Acute stress reactions

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Sometimes a person may encounter events that completely derail their life. 

Here are some common traits of these events:

They potentially threaten a person’s life or health.

The person doesn’t have enough resources to deal with them.

They are not in the person’s control.

They cause a state of strong fear that leads to psychological trauma. As if the person was psychologically “wounded” even though they look OK on the surface: all the organs continue functioning, their heart is beating, and their limbs are intact. The person feels tremendous stress and starts having various stress reactions.

It is important to note that even if these reactions may look strange and illogical, every one of them is a normal response of the person’s psyche to the abnormal events and environment. 

These reactions may be very different, but they are all justified. This is how the person’s psyche is trying to deal with what happened. 

Acute stress reactions may show up in different ways. For example:

  • Strong anxiety and internal tension
  • Fear, horror, feeling helpless
  • Feeling dumbfounded
  • Feeling that the events are unreal
  • Depersonalization and dissociation (in other words, it is a feeling that this is happening to someone else)
  • Inability to recall what has happened

Very often people react to stress in the following ways: crying, shaking, hysteria, apathy, stupor, fear, aggression, and increased motor activity. We already described each of these reactions and how to help others and yourself in such situations. 

The most important thing is not to leave the person by themselves in this state. They should not feel that they are facing this misfortune alone. You need to try to give them a feeling of extra safety since this is what was damaged during the traumatic event! It is best to lead the person away from public view and give them a chance to finish their stress reaction.

If the person is crying, the worst thing you could do is to try to stop this reaction. Having tears is not bad – right the opposite. During highly stressful events you should try to help the person to start crying. This will be the best way to release their internal tension. 

Take care of yourself and remember that any stress reaction is normal. Even if you are not crying when it seems like you should.