Everyone experiences stress from time to time. Stress disorders, however, are of a different magnitude. These occur as a result of profound trauma, such as encountering or witnessing a death, or experiencing serious injury. People with stress disorders exhibit intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Acute stress disorder occurs soon after the traumatic event and lasts for a month or less. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may begin within a few days of an event or may have delayed onset—sometimes as long as 30 to 40 years—and continues for more than three months.

Signs and Symptoms

A stress disorder is often accompanied by the following signs and symptoms.

What Causes It?

Stress conditions are caused by the combination of a traumatic event and a strong reaction to it. Such traumas include war, rape, inappropriate sexual experience, illness, bereavement, or natural disaster.

Who's Most At Risk?

People with the following conditions or characteristics are at a higher-than-average risk for developing a stress disorder.

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

If you are experiencing symptoms associated with stress disorder, you should see your health care provider. He or she can help make a diagnosis and guide you in determining which treatment or combination of therapies will work best for you.

Your provider will do a physical examination, noting if you appear pale, tired, or disoriented. Diagnostic procedures may include a psychiatric exam and psychological testing, hypnosis in cases of amnesia, and an electroencephalogram (EEG) to rule out brain damage or diagnose sleep disorder. Imaging techniques can also rule out brain damage.

Treatment Options


Crisis intervention can help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder from developing.

Treatment Plan

While symptoms associated with acute stress usually automatically decrease with time, chronic stress requires a longer and more complex treatment plan. Crisis intervention may provide support, acceptance, and education. Psychotherapy can help people master their fears and overcome avoidance behaviors.

Drug Therapies

Your provider may prescribe the following medications for symptom relief (although none has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for this use):

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

A comprehensive treatment plan for stress disorders may include a range of complementary and alternative therapies.

Following these nutritional tips may reduce symptoms. Potentially beneficial nutrient supplements include the following. Herbs
The following herbal remedies may provide relief from symptoms: a combination of equal parts of passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and oatstraw (Avena sativa) with one to three of the following herbs. Siberian ginseng (Eleuthrococcus senticosus) inhibits the alarm phase of stress. It is best taken four to six months as a fluid extract (1:1) 1/2 to 1 tsp. two to three times per day. Take before 3 pm.

Herbs are generally available as dried extracts (pills, capsules, or tablets), teas, or tinctures (alcohol extraction, unless otherwise noted). Dose for teas is 1 heaping tsp./cup water steeped for 10 minutes (roots need 20 minutes).

Although people who visit acupuncturists commonly complain of stress, there have been few clinical trials examining the effect of acupuncture specifically on this condition. One small study found that acupuncture helped reduce blood pressure levels in people subjected to mental stress. Another study found that auricular (ear) acupuncture successfully reduced anxiety in some individuals. Because this condition can affect a variety of meridians, treatment is based on an individual assessment. Qualified acupuncturists may also recommend lifestyle/dietary counseling and herbal treatment.

No well-designed studies have evaluated the effect of chiropractic on individuals with stress, but chiropractors report that spinal manipulation may reduce stress in some individuals. It is theorized that spinal manipulation may have a relaxing effect on the body. There is no evidence, however, that this effect is any greater than that potentially achieved by other physical relaxation techniques, including massage.

An experienced homeopath can prescribe a regimen for treating stress disorder that is designed especially for you. Some of the most common acute remedies are listed below. Acute dose is three to five pellets of 12X to 30C every one to four hours until symptoms are relieved.

Prognosis/Possible Complications

People with stress disorder are at greater risk of developing other mood or anxiety disorders, or experiencing substance abuse. They are predisposed to conditions such as heart disease, insomnia, and gastrointestinal illness. Suicide is more common among people with stress disorder.

Following Up

Patients are treated on an outpatient basis until symptoms have subsided. In cases where there is a concern about self-abuse or suicide, the patient will be referred for treatment on an inpatient basis.


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