Acute Stressors and Chronic Response: The Case of Traumatic Stress1


  • 1

    This work was supported by research grants from the Uniformed Services University (R07265, C07216)and the NIMH (MH40106). The opinions or assertions contained herein are the private ones of the authors and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Department of Defense or the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Dr. Andrew Baum, Department of Medical Psychology, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, 4301 Jones Bridge Road, Bethesda, MD 20814.


The nature of acute and chronic stress is explored, including analysis of three different ways of categorizing the duration of a stressful episode: the duration of the physical stressor, the duration of threat perception or demand, and the persistence of response. Of particular interest here are situations characterized by brief stressor exposure but long-term threat perception and/ or stress response. Traumatic events are ordinarily very brief but frequently give rise to chronic threat and stubborn response patterns. In many of these cases, distress clearly outlives the event and the “normal” postevent recovery period. Possible mechanisms for such situations are discussed, as are implications for the study of traumatic stress.