An adjustment disorder is more common than you might think. Understanding them is the first step toward finding solutions and regaining emotional well-being.
In this series, we will peel back the layers of adjustment disorders. We will explore their causes, symptoms, and potential solutions. Whether you’re dealing with one or trying to support someone who is, we aim to provide valuable insights and guidance on navigating these trying times.
So, let’s begin the journey into the mysteries of adjustment disorders and discover the paths to recovery.
What is an adjustment disorder?
An adjustment disorder, also known as “situational depression” or “stress response syndrome.” It is a short-term psychological reaction to a significant life stressor or change. It’s characterized by emotional, behavioral or anxiety symptoms that develop within three months of experiencing the stressor. The symptoms are often more severe than one would expect in response to the stressor. However, they can cause significant distress and impairment in daily functioning.
Types of Adjustment Disorders
There are several types of adjustment disorders. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) explains adjustment disorder as “the presence of emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to an identifiable stressor(s) occurring within 3 months of the onset of the stressor(s)”.
(DSM-5) identifies the following subtypes of adjustment disorder:
Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood
Individuals with this subtype experience a combination of both depressive and anxious symptoms. They may feel sad and have difficulty concentrating, and anxiety symptoms such as restlessness and worry may occur.
Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety
This subtype includes heightened anxiety and nervousness in response to the stressor. Symptoms may include excessive worry, anxiety symptoms, restlessness, muscle tension, and a sense of unease.
Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood
Individuals with this subtype experience a combination of both depressive and anxious symptoms. They may feel sad and have difficulty concentrating, anxiety symptoms occur, such as restlessness and worry.
Adjustment Disorder with Disturbance of Conduct
In this subtype, the primary symptoms involve behavioral disturbances. These behaviors may be disruptive or aggressive and can include violations of social norms or rules. Examples may include rebellious actions, fighting, reckless driving, or skipping school or work.
Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Disturbance of Emotions and Conduct
This subtype involves a combination of emotional and behavioral symptoms. Individuals may develop indicators and display a range of reactions, such as mood swings, irritability, and conduct disturbances.
Adjustment Disorder, Unspecified
When an individual’s symptoms do not fit into any of the above subtypes, a diagnosis of “adjustment disorder, unspecified” is given. This category is used when the specific symptoms or reactions do not align with the criteria for the other subtypes.
Causes of Adjustment Disorders
Adjustment disorders are typically caused by exposure to significant life stressors or changes. These stressors can overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope and adapt, thus leading to the development of emotional and behavioral symptoms.
Here are common causes or triggers of adjustment disorders:
Stressful life events or significant life changes, even positive ones, can trigger adjustment disorder. These transitions may include marriage, divorce, retirement, childbirth, or starting a new job.
Difficulties in personal relationships, such as conflicts with a partner, spouse, family member, or friend, can lead to adjustment disorder.
Job loss, changes, workplace conflicts, or excessive work-related demands can be significant stressors. These stressors can contribute to an adjustment disorder.
Financial stress, such as debt, foreclosure, bankruptcy, or a sudden decrease in income, can be a substantial trigger.
Diagnosis of a serious illness, injury, or chronic health condition for oneself or a medical illness for a loved one can lead to adjustment disorder.
Loss of a Loved One
The death of a family member or close friend can cause profound grief and lead to adjustment disorder, especially if the individual is struggling to cope with the loss.
Legal issues, such as criminal charges, divorce proceedings, or custody battles, can be highly stressful events. Therefore, it contributes to an adjustment disorder.
Experiencing a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, hurricane, flood, or wildfire, can be a traumatic event leading to adjustment disorder.
Trauma or Abuse
Exposure to traumatic events, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, can result in adjustment disorder symptoms.
Childhood or Adolescent Transitions
Children and adolescents may develop adjustment disorders in response to significant life changes. It could be moving to a new school, parental divorce, or parental deployment in military families.
Various other stressors, such as accidents, social isolation, changes in living situations, or unexpected events, can also trigger adjustment disorder.
It’s important to note that the response to stressors can vary from person to person. What may lead to adjustment disorder in one individual may not have the same effect on another. Additionally, the severity and duration of symptoms can differ based on risk factors and the individual’s resilience and coping mechanisms.
Symptoms of Adjustment Disorders
The symptoms of adjustment disorder can vary among individuals. They are typically related to the specific stressor, stressful event, or life change that triggered the condition. However, cognitive, emotional, or behavioral symptoms are common indicators of an adjustment disorder. These symptoms develop within three months of experiencing the stressor. However, it may be more severe or prolonged than one would normally expect in response to the situation.
Here are some common symptoms of adjustment disorder:
Depressed mood: Feeling persistently sad, down, hopeless, or having major depression. Nonetheless, signs of depression and mental problems may be similar. These symptoms may include irritability, anxiety, melancholy, disturbed sleep habits, and trouble concentrating.
Anxiety: Experiencing excessive worry, nervousness, or fear.
Irritability: Becoming easily annoyed, agitated, or short-tempered.
Overwhelm: Feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope with daily tasks.
Loss of Interest or Pleasure: Losing interest in previously enjoyable activities.
Hopelessness: Having a negative outlook on the future.
Tearfulness: Frequent crying spells.
Nervousness: Feeling on edge, jittery, or anxious.
Difficulty Concentrating: Finding it hard to focus or concentrate on tasks.
Memory Problems: Experiencing memory lapses or forgetfulness.
Rumination: Constantly thinking about the stressor and its implications.
Negative Thoughts: Having negative or pessimistic thoughts about oneself, others, or the future.
Feelings of Guilt or Shame: Blaming oneself for the situation or feeling ashamed about it.
Withdrawal: Pulling away from social activities, friends, or family.
Avoidance: Avoiding situations or places associated with the stressor.
Changes in Sleep Patterns: Insomnia or sleeping excessively.
Changes in Appetite: Overeating or loss of appetite.
Restlessness: Feeling constantly on edge or restless.
Physical Symptoms: Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach-aches, or other stress-related ailments.
Solutions For Adjustment Disorders
Adjustment disorders are typically short-term. They often resolve once the individual adapts to the stressful situation. However, during this challenging period, it’s essential to address the symptoms and provide support.
Here are some solutions and strategies for managing adjustment disorders:
Seek Professional Help
Consulting a mental health professional, such as a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, is essential for assessment, diagnosis, and treatment planning.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a common and effective treatment for adjustment disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to help individuals. It identifies negative thought patterns, manages emotions, and develops healthier coping skills and strategies.
In some cases, a prescription for short-term medication therapy can alleviate specific symptoms. Medications like antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications are useful, especially if symptoms are severe. However, a daily supplement may also be beneficial to reduce stress levels.
The Well of Life’s CalmAffex product has components that promote the production of serotonin and lowers cortisol levels. Therefore, it promotes a healthy response to stress.
Social Support Groups and Supportive Relationships
Engage with friends and family for emotional support. Joining support groups or seeking out people who have experienced similar stressors can be comforting.
Learning stress reduction techniques can be helpful. They can help individuals manage anxiety and stress.
Here are some techniques:
Deep breathing exercises
Progressive muscle relaxation
Prioritize self-care activities that bring joy and relaxation. Engage in hobbies, spend time in nature, read, or engage in creative pursuits to boost your mood and well-being.
Set Realistic Expectations
Understand that recovery takes time, and setbacks may occur. Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you work through the adjustment period.
Continue to communicate with your mental health provider for ongoing support, even as symptoms improve. It’s essential to monitor progress and address any new challenges that may arise.
Remember that adjustment disorder is typically a temporary condition. With the right support and strategies, most individuals recover and adapt to the stressor. However, if symptoms persist, worsen, or impact daily functioning, professional intervention is crucial for effective management and well-being.
In conclusion, adjustment disorders are common mental health conditions. Therefore, many of us may experience them at some point in our lives. They occur in response to significant life stressors or changes. Their symptoms can range from emotional distress to behavioral disruptions. The good news is that adjustment disorders are typically short-term. With the right support and coping strategies, most individuals are able to adapt and recover.
Throughout this blog, we’ve explored the causes, symptoms, and potential solutions for adjustment disorders. We’ve learned that seeking professional help is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment planning.
We’ve discussed the importance of social support, self-care, stress management techniques, and setting realistic expectations during the recovery process. Adjusting to life’s demands can be challenging, but individuals can find their way to emotional well-being with time, patience, and resilience.
It’s important to remember that everyone’s journey with an adjustment disorder is unique. What works for one person may not work the same way for another. The key is to reach out for help when needed, lean on the support of friends and family, and prioritize self-care and mental health.
If you or perhaps someone you know is struggling with an adjustment disorder, remember that there is hope. Do not forget professional help is available. With the right guidance and determination, individuals can move forward, adapt to life’s changes, and ultimately find a sense of balance and well-being once again.