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

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.


Did Mr. Vennes know? Difficulty of standing for truth at personal cost.

      Previous articles on this blog have both chastised and apologized to Frank Vennes Junior.  However, it is time for further commentary. An article in January 10th edition of the Star Tribune offered more information regarding  whether Mr. Vennes was aware of the fraud.  The article states that Mr. Vennes during the end of 2007 became concerned when promissory notes were not paid off. Eventually, the article reported, Mr. Vennes became aware that fraud was occurring and talk to his lawyer about it, but no one else.  The article additionally alleges that Mr. Vennes was quoted in varied warrants stating the scheme would implode if auditors and investors showed up at the warehouses where these goods were supposed to be found.  So the questions arises as to why Mr. Vennes once aware of the fraud did not bring it to light and if he was still selling the investmant.

      In thinking about that question it brings up an important question to all of us.  It appears on the surface that compromise for self gain happened. It was a resignation to the status quo which was profitable. Now, this article is not about pointing the finger at Mr. Vennes, that road already has been improperly travelled. Rather, there is a larger question for each of us. How often do we settle for what is going on around us for personal gain.  Do we resign to certain situations and circumstances because of the potential for great loss?  I think each of us are fully capable of sitting back in the midst of great fraud, because the temptation of gain is so strong.  Perhaps we excuse ourselves with rationalizations such as “It is just a little thing,” “No one will know,” “Everybody does it” and others.  If we are not rationalizing then perhaps find ways to alleviate the feelings of guilt. In essence not standing up for truth is a form of building a kingdom of self. It is far easier to resign to what is going on around us then to stand for truth and personal cost.

      We all falter at some level in standing for truth and putting ourselves first. It is part of our innate selfishness. Now, a professed believer in Jesus as Messiah who doesn’t stand for truth at personal cost is part of why those who have not accepted Jesus as Messiah scream hypocrisy, for we often say one thing and do another.  We are in a continual process of submitting to Jesus in all areas of our lives. It does not happen immediately and it a choice by choice matter. We live in a world that pushes self focus. Companies use whatever means they can to separate people from their dollar.  There are countless schemes and practices that exists in the world to focus on appearances of gain but ultimately are but deception. The more you cross a line, the harder it is to stand for what is true, because the greater personal cost.  We all can easily focus on short-term gain and appearances over the long term, and especially when it comes to a focus of life on this earth, versus what comes ahead, after death.  Christian believe that people do have life after death, and that what you did with Jesus as Messiah really answers whether you face the life ahead in God’s presences, or away from God with the ongoing torment of separation from God.