- By sahlhealth
- May 18, 2021
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Adjustment disorders are stress-related conditions. You experience more stress than would normally be expected in response to a stressful or unexpected event, and the stress causes significant problems in your relationships, at work or at school. Work problems, going away to school, an illness, death of a close family member or any number of life changes can cause stress. Most of the time, people adjust to such changes within a few months. But if you have an adjustment disorder, you continue to have emotional or behavioral reactions that can contribute to feeling anxious or depressed. You don’t have to tough it out on your own, though. Treatment can be brief and it’s likely to help you regain your emotional footing.
Signs and symptoms
Signs depend on the type of adjustment disorder and can vary from person to person. You experience more stress than would normally be expected in response to a stressful event, and the stress causes significant problems in your life. Adjustment disorders affect how you feel and think about yourself and the world and may also affect your actions or behavior.
Some examples include:
- Feeling sad, hopeless or not enjoying things you used to enjoy
- Frequent crying Worrying
- Feeling anxious
- Jittery or stressed out
- Trouble sleeping
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Difficulty functioning in daily activities
- Withdrawing from social supports
Avoiding important things such as going to work or paying bills Suicidal thoughts or behavior Symptoms of an adjustment disorder start within three months of a stressful event and last no longer than 6 months after the end of the stressful event. However, persistent or chronic adjustment disorders can continue for more than 6 months, especially if the stressor is ongoing, such as unemployment.
When to see a doctor
Usually stressors are temporary, and we learn to cope with them over time. Symptoms of adjustment disorder get better because the stress has eased. But sometimes the stressful event remains a part of your life. Or a new stressful situation comes up, and you face the same emotional struggles all over again. Talk to your doctor if you continue to struggle or if you're having trouble getting through each day. You can get treatment to help you cope better with stressful events and feel better about life again. If you have concerns about your child's adjustment or behavior, talk with your child's pediatrician.
Diagnosis of adjustment disorders is based on identification of major life stressors, your symptoms and how they impact your ability to function. Your doctor will ask about your medical, mental health and social history. He or she may use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. For diagnosis of adjustment disorders, the DSM-5 lists these criteria:
Having emotional or behavioral symptoms within three months of a specific stressor occurring in your life
Experiencing more stress than would normally be expected in response to a stressful life event and/or having stress that causes significant problems in your relationships, at work or at school Symptoms are not the result of another mental health disorder or part of normal grieving.
Types of adjustment disorders The DSM-5 lists six different types of adjustment disorders. Although they're all related, each type has unique signs and symptoms. Adjustment disorders can be: With depressed mood.
Symptoms mainly include:
- feeling sad
- Fearful and hopeless
- Experiencing a lack of pleasure in the things you used to enjoy.
Symptoms mainly include:
- difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- feeling overwhelmed
Children who have an adjustment disorder with anxiety may strongly fear being separated from their parents and loved ones.
With mixed anxiety and depressed mood.
Symptoms include a combination of depression and anxiety. With disturbance of conduct. Symptoms mainly involve behavioral problems, such as:
fighting or reckless driving.
Youths may skip school or vandalize property. With mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct. Symptoms include a mix of depression and anxiety as well as behavioral problems. Unspecified. Symptoms don't fit the other types of adjustment disorders, but often include physical problems, problems with family or friends, or work or school problems. Length of symptoms How long you have signs and symptoms of an adjustment disorder also can vary. Adjustment disorders can be:
Signs and symptoms last six months or less. They should ease once the stressor is removed. Persistent (chronic). Signs and symptoms last more than six months. They continue to bother you and disrupt your life. Treatment Many people with adjustment disorders find treatment helpful, and they often need only brief treatment. Others, including those with persistent adjustment disorders or ongoing stressors, may benefit from longer treatment.
Treatments for adjustment disorders
psychotherapy medications or both.
Psychotherapy Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is the main treatment for adjustment disorders. This can be provided as individual, group or family therapy. Therapy can: Provide emotional support Help you get back to your normal routine Help you learn why the stressful event affected you so much Help you learn stress-management and coping skills to deal with stressful events Medications Medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs may be added to help with symptoms of depression and anxiety. As with therapy, you may need medications only for a few months, but don't stop taking any medication without talking with your doctor first. If stopped suddenly, some medications, such as certain antidepressants, may cause withdrawal-like symptoms.
Adjustment disorders are caused by significant changes or stressors in your life. Genetics, your life experiences, and your temperament may increase your likelihood of developing an adjustment disorder.
Some things may make you more likely to have an adjustment disorder. Stressful events Stressful life events â€” both positive and negative â€” may put you at risk of developing an adjustment disorder.
Divorce or marital problems Relationship or interpersonal problems Changes in situation, such as retirement, having a baby or going away to school Adverse situations, such as losing a job, loss of a loved one or having financial issues Problems in school or at work Life-threatening experiences, such as physical assault, combat or natural disaster Ongoing stressors, such as having a medical illness or living in a crime-ridden neighborhood Your life experiences Life experiences can impact how you cope with stress. For example, your risk of developing an adjustment disorder may be increased if you: Experienced significant stress in childhood Have other mental health problems
Have a number of difficult life circumstances happening at the same time Complications If adjustment disorders do not resolve, they can eventually lead to more serious mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, depression or substance abuse. Prevention There are no guaranteed ways to prevent adjustment disorders.
But developing healthy coping skills and learning to be resilient may help you during times of high stress. If you know that a stressful situation is coming up â€” such as a move or retirement â€” call on your inner strength, increase your healthy habits and rally your social supports in advance. Remind yourself that this is usually time-limited and that you can get through it. Also consider checking in with your doctor or mental health professional to review healthy ways to manage your stress.