November 4


Adjustment Disorder

By NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

November 4, 2021

Adjusting to a new life situation always presents some distinct challenges. In some cases, these challenges may begin to feel insurmountable, leading to severely disruptive symptoms. If a significant life change or traumatic event has left you feeling overwhelmed and unable to function normally, you may be suffering from adjustment disorder. This condition may feel impossible in the moment, but with proper treatment, you can regain control of your life.

What Is an Adjustment Disorder?

woman curled up in chair struggling with adjustment disorder
Image via Unsplash by @enioku

An adjustment disorder is a stress-related condition that causes you to have an excessive or unhealthy reaction to an event or change in your situation. You may experience extreme emotional or behavioral reactions and suffer from a great deal of stress or anxiety

The symptoms of an adjustment disorder begin within three months of the stressful event or life change. Adjustment disorders typically last no longer than six months after the stressful situation is over. However, a chronic or persistent adjustment disorder may last longer.

What Causes Adjustment Disorders?

Adjustment disorders typically occur when there’s a major life change. This may include, but is not limited to, situations such as:

  • The birth of a child.
  • The loss of a pet.
  • Divorce or separation of parents.
  • Divorce or separation from a partner.
  • Getting married.
  • Moving to a new home.
  • Loss of a job.
  • Retiring from a job.
  • A sudden illness or new restrictions brought on by a chronic illness.
  • Going to a new school.
  • The death of a close friend or family member.
  • A disaster such as a flood, fire, or hurricane.
  • A major accident, such as a car wreck.

Though events like these can prove problematic for anyone, the response exhibited with an adjustment disorder is disproportionate to what you would expect someone to experience. While it is normal for the death of a loved one to cause grief, with an adjustment disorder, you might see the grief manifest as a complete inability to maintain one’s daily responsibilities for weeks or months. 

It’s worth noting that adjustment disorders can also accompany life events that are otherwise seen as positive, such as marriage or the birth of a child. With an adjustment disorder, reactions aren’t adequately moderated, and the challenges of the new situation seem to overwhelm the associated benefits.

How Do Adjustment Disorders Manifest?

Adjustment disorders can manifest in many ways. Children and adolescents are more likely to act out when experiencing an adjustment disorder, while symptoms are usually more depressive in adults. Common symptoms include:

  • Frequently crying.
  • Having difficulty sleeping.
  • Lack of appetite or overeating.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Feeling overwhelmed.
  • Withdrawal from social activities.
  • Difficulty performing daily activities.
  • Palpitations of the heart.
  • Avoidance of important activities like attending school, paying bills, or going to work.
  • Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, anxiety, and nervousness.
  • Increased use of drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
  • Violating societal norms with activities like fighting, reckless driving, or destruction of property.

The symptoms of an adjustment disorder aren’t related to other mental health disorders or illnesses. However, the above symptoms may be associated with other conditions – such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder – so it’s important to speak with a professional healthcare provider to properly diagnose adjustment disorders. The primary differentiator of an adjustment disorder is the onset of the symptoms, which coincides closely with a major change or life event.

How Are Adjustment Disorders Treated?

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for adjustment disorders. First, you should work with a healthcare provider to receive an accurate diagnosis based on your symptoms and current situations in your life. 

If an adjustment disorder goes untreated, it can develop into a substance abuse problem or major depressive episode, so it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Some possible treatments for adjustment disorders may include:

  • Individual psychotherapy.
  • Family therapy.
  • Medications such as anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants.
  • Participation in a support group.

Therapies for adjustment disorders often focus on cognitive-behavioral approaches, which help patients control thought processes, recognize nonproductive emotions, and manage their actions in response to those emotions. Family therapy sessions may help improve communications and increase support within the family environment. Support groups or group therapy strengthen social and interpersonal skills.

Along with these other treatments, your healthcare professional will likely suggest targeted activities to help you increase your resilience. This may include activities to improve your problem-solving skills, help you face your fears, and assist in recognizing and building on your strengths.

You will find that you can recover more easily if you maintain strong connections with family and friends and engage in activities that give you meaning and purpose.

It’s also important to take good care of yourself while you’re working through an adjustment disorder. This includes getting a proper amount of sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly.

How Can I Prevent Adjustment Disorders?

There are some risk factors that increase your likelihood of suffering from an adjustment disorder. The initial stressful life event is one of the most significant contributors to adjustment disorders. However, it’s rarely possible to control all potential events that could lead to this type of disorder.

There is no guaranteed way to prevent an adjustment disorder, but you can prepare yourself to handle significant life changes better. Developing healthy coping techniques is a powerful way to increase your resilience and increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to handle stressful events and major life changes safely and healthily. Checking in with your support system and working with a professional counselor early on can help you prepare for predictable life changes, ultimately making it easier to handle them.

Contact NeuroHealth AH Today!

At NeuroHealth Arlington Heights, we offer a variety of services and solutions for patients who are struggling with stress-related conditions, like adjustment disorder. Serving Arlington Heights, IL and the surrounding communities – including Des Plaines, Schaumburg, Palatine, Mt Prospect and more – we provide neuropsychological testing, as well as a variety of treatment options. Reaching out for assistance can help you recover from an adjustment disorder more quickly, and many treatments may increase your resilience. Therefore, you are less likely to struggle with an adjustment disorder again in the future. To learn more, give us a call at (847) 584-1894 or contact us online! Our team of trained professionals is ready to help you. 

NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

About the author

For over 20 years, NeuroHealth Arlington Heights has been offering neuropsychological and psychological assessments and treatments for people of all ages. These assessments and treatments address Behavioral, Emotional, & Social Issues, Neurocognitive Functions, and Neurodevelopmental Growth.