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

Musings on a day of low ebb plus Todd Agnew video selection: Joy Unspeakable

We all have days when energy levels sag.  We have a list of things want to do or need to do, but really are not in the place to do them.  This evening is such a time for me.  Often when have gotten to this point with blogging it results in several days of no posts.  Trying to be more intentional and regular with  posting, so writing this in spite the lack of any true juices flowing.  No reason for the sudden dip, have been in a good place spiritually.  Been active with the ongoing monitoring of Haiti.  Yet, today is a day of lower energy and motivation for me.  Now I have the luxury of pulling back and resting or taking time to self.  There are others elsewhere who do not have this luxury.  The people Haiti serving God and others are an example. They are in crisis, moving from one task to another.  One situation to another.  They are living in a crisis mode with continued adrenaline and cortisone spikes and very little rest. 

We all have ebbs and flows.  We have moments of higher energy, moments of lower energy.  God created us with body rhythms. He knows we need rest and has instructed us to take time to seek striving and focusing on God.   The thing is, when at a low ebb my tendency has been to simply pull back, do relaxing things which usually involve the “entertainments” of the world and disengage.  This means things get set aside.   It is these times as well that even time with God gets set aside rather than be something to turn to for strength.  In writing this, it really goes to show how little understanding I have regarding finding strength in the Joy of the Lord.  My own strength is limited and varies upon natural ebbs and flows.  Yet, God’s strength and joy is unlimited.  So personally still have a lot to learn.  In the  mean time, it is an act of self-discipline to take time to write and more importantly take time to spend time with God.  Perhaps even a prayer at this time is “Lord, I am at end of strength and motivation today. Give me your strength, lead me in what you want me to say.  Give me the energy today to do what you want me to do. 

Now perhaps for me and others, the focus and prayers on Haiti and encouraging and ministering to the Livesays and others who are actively involved in a situation that is traumatic and high stressed.  Perhaps there are spiritual elements seeking to distract and take mind off of praying and building up others in relation to ministering in Haiti or elsewhere.  Only God knows.

When I started writing this post, felt led to find a song that is energizing and focused on the Joy of the Lord.  The song drawn to is Joy Unspeakable by Tod Agnew.  The video chosen is one where Todd shared from his life and perspective as well as signing the song.  Hope you find the video uplifhting and drawing focus on praising God and resting in His joy.

Joy Unspeakable by Todd Agnew [Christian Single Release 2009]
Genre/Lang. : Christian
I’ve found His grace is all complete.
He supplies my every need, mm…mm…
While I sit and learn at Jesus’ feet,
I am free…indeed.
What kind of joy is this?

It’s joy unspeakable…
all You’ve done for me.
It’s indescribable…
just a taste of Your glory.
And it’s unnatural…
not to tell the story
of all You’ve given me.
My words are incomplete.
It’s joy unspeakable.

I’ve found the pleasure I once craved.
It’s joy and peace within….within.
What a wondrous blessing, I am saved
from the awful gulf of sin.

It’s joy unspeakable…
all You’ve done for me.
It’s indescribable…
just a taste of Your glory.
And it’s unnatural…
not to tell the story
of all You’ve given me.
My words are incomplete.
It’s joy unspeakable.

I’ve found the joy no tongue can tell.
How its waves of glory roll!
It’s like an overflowing well…
springing up within my soul.

It’s joy unspeakable…
all You’ve done for me.
It’s indescribable…
just a taste of Your glory.
And it’s unnatural…
not to tell the story
of all You’ve given me.
My words are incomplete.
It’s joy unspeakable.

It’s joy unspeakable…
joy unspeakable…
What kind of joy is this!?

News Commentary: The 100 Club- MN Vikings players caught speeding

This week news broke that Adrian Peterson and Bernard Berrian both have been pulled over for driving over 100 miles per hour.  Now clearly this will become the source of derision and plenty of jokes will be made.  I have to think though that athletes driving the cars really fast is nothing new.

One thing I know from experience is that getting caught speeding is an intermittent thing.  You can go years and years driving fast, or in this case extremely fast and never get caught. It just takes one moment to get caught.

There are a few factors that probably play a role in athletes making such a decision. One being is generally there is some level of a need and desire for adrenaline boosts.  They operate in performance sports where they frequently have adrenaline boosts. Driving really fast boosts the adrenaline.

Another factor coming into play for some in a sense of entitlement.  The mindset is that there are two sets of rules, one for them, and one for everyone else.  Being athletes there may also be some thinking along the lines of “I have better skills than the average person, I can handle driving really fast.” So at some level they think they are better and do not need the same rules as everyone else.

There also is a general sense of invulnerability. The sense that given their strengths nothing can go  wrong and they can maintain complete control.  Also just plain thoughts that even if something did go wrong, nothing could seriously do any damage. It is the same kind of thinking that goes on with adolescent drivers.

So athletes are likely to have those factors playing a role in their decision-making. Yet, their choices are not any different from those made every day by each of us.  We evaluate the risk and potential cost of our choices and make decisions as to what is acceptable.  In fact, in our culture today there is even an emphasis on self-driven determination of right and wrong. There is even a view of morality that considers anything that refrains desire to be immoral. 

Now maybe Adrian, Bernard and all the uncaught athletes driving over 100 miles per hour can handle it. Yet, we live in a world that is assessed to be unsafe for the community at large.  Personally, there have been stretches where attentiveness to speed is lacking and have received my share of moving violations that were fair and just.  Even if the consequences were unjust or even wrong, it is still the system of authority and rules we live under, and they are applied at the discretion of the those with that authority.

As a Christian, there are is Biblical directive to submit to the authority that is place.  The rules of law are there for reasons and are not personally defined.  So Adrian and Berrian drove really fast and will receive the appropriate consequences.  They also face additional consequences related to fame of the incident being brought to attention of the public.  

Thinking of this incident and actions, it gives a reminder that each of us need to attend to our behaviors and choices.  We may think we can handle certain things, but can lose control at a moments notice. We may think it is harmless until something goes wrong. We may think all sort of things for all sorts of reasons.  We may get away with doing wrong things with a season, but consequences will eventually come. If not in this life, than the next.  So when thinking about the poor choices made of these young men, think of your self and your own poor choices, think about what you may need to choose to do differently.