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Adjustment Disorder: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Stress can trigger many mental health issues, such as PTSD, depression, or anxiety. The psychological effects caused by stress are too many to ignore. I call it a form of mentally agonizing slow death.

The impact of stress may lead you to live a mundane, unproductive existence without purpose. The negative effects include extreme exhaustion, helplessness, difficulty focusing on everyday tasks, frequent outbursts of anger, lack of sleep, and more.

Today, I will discuss one of the least known stress-related mental conditions, which is Adjustment disorder, in this article. Read on!

What is Adjustment Disorder?

What is Adjustment Disorder

In this section, we will understand what exactly is adjustment disorder.

Adjustment disorder or stress response syndrome is characterized by the inability of the person to adapt to life changes and sudden events, such as coping with grief due to the loss of loved ones.

As the name suggests, adjustment is associated with adaptation. Disorder, in simple words, means trouble managing significant life changes. It is also known as situational depression due to the presence of some of the signs of clinical depression.

According to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), adjustment disorders show stress-induced emotional and behavioral reactions within three months after experiencing specific stressors or stress-causing events.

Also, it is important to understand that there is no other diagnosable mental condition or underlying symptoms when the patient suffers from adjustment disorder.

The problem is standalone and isn’t generally clubbed with any other illnesses. So, adjustment disorder should not be confused with worsened symptoms of an already existing condition.

Causes of Adjustment Disorder

Let us take a look at some of the primary causes of adjustment disorder.

There are several reasons and stressors of adjustment disorder. Predominantly, traumatic childhood or past experiences such as being assaulted, ragged, and bullied can lead to an overwhelming build-up of bad memories and negative emotions.

Similar events witnessed later in life as an adolescent or adult can trigger the past, eventually leading to adjustment disorder.

The passing of loved ones and relationship difficulties can also be one of the causes as it leads to a sudden flurry of negative emotions that may be tough to deal with for some people.

Financial difficulties, conflicts in marriage or at work, and major life transitions such as retirement, adulting, parenthood, and moving out to live in a new city can be overwhelming and may trigger adjustment disorder.

Constant disagreements at work or school and multiple distressing incidents can also cause adjustment disorder.

The above causes are more likely to induce adjustment disorder if you are genetically predisposed to it.

Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder

Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder

This section will cover the signs and symptoms of adjustment disorder.

The symptoms of adjustment disorder will depend on the type of adjustment disorder you are affected by. Generally, you can expect these to last for about three to six months. Eliminating the key stressors can help you effectively get rid of the symptoms.

It may not be an adjustment disorder if it continues beyond six months, drastically affecting your daily routine. Here is when your mental healthcare provider’s diagnosis will matter, which may even change the course of treatment.

Now, let us go through the six different categories of adjustment disorder.

1. Anxiety

An adjustment disorder marked by prominent anxiety will make you feel excessively sad and worried. Being constantly nervous is another symptom you or your doctor will look for.

2. Extreme Depressive Moods

Extreme depressive moods

You will feel extremely exhausted for extended periods and lose hope and interest in most activities that were earlier the most important or enjoyable to you. It is similar to episodes of sadness experienced during major depressive disorder, but they have a shorter span comparatively.

3. A Mix of Both Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms

This might be tricky to identify as the signs of depression and anxiety overlap in this type of adjustment disorder. It includes symptoms such as separation anxiety, loss of interest in previously entertaining or enjoyable activities, and a tendency to tear up and be quickly overwhelmed.

4. Excessive Distress

Excessive distress

You will always be stressed out if you are dealing with this type of adjustment disorder. The most common signs you should look for are being constantly occupied by unexplainable stress, difficulty concentrating on work or academics, extreme uneasiness, socially distant behavior, and an excessive sense of being overwhelmed.

5. Inappropriate Behavior

The common symptoms are regularly engaging in socially unacceptable behavior, vandalism, rash driving, aggression, and frequent tardiness at school. Children tend to become more cranky and pick constant fights at home as well as at school.

6. Emotional Disturbance

Emotional Disturbance

The intensity of emotional disturbance is not as high as seen in most schizophrenia or bipolar disorder patients. However, you may experience mild to moderate emotional imbalances and feel socially maladjusted if you suffer from this adjustment disorder.

This results from a combination of symptoms of anxiety, depression, and uncontrolled misbehavior.

Diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder

This section covers how to diagnose adjustment disorders correctly.

Adjustment disorders can also trigger some inconsistent signs and symptoms. These can have detrimental effects on your health. Moreover, it is an open invitation to many academic and professional challenges moving ahead.

Therefore, getting yourself evaluated as soon as possible is important because this condition cannot be entirely prevented.

The following markers can help you identify the initial signs. There are additional examinations and assessments that your doctor may ask you to take to confirm the diagnosis.

  • You ideally do not have any other comorbid conditions
  • Your grieving pattern after losing someone is quite unusual, and it does not seem like typical mourning
  • There is a set of specific stressors that trigger this condition in your case, and the symptoms appear following exposure to stress, usually within three months
  • Suicidal tendencies are rare, but there is always a possibility that cannot be ruled out

Treatments for Adjustment Disorder

Treatments for Adjustment Disorder

The treatment protocol for adjustment disorder is not clearly defined. However, your provider will formulate your care plan based on the various mental health evaluation test results. In most cases, talk therapy and medication management go hand in hand to manage the symptoms effectively.

Psychotherapy (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), or counseling by identifying negative emotions, remains the preferred care method. It focuses on helping you develop a sustainable coping mechanism to deal with stressors and stressful circumstances better.

If your child struggles with adjustment disorder, family talk therapy is a more effective and commonly used treatment option.

In patients with a moderately severe scale of adjustment disorder, mental healthcare providers are also known to prescribe SNRIs (Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors ), SSRIs (Serotonin reuptake inhibitors), and anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines,

Your doctor may also suggest taking certain medicines to help with irregular sleep patterns and antidepressants in extreme cases causing severe panic or nervousness.

Adjustment disorder is fully treatable if properly diagnosed. So, let us look at the different effective treatment options.

Is Adjustment Disorder a Serious Mental Condition?

This section will dispel the popular myth that adjustment disorder is a long-term, serious mental illness.

Adjustment disorder is concerning, but it is neither a severe condition nor a chronic mental disorder.

It does not fall into serious mental illnesses that usually impair a person’s regular functioning capabilities. And even hamper their personal as well as professional development.

Adjustment disorder is a type of poor emotional response to certain stressors. The response is generally exaggerated and can trigger extreme behavior when the patient experiences higher levels of distress.


The bottom line is that Adjustment Disorder is not a life-threatening mental condition. It is short-term and can be easily resolved with the above treatments.

Remember to make healthy lifestyle choices, and if your child is going through this, make sure they have your love and support every step of the way.

Here are some additional tips to support your adjustment disorder treatment:

  • Stay away from negativity.
  • Stay in touch with support groups or trustworthy friends/colleagues
  • Think about the things that make you happy
  • Refrain from overly focusing on the stressors, but also do not entirely avoid them. Instead, reflect on them. This is hard, but try to involve a close friend or family member to prevent yourself from getting anxious or carried away with negative thoughts.
  • Try yoga and mindfulness meditation or breathing exercises for relaxation
  • Keep yourself hydrated and eat nutritious food
  • Exercise regularly and ensure you get plenty of restful sleep

You have to put in the work, and it is not optional. So, make every little effort to succeed in treating adjustment disorder.

Reach out to your mental healthcare provider on time and be consistent throughout your treatment for better outcomes. You will see amazing results!

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