The holidays pose a challenge to everyone—schedules to keep, gifts to buy, and travel arrangements to make. All these things and more can cause stress, anxiety, and even panic—making it even harder to tackle our neverending to-do list. But, stress occurs almost every day of the year. Whether it’s balancing work and personal life, family struggles, and more—stress is often a part of daily life. 


But when does stress become more than just a general feeling of anxiety? Lack of focus, irritability, low productivity, chest pain, and insomnia lasting for more than a few days may be a sign of something serious, like acute stress disorder. The experts at UAB Medical West discuss the top symptoms of acute stress and what you can do to lessen your load and enjoy the holidays with family and friends.

What Is Acute Stress?

Acute stress is the body’s immediate reaction to a perceived threat. We can experience this many times throughout the day—anything from getting into an argument with a friend, public speaking or a sudden death of a loved one. This stress triggers the body’s flight or fight response as our heart and breath rates speed up. After the stressor is removed, our body begins to return to normal. 

Along with increased levels of stress, some people may experience other symptoms, including: 

 - Irritability 

- Poor concentration 

- Insomnia

- Rooccruing dreams of the stressful event 


- Hypervigilance (excessive attention to the possibility of danger)


- Avoidance of things or people that may trigger memories of the stressor


- Flashbacks of the traumatic event


- Heart palpitations


- Chest pain


- Inability to feel happy emotions


- Mood changes


- Headaches


- Nausea


- Breathing issues


- Easily startled by loud noises or sudden movements


What Is Acute Stress Disorder?

If reactions to acute stress last longer than 3 days but less than a month, these symptoms are then referred to as acute stress disorder (ASD). To be diagnosed with ASD, a doctor will evaluate your symptoms and rule out other possible causes. If you’re diagnosed with ASD, hope for a healthier, happier life exists. Various medications and therapies can help you recover from ASD, such as cognitive behavioral and antidepressants. 

If symptoms last longer than a month, most people are diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traumatic events like death, the threat of death for yourself or others, the danger of injury for yourself or others, the threat to the physical integrity of yourself or others, sexual violation, or other traumatic events are the leading cause of ASD that may lead to a PTSD diagnosis. If you’ve experienced a traumatic event and feel like your stress is overwhelming, don’t hesitate to seek help. 

How Can I Decrease My Stress This Holiday Season?

This holiday season, you may encounter moments that cause acute stress. From speaking with difficult family members, holiday traffic, and financial burdens, “the most wonderful time of the year” isn’t always wonderful. We recommend you intentionally practice lowering your stress levels during these times. No matter which technique works best for you, it should be capable of being used anywhere and provide relief for various stressful situations. 

Some of our favorite stress-relieving activities include:

- Breathing exercises


- Meditating 


- Journaling


- Exercising


- Connecting with a friend


- Listening to music


Find Relief from Stress This Holiday Season

As the year draws to a close, if you’re struggling with acute stress, don’t hesitate to seek help. Stress disorders can feel isolating and frustrating, which can sometimes deter us from reaching out to a professional. However, with treatment, you can enjoy all the holiday season has to offer and get back to living life to the fullest.  


Our team at UAB Medical West can listen to your concerns and provide various treatments. We provide multiple services throughout Alabama and can help you manage your stress healthily and sustainably. With over 16 UAB Medical West locations, help is never far away. 

Find Help for Acute Stress at UAB Medical West

Want to learn more about treatments for acute stress? UAB Medical West promotes healthier living in a community near you, including Hueytown, Hoover, Bessemer, McCalla, Vance, and others. Schedule an appointment for your mental health and get expert advice for your well-being by calling (205) 481-7000 today or contacting us online.