Life Transitions Counseling
What is an Adjustment Disorder?
Life transitions often throw us for a loop. Whether a new diagnosis with an illness, moving to a new city, or a change in relationship status—all are changes that can lead to feelings of stress. Often, stressors are short term and people adjust within a few months. But, sometimes our adjustment is more complicated and we find that we’re having trouble coping.
There are many stressors that can lead to an Adjustment Disorder and they can range from common events to disastrous situations.
Here are a few life transitions and stressors that individuals commonly struggle with:
- Being diagnosed with a medical illness or a change in bodily function related to a chronic illness
- Divorce, marriage, or a new baby
- Loss of a job or changing jobs
- Being involved in a life-threatening situation (witnessing violence, a car accident, or crime)
- A natural disaster
- The death of a loved one
Adjustment disorders are often called situational depression because the depression is circumstantial and is being driven by events outside oneself. These outside events influence our stress level and once we adjust to them, voilà our mood improves. We adjust (also known as coping) to our new situation or the stress of change diminishes because that new stressor becomes our normal—slowly integrating into our daily life.
Symptoms of an Adjustment Disorder
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Not enjoying things you used to enjoy
- Frequent crying
- Feeling worried or anxious
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
- Trouble sleeping
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Nervous or jittery
- Difficulty functioning in daily activities
- Withdrawing from social supports
- Avoiding important things such as going to work, doctors appointments, or paying bills
Types of Adjustment Disorders
Adjustment disorder is a cluster of symptoms that are observed within 3 months of a precipitant (Maybe a life transition, a new medical diagnosis, or a change in your chronic medical condition) and the symptoms last less than 6 months from the time of diagnosis. The symptoms of an adjustment disorder are the same symptoms used to diagnose a mood disorder but the precipitant (cause) and timeframe become the diagnostic determinants. The long and short of it is, these symptoms make it harder to function in everyday life. They are present because of the medical condition or life event and they make it hard to address medical needs or create supportive changes needed to address large life changes.
There are 5 types of Adjustment Disorder:
- Adjustment disorder with depressed mood (I am sad for what I am losing: my health, my physical function, foods, hobbies, and/or roles I value)
- Adjustment disorder with anxiety (I am scared for the future, I can’t…, I won’t be able to…, what if I…)
- Adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood (I am sad and scared, things will never be the same and this isn’t the future I saw for myself)
- Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct (I am angry, I am out of control, I am not doing anything, I am doing everything)
- Adjustment disorder- unspecified. (My symptoms don’t fit the other types of adjustment disorders, but I might have physical aches, pains, problems with my family or social life, or I am having a hard time working or meeting the demands of school.
Complications that Impact Adjustment
Adjustment to life transitions and stressor scan be complicated by our past experiences or present complications:
- Stress or trauma in childhood
- Other mental health diagnoses
- A new medical diagnosis or chronic medical condition
- Experiencing multiple life changes or stressors at the same time
If stressors related to a life transition or an adjustment disorder don’t resolve naturally with time, they can lead to more serious mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, or substance abuse.