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What is Adjustment Disorder? Types, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

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, you may be experiencing the beginnings of an adjustment disorder. Problems at work, leaving for college, becoming sick, losing a loved one, or any other major life transition can ramp up stress, making it difficult to cope with everyday tasks and challenges. 

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?

Adjustment disorders typically don't last forever. In fact, most people will recover from them on their own given enough time. However, they can be very distressing and impairing to daily life. Adjustment Disorder therapy can help you recover quicker and give you helpful coping skills for adjustment disorder to manage the symptoms. 

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. Adjustment Disorders 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 for adjustment disorders, 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.

What 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 examples:

  • 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
  • Moving somewhere new

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.

Physical symptoms of adjustment disorder include:

  • 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

Emotional and behavioral symptoms of adjustment disorder include:

  • 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

What Are the Different Types of Adjustment Disorder?

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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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. However, some symptoms include sadness, lack of hope, no 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. Researchers think factors such as a person's ability to deal with problems, life experiences, and social skills, play a role. Anyone can experience an adjustment disorder, including children, adolescents, and adults, but it appears to be more prevalent in women. 

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

  • Having a preexisting mental health disorder 
  • 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.
  • Little social support system
  • Having a limited amount of schooling
  • Having a city life

How long does Adjustment Disorder Last?

Adjustment Disorder will usually go away within 6 months from the stressful event that triggered it. If Adjustment disorder lasts much longer than that, a diagnosis of chronic Adjustment Disorder should be considered, in addition to therapy for depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Therapy can help people adjust to their new environment, remove the stressors from their lives, or learn coping skills that will help them adapt and remain healthy in the midst of stressful circumstances.

What Does Therapy for Adjustment Disorders Look Like?

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. Therapy for adjustment disorder is available to help you recover from the negative effects of stress and enjoy life again.

If you are having immediate thoughts of suicide, death, or harming yourself, Call 911 or your local emergency number, visit an emergency room, or talk to a trusted family member or friend. Alternatively, you could dial a suicide prevention hotline.

Phone Hotline: 988

Texting Hotline: Text HOME to 741741

Coping Skills for Adjustment Disorder

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:

  • 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.
  • Lean on your support group: Find some help. Share your thoughts with loved ones. Think about connecting with a local support group. 
  •  Recognize your feelings and circumstances: Become aware of the emotions and triggers around you. What do you feel? What makes you feel that way? Although all of our emotions are valid, not all of them are true. For example, when you snapped at your partner, were you actually angry? Or were you frightened by the circumstances out of your control? Self-reflection can help you get to the bottom of these feelings. 
  • Be 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.
  • Try Breathing Exercises: 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.
  • 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.

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

Treatment for Adjustment Disorders


Treatment for adjustment disorder typically involves several steps, depending on factors such as the severity of your symptoms, age, the subtype being experienced, root causes of adjustment disorder, and any risk factors that may have influenced the disorder’s progression. A mental health professional will consider these when making a treatment recommendation.

Therapy for adjustment disorders can take many forms, including:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): 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.
  • Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT): SFBT is a goal-oriented therapy that focuses on solutions rather than dwelling on problems. It helps individuals identify their strengths, explore potential solutions, and develop strategies to overcome obstacles. SFBT is typically a short-term therapy, and it can be useful in helping individuals regain a sense of control and agency in their lives.
  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): MBSR combines mindfulness meditation, yoga, and mindful movement to alleviate stress and promote emotional well-being. Through regular practice, individuals can learn to cultivate present-moment awareness, reduce rumination, and develop healthier coping mechanisms.
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): IPT focuses on improving interpersonal relationships and communication skills. It helps individuals identify and address issues in their relationships that may contribute to their adjustment difficulties. IPT can be particularly beneficial for individuals who are experiencing challenges in their personal or professional relationships.
  • Family Therapy: In cases of childhood or adolescent adjustment disorder, or when the entire family went through a major and difficult transition, 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.
  • Group Therapy: 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, especially if everyone shares similar life transitions and difficulties. 

Remember, finding the right therapy and therapist for your needs is crucial. If you are considering therapy for adjustment disorder, reach out to a mental health professional who can guide you in choosing the most suitable approach for your specific situation. Taking this step can help you navigate life's challenges and work towards living your brightest life.

Medication for Adjustment Disorder

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.

How is adjustment disorder diagnosed?

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.

How to Help Someone with Adjustment Disorder

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, or their emotions too much to handle.

To help a family member or friend go through Adjustment Disorder, 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:

Absolutely, helping someone with adjustment disorder is essential in assisting them on their journey to better mental health. Here are some ways you can support someone struggling with adjustment disorder:

  1. Listen with Empathy: Simply being there to listen attentively and without judgment can provide tremendous comfort and validation to someone going through adjustment difficulties.
  2. Offer Practical Help: Help with daily tasks or responsibilities, whether it’s running errands, helping with household chores, or assisting with childcare, can alleviate some of the stress for the individual.
  3. Encourage Self-Care: Advocate for self-care activities that promote relaxation and well-being, such as taking a walk, practicing mindfulness, or engaging in hobbies they enjoy.
  4. Provide Reassurance: Offer words of encouragement and reassurance, reminding them that it’s okay to struggle and that it’s possible to overcome challenging times.
  5. Assist in Seeking Professional Help: Suggest reaching out to a mental health professional for therapy or counseling. Offer to help them find a therapist who aligns with their needs and preferences.
  6. Create a Safe Environment: Foster an environment that feels safe and supportive, where they can express their emotions and concerns openly.
  7. Educate Yourself: Take the time to educate yourself about adjustment disorder, so you can better understand what the individual is going through and how you can support them effectively.

Remember, the journey to healing is unique for each individual, and having a strong support system can make a significant difference. By offering understanding, practical help, and encouragement, you are playing a vital role in helping them navigate their challenges and move towards living their brightest life.


Although it can be a challenging experience, it is essential to recognize the symptoms of adjustment disorder 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."

To find a therapist who specializes in adjustment disorder near you, browse our therapist directory. You can also give our team a call and we’ll be happy to match you with an online adjustment disorder therapist near you. 

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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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