What is adjustment disorder?

When you've had a serious change in your life, sometimes you develop emotional or behavioral reactions to that stress. These reactions can be worse than you expect. But they only last for six months or less. This may be adjustment disorder. This condition was once called stress response syndrome. The symptoms can impact your sleep and work.

Causes of adjustment disorder

 Experiencing extreme stress or disruptive life changes causes adjustment disorder. Examples of these changes can include:

  • Change of job
  • Difficult illness
  • Death of loved one
  • Having an accident
  • Financial problems
  • Living through a natural disaster
  • The end of a relationship or getting divorced

 If you go through these life events without social support or healthy coping strategies, you might develop adjustment disorder.

Risk factors for adjustment disorder

Anyone of any age, gender or background can develop adjustment disorder. If you experience a major life stressor, you're at risk for this condition. Adults who go through marital, financial or career problems or changes are at risk. Teens and children who have problems in school, witness fights or start recognizing their own sexuality are also at risk. You might have added stress from finances, a lack of a support network or family members with similar conditions. These factors also put you at greater risk of getting the condition.

Symptoms of adjustment disorder

Symptoms can happen within three months of the stressful experience. They last for up to six months. This condition isn't as severe as clinical depression. But some of the symptoms are the same. Adults tend to experience more emotional issues. Children and teenagers act out the condition with different behavior. You may feel hopeless and sad, with frequent crying.

Other symptoms include:

  • Poor sleep habits
  • Isolating yourself
  • Anxiety and worry
  • Aches in your head or stomach
  • Abnormal heartbeat, usually beating too fast
  • Changes in appetite, either eating too much or not enough
  • Increase in risky behaviors, including substance abuse, fighting or reckless driving

Diagnosis of adjustment disorder

You can meet with a therapist to discuss your symptoms. They'll want to know about what has been happening in your life. They might first look for a specific life stressor that happened within the last three months. Sometimes, the condition can last if the stressful situation also continues. The therapist can identify if your symptoms are excessive compared to what's a normal reaction. They might also want to make sure you're not having symptoms from another health condition. 

Treatments for adjustment disorder

Without treatment, symptoms of adjustment disorder can lessen with your day-to-day activities after six months. Treatment can help to relieve symptoms. Doctors often recommend therapy, medication or possibly a combination of both.

Therapy is the main treatment for adjustment disorder. Trained mental health professionals provide emotional support. They can help you create coping techniques that are especially helpful during this time. Therapy meetings with your family can also be helpful. This depends on your situation.

Medications can lessen your anxiety, help you sleep and reduce depression symptoms. Talk with a psychiatrist about what could work for you.
Just because this condition isn't long-lasting doesn't mean that it's not serious. Working with a trained mental health professional can give you the tools you need to reduce the chance of these symptoms getting worse or happening again. 

Recovery from adjustment disorder

You might have no previous history of mental illness. In that case, it's likely that, with treatment, you can recover fully. It's possible to live a productive, joyful life. Adjustment disorder may fade as time passes, but it's possible for symptoms to linger. While you're recovering, maintain a healthy diet. Focus on getting enough sleep. Finally, be sure to seek out a support system – either through loved ones or with a support group – to remember that you are not alone when stress arises.