Successful adjustment is crucial to having a high quality of life.

People unable to adjust well are more likely to develop clinical anxiety or depression,2 feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, sleeping problems and/or reckless behaviour.3

When stress causes significant impairment to major life functioning such as school, work, social, legal, family or physical health, you may be experiencing a form of adjustment disorder. 

adjustment disorder

The mental and physical symptoms associated with adjustment disorder usually occur during or immediately after you experience a stressful event. While the disorder lasts no longer than six months, your symptoms may continue if the stressor isn’t removed. Some people have just one symptom. Others may experience many symptoms.

Psychological symptoms

Physical symptoms

  • insomnia
  • muscle twitches or trembling
  • fatigue
  • body pain or soreness
  • indigestion

Following are the six types of adjustment disorder and their symptoms:

Adjustment disorder with depressed mood

People diagnosed with this type of adjustment disorder tend to experience feelings of sadness and hopelessness. It’s also associated with crying. You may also find that you no longer enjoy activities that you did formerly.

Adjustment disorder with anxiety

Symptoms associated with adjustment disorder with anxiety include feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and worried. People with this disorder may also have problems with concentration and memory.

For children, this diagnosis is usually associated with separation anxiety from parents and loved ones.

Adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood

People with this kind of adjustment disorder experience both depression and anxiety.

Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct

Symptoms of this type of adjustment disorder mainly involve behavioral issues like driving recklessly or starting fights.

Teens with this disorder may steal or vandalize property. They might also start missing school.

Adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct

Symptoms linked to this type of adjustment disorder include depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems.

Adjustment disorder unspecified

Those diagnosed with adjustment disorder unspecified have symptoms that aren’t associated with the other types of adjustment disorder. These often include physical symptoms or problems with friends, family, work, or school.

A variety of stressful events can cause an adjustment disorder. Some common causes in adults include:

  • death of a family member or friend
  • relationship issues or divorce
  • major life changes
  • illness or a health issue (in you or someone you’re close with)
  • moving to a new house or place
  • sudden disasters
  • money troubles or fears

Typical causes in children and teenagers include:

  • family fights or problems
  • problems in school
  • anxiety over sexuality

If you are not in a position to see a professional right away, there are some coping methods you can utilize on your own time to help improve your state of mind and cope with adjustment disorder.

Avoid unnecessary stress

Moving soon? Starting a new job? If you are aware of a big change coming up in your life, do not take on additional responsibilities that will make you even more anxious. Put any non-essential work on the back burner and focus on what is important.

Start a healthy habit

This doesn’t mean healthy for just your body, but also your mind. Journalling, exercising, forcing yourself to think positive thoughts: These all can help put your mind at ease. Take up yoga for calm meditation or running if that is what helps you get your thoughts in order. Find a way to express yourself and your feelings.

Use your social support

Family and friends are vital during times of high stress and change. After you are done eliminating the non-essential work, start reaching out to others to see what they might be able to help with. Even if it is just a willing ear to vent your anxieties and frustrations to.

Reach beyond your circle

Depending upon the change, you might consider finding a support group. Finding others who have been though the same or similar things will help you feel not as alone and be inspired by their success stories. It is an opportunity for you to find people who are experiencing or have experienced the same things and make new friends.

Above all though, seeking professional help is the best solution. They may have variety of different techniques and treatments for you to teach you how to cope with an adjustment disorder. It could be medication, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, or it could be a recommendation for talk therapy such as CBT. Again, even if it is short term, talk with a therapist to figure out a treatment plan that is right for you and your needs. In therapy, you will learn your triggers and identify your symptoms.

With proper treatment and care, adjustment disorders are typically cured within six months. Time and patience are key to successful recovery. Understand that it is OK to feel what you are feeling and know that there are a lot of options to help you. Changes can be tough, but tackling them does not have to be a challenge you face by yourself.

Therapeutic treatment for adjustment disorder addresses the stressor(s) people experience and helps people define goals and enhance coping skills.

Adjustment disorder therapy is usually brief and time-limited. It’s not unusual for therapy to last only four- to six sessions, but there are individual differences in both psychologists and clients that determine the exact number of therapy visits.

Adjustment disorder therapy takes many forms. Among them:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT helps people reframe problems and outlook by learning to identify automatic negative thoughts and replace them with more realistic ones

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

ACT is a mindfulness and coping therapy that helps people accept difficulties and reactions, choose a meaningful direction, and then take action to achieve goals

Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) 

SFBT is an approach that helps people identify where they want to be and how they are going to get there

Regardless of the approach, therapeutic adjustment disorder treatment focuses on crisis relief, stress reduction, goal setting, strengths building, and coping skills creation. Therapists help clients gather relevant information and identify and use resources.

Coping Skills

Coping skills are thoughts people have and the actions they take in order to achieve mental health and wellness. They play a key role in adjustment disorder treatment.

The more coping skills people develop and use, the better equipped they are to deal with the stressors and symptoms of adjustment disorder. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it contains proven techniques that many people have found helpful in adjustment disorder treatment. 

  • Self-exploration; through journaling and recording gratitude, look for patterns to discover what makes meaning for you and enhances your wellbeing
  • Make room for the positive by changing the part of the stressors you can and creating wellness around what you can’t
  • Mindfulness; be in the present moment rather than ruminating about the stressor
  • Reframe your thoughts about the problem
  • Increase physical activity
  • Create calming strategies
  • Change things in your environment (rearrange to-do lists, ask for help with things like housework, shopping, little tasks around a new baby, etc.)
  • Develop a routine to re-establish a sense of normalcy
  • Draw on or build a social support system
  • Enhance sleep habits; treating your sleep helps increase the ability to cope and function

Medication

Mental health medication isn’t always a part of adjustment disorder treatment because the disorder is stress-induced. However, adjustment disorder can occur with depression and/or anxiety. When it does, temporarily taking medication can be helpful. Sometimes, too, sleep medication can help people get the restorative sleep that is needed to handle difficulties.

It’s important to keep track of symptoms and discuss them with your regular doctor or nurse practitioner. He or she can help decide whether medication would be useful in treating symptoms of adjustment disorder.

  1. Adjustment (psychology) at the Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. Ward, Colleen; Kennedy, Antony (1994-06-01). “Acculturation strategies, psychological adjustment, and sociocultural competence during cross-cultural transitions”. International Journal of Intercultural Relations18 (3): 329–343. doi:10.1016/0147-1767(94)90036-1. ISSN 0147-1767.
  3. Bisson, Jonathan I.; Sakhuja, Divya (2006-07-01). “Adjustment disorders”. Psychiatry5 (7): 240–242. doi:10.1053/j.mppsy.2006.04.004. ISSN 1476-1793.

Seeking Help

If you feel that adjustment difficulties are impacting on your ability to enjoy life, a Life Psychologist may be able to help.

  • Life Psychologists are highly trained and qualified professionals, skilled in providing effective interventions for a range of mental health concerns, including adjustment issues.
  • A Life Psychologist can help you to identify and address factors that might be contributing to your adjustment difficulty and the most effective ways to help you readjust using techniques based on best available research.
  • Life Psychologists usually see clients individually, but can also include family members to support treatment where appropriate.
   A medical check-up with a GP might also be helpful to see if there is an underlying health issue.