the physical, psychological, and spiritual health of the people and those serving them such as the Livesay family.  Remember that as many orphans have or are in process of leaving Haiti, there are now countless more.  Remember a city was essentially destroyed.  So please take time and remember Haiti and pray.

Expressing personal gratitude to God’s servants that influenced my life

Recently at New Joy Church the Pastor started a sermon series on the book of Philippians. Click here to access the sermons online. At the end of the sermon during the first week, we were encouraged to make a list of people to express gratitude for their impact in our lives and spiritual development. Part of following up with that list for me is to write a post about some people who impacted me who have no way to get a hold of or what happened to them. These are people I think God for and helped make me the man I am today.

Sunday school teachers: I recall no names or specifics related to the assorted Sunday school teachers over the years, but they made an impact. The first church I that I am aware of attending was Calvary Memorial Church. At that church, there is one Sunday School lesson that stays with me to this day. It was a lesson on memorizing scripture. They taught a method of memorization using turning words into pictures. Now the method did not help me memorize but it was in that class that I was exposed to the verse Matthew 5:16. The verse is one that stuck with me easily and really became a central verse to how I live my life. So there is much gratitude to whoever it was that brought the verse to my focus.

On a related note, I spent the first seven years of my education career in a private Christian School, Chapel Hill Academy. The school served as foundational to my growth in understanding God and his word. There were a few individuals that the school that took time to love and interact with a generally uncoordinated, socially inept boy who tried to be himself and be nice to others regardless. I had always known that in terms of body awareness and coordination, I lacked but always felt I could do things to defend. There were people who took time to help me in some of those areas of development as well. There was a guy who took time with me waiting after school showing me how to shoot a basketball. Amazingly, my last year at the school I participated on a 7th grade soccer team, which was uplifting and encouraging as well, in spite of my weaknesses. I remember with sports I always focused on wanting to play defense. Therefore, to all those people I do not recall who loved and taught me as a boy, I express gratitude.

Now we are getting to some people whose names I recall. I remember fondly Pastor Bruce Olson. We moved to his church when I was in middle school. Now his sermons tended to be the kind that made me sleepy and bored. However, he did show a passion for God and life. It was through Pastor Bruce Olson that I was one that really first exposed me to extend periods of group prayer.

Another person I am grateful to is Pastor Dave Stavros who was the youth pastor at Wayzata Evangelical Free. He showed love, spoke truth, and helped me stay on track in relationship with God and in growing up. He also showed an example of someone who listened and followed God’s call because some time after I graduated he felt led to go to Lima, Peru as a missionary.

The last person I want to mention was only in my life a year, but he is a person I am very grateful too. He was a staff person for Campus Crusade for Christ my freshman year in college named Matt Grey (or Gray.) I went to Mankato State University (Now Minnesota State University, Mankato). My freshman year initially I struggled on my own with broader exposure to the ways of the world with little Christian input. He invited me to a Bible Study. I still remember arrogantly stating how I did not want a Bible study that went over the “basics” of the Christian life. I believed I “knew a lot” but actually lived out little. God used Matt to draw me closer to him and set me on the foundation of my Christian walk as an adult. He only was at Mankato for a year but I always remember Matt and am grateful God brought him into my life.

There are other assorted people over the years that have influenced my growth and life in Jesus including authors, musicians, leaders, and teachers. The ones mentioned today really stand as anchor points in my life and development.  So if anyone who is reading this who may have impacted my life, I thank and praise God for how he used you in my life.

Now take time to perhaps recall periods in your life and people who helped you develop as a Christian or person. Take time to thank God for what they did in your life, helping you reach where you are today. Feel free to share if you feel so led.

Poetry: Recessional by Rudyard Kipling’s


Rudyard Kipling

God of our fathers, known of old– 
Lord of our far-flung battle line
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
   Dominion over palm and pine–
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
   The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
   An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
   On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
   Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
   Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe–
Such boasting as the Gentiles use
   Or lesser breeds without the law–
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
   In reeking tube and iron shard–
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
   And guarding, calls not Thee to guard–
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord!

Blog author’s note:  It is worth noting that Rudyard Kipling is a noted freemason. Yet, this particular poem fits truth and some things God is pointing me toward, so felt worth republishing this poem. Do not take the publication of this poem on the blog to point to his other poems and writing as being inspired by God. This poem is worth further study and contemplation.


Dealing with disappointment: Musings following Vikings NCF Championship Loss

Well the Minnesota Vikings lost another football game. It is disappointing to all fans. It is a perfect time to examine some basic principles of coping with disappointment. Before quickly examining disappointment, it is worth noting that the emotion of disappointment happens when a desire, hope, wish, need, want, or expectation goes unmet. It is a God given emotion, which can signal to us a need of evaluation and changing focus. Either a person can get wrapped up and locked in the emotion of disappointment or take some steps to deal with it. As always, for each of us, true peace and focus comes from keeping eyes off the temporary things of this life and world and on to the eternal. When the focus is on God and the things of God, disappointment is always but momentary. Now that being said there are some basic skills one can use to cope and learn from disappointment.

1: Be thankful for the good. It is very easy to focus on what ifs and what could have happened anytime there is a disappointment. It is hard to express gratitude and thanksgiving and celebrate the good. It is all about setting aside own personal wants, desires, and expectations and taking an approach of gratitude.

2: Learn from your disappointment. Each time something does not occur in a way wanted, desired, or expected it is an opportunity to learn. It is an opportunity most of all to learn about self, about what things have become a priority and focus. It is also a chance to learn from mistakes so you do not end up in same position as before. This also really involves examining choices. A good step to do here is to ask God to reveal anything about self that needs to change as a result.

3: Forgive others: If a person has disappointed you and done things to let you down, it is important to forgive the person. If hold onto any offense of disappointment and do not forgive it can damage relationships and lower your overall mood and attitude. Forgiveness is a real key in being able to release emotionally. It is an intentional act.

4: Evaluate your focus. Figure out why disappointed and If remain that way find out what you are focusing on. Disappointment is but momentary, and refocusing on what is important, changes the focus. A particular way for us to change focus is look to what is beyond self: God and others.

Each action is a necessary skill to move beyond the emotion of the moment. Granted, a person can use the skills outside of a relationship with God, but without the ability to look beyond self to God, the skills are limited to simply coping. Turning to God and looking to him in the midst of disappointment can bring peace to a disquieted soul. Now there is probably more ways to examine this topic, but this writer is tired. Today as a Vikings fan, disappointment is experienced. Working on using the skills and focus on the good God is doing. Feel free to share your thoughts on disappointment and effectively dealing with that emotion.