Understanding Adjustment Disorder
If you’ve ever gone through a change in your life that you felt you didn’t adjust very well too, you probably were experiencing an adjustment disorder. Yes, there is a name for what you went through! Adjustment disorder is a mental health condition that can occur after a person experiences a major life event. The event can be positive, such as getting married or having a baby. Or negative, such as experiencing a divorce or the death of a loved one.
People with an adjustment disorder may have trouble coping with the changes in their lives. They may feel sad, anxious, or angry. They may also have difficulty sleeping or concentrating. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important to not minimize your experience. Yes, even when going through positive changes in your life, you may still experience difficulty adjusting. Some people can get through these adjustments on their own. However, if you struggle to identify and implement coping mechanisms for these changes in your life, it may be advantageous to seek professional help. Adjustment disorder is treatable, and you can learn to cope with the changes in your life with treatment.
Recognizing the Signs of an Adjustment Disorder
Adjustment disorders are a common reaction to stressful or life events. While it is normal to feel upset or overwhelmed after experiencing a major change, people with an adjustment disorder have difficulty coping with the stress. They may develop symptoms that interfere with their normal day-to-day functions.
Recognizing the signs of an adjustment disorder can be tricky, as symptoms can vary from person to person. However, there are some common warning signs to look out for:
- trouble sleeping
- headaches and stomach aches
- changes in appetite
- depressed mood
- lack of focus
- lashing out
- increase substance use
If you or someone you know is struggling to cope with a recent life change, it is important to seek help from a qualified mental health professional. With treatment, people with an adjustment disorder can learn healthy coping skills and begin to feel better.
Types of Adjustment Disorders
There are several types of adjustment disorders: adjustment disorder with depressive mood, anxious mood, or mixed anxious and depressed mood, or adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct, or mixed disturbance of conduct and emotions.
When evaluating if someone has an adjustment disorder, there are a few things to consider. For instance, having the above symptoms for a few days to a stressful situation is normal, and therefore does not qualify as an adjustment disorder. However, if we take a look at personal circumstances and context of the stressor, the relationship between symptom severity and stressor, persistence of symptoms beyond the expected time period, cultural norms for emotional response/expression and duration and severity of dysfunction and find that the stressor is causing abnormal responses, making a diagnosis of adjustment disorder could be in order.
An adjustment disorder is diagnosed when symptoms start within three months of the stressor but last no more than six months after the stressful event is over. However, in the case where the stressor continues (e.g., unemployment, pandemic), chronic adjustment disorder may be taking place.
With Depressive Mood:
People with this type of adjustment disorder may feel sad or hopeless. They may also lose interest in activities that they once enjoyed. Ultimately, adjustment disorder with depressed mood tends to mimic depression.
People with this type of adjustment disorder may feel nervous or on edge. They may also have trouble sleeping and concentrating. Adjustment disorder with anxiety symptoms mimics generalized anxiety disorder.
With Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood:
People with this type of adjustment disorder may experience both anxiety and depression. They may have many or all of the symptoms listed above.
With Disturbance of Conduct:
People with this type of adjustment disorder may act differently than what they typically do. The focus here is on behaviors changing, so for adults they may drive more recklessly or picking fights and for children it may be skipping school or hiding in their bedroom.
With Mixed Disturbance of Emotions and Conduct:
This type of adjustment disorder may include someone who is having mixed anxiety and depression and who is not acting like themselves.
Diagnosing Adjustment Disorder
To diagnose an adjustment disorder, your mental health professional will likely ask you about your symptoms and how long you have been experiencing them. They will also want to know about any major life changes. While discussing your responses to the major life changes, it is important to explore your typical ways of dealing with stressors in your life, your environment and life circumstances, as well as cultural influences.
Adjustment disorders are unique to each individual. It is important to note that only some people who experience a stressful life event will develop an adjustment disorder. And only some people who have an adjustment disorder will experience all the symptoms listed above. If left untreated, adjustment disorders can turn into more severe mental health issues such as major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. For this reason, we highly recommend seeking help from a psychotherapist sooner than later when going through major life changes.
Treating Adjustment Disorder
Adjustment disorder is a stress-related mental illness that can occur when you are having a hard time coping with a major life change or event. If you have an adjustment disorder, you may have symptoms of anxiety or depression, such as feeling hopeless, restlessness, or difficulty concentrating. Or you may be experiencing behavior issues that are not typical for you. Adjustment disorder can be treated with therapy or medication, or a combination.
There are two break downs of adjustment disorder therapy: behavioral and targeted or process-oriented and exploratory. Behavioral and targeted therapist includes models like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Here you will learn healthy coping skills to implement right away. CBT helps you identify the unhelpful thoughts that are leading to the unhelpful behaviors that fall under adjustment disorders.
Psychotherapy that is process-oriented and exploratory can help you get to a deeper understanding of why these life events are so stressful to you in the first place, and why you’re experiencing these symptoms. Here you will start to make connections and label patterns in your life. Therapy can help you identify how you want to categorize this event or change in your life so you have better awareness in the future for similar experiences. Or you may choose to break out of this pattern in the future! Process-oriented therapy helps bring awareness and give you control.
Sometimes, your psychotherapist may also recommend seeing a provider that can prescribe medication to help you cope with your adjustment disorder. Medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can effectively treat the symptoms of an adjustment disorder especially if you are experiencing a depressed mood or anxiety.
Adjusting more effectively can also take place by taking into account more holistic, natural “medicines.” These are lifestyle choices like eating nutritious meals that will keep you energized, moving your body, and getting a good night’s sleep. You may also want to explore with your mental health provider medicinal marijuana or other drugs that have been shown to help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
If you’re finding it difficult to adapt to a new change in your life, please seek professional help. An adjustment disorder is common, and with the proper treatment, you will learn how to deal with the changes.
Where to Get Help for Adjustment Disorders
The Better You Institute is a mental wellness agency specializing in treating adjustment disorders. We offer various services, including psychotherapy, group therapy, and lifestyle coaching.
If you or a loved one has difficulty coping with a recent change, please call us today to book a consultation. We would be pleased to assist you during this time.
We’re Here to Help You
Everybody experiences stress from time to time, but some situations can be more difficult to handle than others. If you recently experienced an upsetting event and the stress is interfering with your daily life, our team of compassionate and experienced professionals can provide you with the support and guidance you need. It is the first step in getting you back on track and enjoying life to the fullest.
Contact us today to learn more about our services or to schedule a free consultation. We’ll be here for you every step of the way!