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Coping with Change: A Deep Dive into Adjustment Disorder

adjustment disorder


This blog discusses all aspects of adjustment disorders, from their origins and symptoms to treatment options. Those who suffer from adjustment disorder struggle to deal with the emotional and behavioral consequences of stress in the face of significant life changes.

Has an unexpected or unpleasant occurrence caused you to feel more stress than usual, to the point that it's negatively impacting your life? 

If yes, This may be the beginning of an adjustment problem if it sounds familiar to you. 

Problems at work, leaving for college, becoming sick, losing a loved one, or any other major life transition can add to a stressful situation. 

The average person can adjust to a new situation in a few months. However, if you suffer from an adjustment disorder, you may experience persistent emotional or behavioral reactions that add to your feelings of anxiety and depression.

However, you are not without support. In a short amount of time, treatment for adjustment disorder can help you feel better emotionally.

What is Adjustment Disorder?

Disorders related to adjustment typically don't last forever. However, it is identified in people with extreme stress or trauma reactions.

A horrible breakup is just one example of a stressor, but there are many others, including difficulties at job, school, or trying to make ends meet. It's not just individuals or families who might experience stress, but also groups (such as those who have survived a natural disaster). Anxieties might be one-time occurrences (like exams) or regular (like seasonal business issues) or tied to "milestone" events (like starting school, getting married, or retiring. Disorders of adjustment are sometimes known as situational depression.

Adjustment disorder is defined medically as an exaggerated response to a stressful or traumatic event. Any aspect of one's life, both positive and negative, can be a stressor, including, but not limited to, interpersonal conflicts, work difficulties, and health shifts. The symptoms will fade with time. Talk therapy is the mainstay of treatment, while anti-anxiety medicines and other pharmaceuticals may sometimes be prescribed. 


People of any age can be affected by adjustment disorder. However, many studies have shown that females are more vulnerable than males to harmful situations. 

Where causes Adjustment Disorder?

Adjustment disorders may result from a wide variety of factors. It can be anything that disrupts your daily life, whether at work, at home, or with friends and family. They can have beneficial or destructive effects.


Here are a few illustrations:

  • The passing of a loved one or close friend
  • Problems in intimate partnerships, separation, and divorce
  • Marriage and parenthood
  • Major medical problems
  • Issues in the classroom
  • Trouble making ends meet
  • Tensions at the Office (job loss, failing to meet goals)
  • Being a resident of a dangerous area
  • Retiring
  • Tragic and unforeseeable events

It's also possible that factors like your personality, temperament, well-being, life experiences, and family history contribute to your susceptibility to developing an adjustment disorder.

Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder

A person with an adjustment disorder may feel differently than another person. The severity of Adjustment disorder symptoms will depend on the nature of the triggering event and its significance in your life.

Typical bodily distress:

  • Feeling exhausted but unable to sleep (insomnia).
  • Feeling sick and suffering from body pain.
  • Pain in the head or the stomach is a common complaint.
  • Shaking of the heart.
  • Perspiring palms.

Typical signs of emotional or behavioral distress:

  • Taking an aggressive, careless, or rash stance
  • Anxiety, restlessness, and a sense of being hemmed in and helpless
  • Emotional fragility
  • Having a hard time focusing
  • Withdrawal, sadness, a lack of motivation, and low self-esteem all contribute to depression
  • Apathy toward regular activities
  • Modifications to one's diet
  • I'm completely stressed out and overwhelmed
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Considering or attempting suicide

Are there different types of Adjustment Disorders?

The DSM-5 lists six types of adjustment disorders:

  1. Adjustment disorder with depressed mood: Having an adjustment disorder with a depressed mood means you feel more hopeless and sad after experiencing stress. Moving, starting a new school or job, getting married, having a child, losing a loved one, or being seriously ill are just some of the life events that can be stressful.
  2. Adjustment disorder with anxiety: Adjustment disorder with anxiety can be accompanied by anxiety, depression, emotional and behavioral disturbances, or a combination of these symptoms. A child and adolescent psychiatrist or a qualified mental health professional can diagnose adjustment disorder. The most common symptoms are nervousness, worry, difficulty concentrating or remembering things, and feeling overwhelmed. Children with adjustment disorders and anxiety may fear separation from their parents and loved ones with a mix of anxiety and depression.
  3. Adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood (MDD)

Adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depression: Symptoms include feeling anxious and depressed at the same time. Adjustment disorder with a change of behavior: Symptoms include disobedient, harmful, reckless, or rash conduct.

  1. Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct: A child exhibits signs and symptoms from both categories (depressed mood and anxiety)—disrupted behavior due to an adjustment disorder. A child may offend other human privacy or violate social customs and regulations. Not attending classes, vandalizing property, speeding, and picking fights are all examples of negative behaviors.
  2. Adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct: The symptoms of adjustment disorder, such as depression, anxiety, and behavioral changes, can occur together in a person with mixed disturbance of emotions and behavior.
  3. Adjustment disorder unspecified: Adjustment disorder not otherwise specified refers to a condition in which a person reacts significantly to a stressor that does not fall under the previously listed categories.

Sadness, lack of hope, or interest in previously pleasurable activities. Frequent tears. Experiencing or showing signs of anxiety, worry, nervousness, jitteriness, or stress.

Risk Factors Associated with Adjustment Disorders

The reasons why some people show signs of adjustment disorder in response to a given stressor while others do are not easily discernible. People think many things, such as a person's ability to deal with problems, life experiences, and social skills, play a role.

When one or more of the following conditions apply, a person's risk of developing an adjustment disorder is elevated

  • Having a mental disorder that affects you
  • Dealing with a stressful situation over a prolonged period, such as a job loss, a chronic illness, an extramarital affair, or a broken home.
  • Having no one to turn to for help
  • Being exposed to traumatic events, such as sexual or physical abuse, or other stresses, such as frequent moves or overprotective parenting, can have a lasting impact on a child.
  • Being a loner
  • Having a limited amount of schooling.
  • Having a city life

When is the Right Time to See a therapist or a Counselor?

Most stresses we experience are short-lived, and we develop strategies for dealing with them over time. As stress decreases, so do the symptoms of adjustment disorder. In some cases, the traumatic experience will always be with you. A new stressful scenario may arise, causing you to re-experience the same emotional difficulties.

If you're having problems getting through the day or having trouble getting through anything, talk to your therapist. Treatment is available to help you recover from the negative effects of stress and enjoy life again.

Your child's pediatrician is the best person to talk to if you're worried about how well your child is adjusting or behaving.

Attempted or committed suicide

Call 911 or your local emergency number, visit an emergency room, or talk to a trusted family member or friend if you're having suicidal thoughts. Alternatively, you could dial a suicide prevention hotline.

Adjustment Disorder: Where to Find Help

Encouraging someone with an adjustment disorder to see a mental health professional is a great way to help them. However, remember that it's not unusual for someone in trouble to refuse to ask for help. They may be too exhausted to continue, or their emotions too much to handle.

If a family member or friend could help, an honest discussion about your worries is a good place to start. If someone you care about wants help, you can make it easier by assisting them in finding a qualified therapist and setting up an initial meeting. You could also help by offering to go to the appointment with them.

Additional methods of helping a loved one include:

  • Understanding your loved one's condition by learning about adjustment disorder
  • Inspire a loved one to make changes and be there for them as they do so
  • Getting your loved one's okay before assisting them with anything that could cause stress
  • Motivate others to adopt healthier habits and do so yourself
  • Try to hear what others are saying

How do doctors identify an adjustment disorder?

Your doctor will perform a thorough evaluation of your physical and mental health. They may consider the criteria in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

The DSM-5 specifies the following five symptoms as diagnostic of adjustment disorder:

  • You experienced emotional or behavioral signs no more than three months after the onset of the stressful incident.
  • There is a clinically significant increase in your emotional or behavioral problems. This means that your distress goes beyond what would be considered normal and/or that it is interfering significantly with your daily life, whether at work, at home, or with friends and family.
  • Your symptoms are not indicative of another mental disorder or a worsening of an existing mental health condition.
  • Your symptoms do not reflect a typical response to loss.
  • Your signs and symptoms will disappear within six months after the initial precipitating incident has passed.
  • Having symptoms for fewer than six months classifies you as having an acute adjustment disorder. If you have symptoms of chronic adjustment disorder and they have persisted for more than six months, you have the condition.

If your healthcare professional is trying to figure out if your reaction to a stressor is excessive, they should consider your cultural background.

Treatment for adjustment disorder with depressed mood


Affective Disorders: Managing Treatment.Treatment for adjustment disorder typically involves several steps, depending on factors such as

  • Symptoms' 
  • Age
  • Severity of symptoms
  • The subtype being experienced
  • Causes and risk factors that may have influenced the condition's progression

A mental health professional will consider these when making a treatment recommendation.

Counseling for a single patient

It is common for cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to be used as part of individual psychotherapy in the United Kingdom. Still, other forms of talk therapy are also frequently recommended in the United States. Since this is a temporary issue, the psychotherapy will likely be a brief, solution-focused program. The goal of the treatment is to help the person learn the skills they need to beat their adjustment disorder by making it easier for them to deal with their specific problem and its effects.

Psychotherapy for the whole family

In cases of childhood or adolescent adjustment disorder, it is common for therapists to recommend a course of family therapy. It aims to help families work through their issues and learn to communicate better. This education could also help the family members of a child or teen struggling with an adjustment disorder.

Therapy Sessions

Some people struggling with adjustment disorder find that talking to others who share their experiences helps them learn how to deal with their difficulties. Group therapy can also help improve a person's communication skills and be a positive and encouraging source of support.


Supportive, solution-focused psychotherapy is often enough to treat an adjustment disorder, but sometimes medication is also needed.

Medications treat specific symptoms of adjustment disorder, such as poor sleep, chronic nervousness or anxiety, or severe depression. Drugs are usually used in addition to talking therapy, not instead of it. Talk therapy gets to the root of the problem, so drugs are generally only given in extreme cases after a careful evaluation by the person's medical care team.

The following medications may be helpful in the management of adjustment disorder:

  • Antidepressants: Medication for depression is usually prescribed only three months into treatment for adjustment disorder when non-pharmacological methods have failed.
  • Benzodiazepines: Short-term use of these drugs may help with anxiety and insomnia. However, they should only be prescribed and taken by a doctor after a thorough assessment, and they should not be used for an extended period due to the risk of addiction.
  • Anxiety and sleeplessness are common symptoms of adjustment disorder, so it's encouraging to know that some herbal remedies are being studied for their potential effects on these issues. Extracts of both valerian and passiflora can be found in these herbal supplements. However, there needs to be more research and evaluation of the safety and efficacy of these substances to make them universally recommended. Also, never self-medicate with herbs; some people are allergic, and some medications interact negatively with others, so it's best to check with your doctor first.

Other Self-Care Tips

Find some help. Share your thoughts with loved ones. Think about connecting with a local support group. Think about what may have triggered these feelings in you. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to examine the effects of stress.

  • Take control of your stress levels. When things get too harsh at work or home, reaching out for assistance is essential. Take time for yourself by engaging in a pastime you enjoy, listening to music, watching a movie, or going for a walk. When anxious, practice deep breathing.
  • Mind your body and keep it in good shape. Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly at minimum. Get on a good eating plan. Reduce your caffeine intake. Stop smoking if you can. Don't drink or do drugs if you don't want your symptoms to get even worse. Do physical activity as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Verify your prescriptions. Tell your doctor and pharmacist what medications, vitamins, herbs, and other supplements you are taking to help reduce the risk of adverse reactions.

Talk to your doctor or therapist if you have any concerns or if your symptoms worsen.

Five Realistic Methods for Handling Adjustment Problems

Individuals with adjustment disorders may struggle to function due to the intensity of their reactions. Feelings and emotions can sometimes feel overwhelming, leading to behavior shifts that have far-reaching effects on health. Although it's not easy, remember that adjustment disorder is temporary and can improve with mental health treatment.

In addition to psychotherapy and, in some cases, medication, the following five methods can help you manage adjustment disorder:

1. Recognize

Recognizing your feelings and the circumstances that gave rise to them can help. This proves that what you've been through was worthwhile. Though you can't continuously regulate your emotions, you can learn to manage how you react to them by labeling and naming them.

2. Have faith

Accepting one's feelings does not imply approval or desire for those feelings. When you receive a situation, you stop resisting it and giving up hope of changing it.

3. Being Present

Being mindful means paying attention on purpose without judgment on whatever comes up. Mindfulness has numerous potential benefits for psychological well-being. Mindfulness practitioners may be able to ignore the past and plan for the future and instead enjoy the pleasures of the here and now. Because it promotes acceptance and tolerance rather than avoidance, mindfulness can speed up recovery.

4. Breathing Exercise

Deep breathing makes it easier for the body to get oxygen. It also slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, helps you relax, and takes your mind off stressful thoughts. It takes practice to master deep breathing techniques because it goes against our instinct to take in such large breaths, especially under pressure. However, simply concentrating on your breathing deeply can have a calming effect.

5. Prioritize your Physical Health

Jogging, cycling, dancing, gardening, and walking are just some examples of aerobic exercises that have been shown to alleviate mental health issues like depression and anxiety.


Although it can be a challenging experience, it is essential to recognize the symptoms and seek professional help to manage the condition effectively. With the right treatment and support, people with adjustment disorder can learn coping strategies to improve their quality of life and build resilience in the face of adversity. Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, and there is hope for recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with adjustment disorder, don't hesitate to reach out for help.

Spend time caring for yourself regularly. Try soaking in a hot tub, reading a good book, journaling, going for a stroll, or spending time with your pet. Get some rest and relaxation. Pursue pursuits that uplift and delight you. Plan out regular "me time."

Frequently Asked Questions

Adjustment disorder can last anywhere from a few months to a few years. The disorder typically manifests itself after a stressful incident in life and improves in the months following the resolution of said event. Most diagnostic guides use this time frame, but some people recognize that some symptoms can last longer, especially if the condition is brought on by chronic stress. Because of this, it is essential to remember that when the underlying stressor is severe, meaning that it has long-term repercussions or is lengthy, such as job loss or a powerful, long-lasting medical condition, the individual may experience symptoms for a more extended time than is typical. Long-lasting adjustment problems are sometimes called "chronic adjustment disorders."

If an employee's adjustment disorder symptoms are bad enough that they need time off work to improve, the employer may have to give them paid sick leave to compensate for it.

The majority of people with adjustment disorder get better after a short time. When the stressful trigger is removed, symptoms usually improve within six months.

It is thought that a person's genes can play a role in the development of adjustment disorder, even though the condition is caused by stress from the outside.

Yes. Because an adjustment disorder is a form of emotional disability, those who suffer from the condition may be qualified to receive disability benefits from Social Security.

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