Adjustment to Life Stressors

Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment Disorder is defined as the presence of emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to an identifiable stressor/s, which occurred within three months of the beginning of the stressor/s. The distress may be out of proportion with the expected reactions to the stressor and cause impairment in functioning.

The reaction is not considered part of normal bereavement and when the stressor is removed or the individual has begun to adjust and cope, the symptoms subside.

Symptoms related to Adjustment Disorder

Symptoms can show for a single event or continually stressful circumstances. The usual stressors are interruptions in close relationships except for bereavement; events that disrupt adjustment, such as disasters; and job failure or loss. Symptoms may include:

  • Low mood
  • Worry
  • Insomnia
  • Sadness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety
  • Angry or disruptive behavior
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling as if trapped and have no other options
  • Feeling isolated

Children and adolescents typically show the following symptoms in Adjustment Disorder:

  • Irritable
  • Depressed
  • Poor sleep
  • Poor grades and performance in school 

Stressors That May Cause Adjustment Disorders

Stressors can be a single event, such as:

  • *Divorce or break-up of a relationship.
  • *Being fired from a job.

There may be multiple stressors, including:

  • *Difficulties with a business and marital problems.

Stressors may be recurrent, such as:

  • *Business crises that occur in the “off-season.”
  • *Unfulfilling sexual relationships.

Continuous stressors can include:

  • *Continuous painful illness that increases disability.
  • *Residing in a crime-filled community.

Some stressors can affect an entire family or community, such as:

  • *A natural disaster.
  • *Terrorism.

Some of the stressors can accompany specific developmental events, such as:

  • Getting married.
  • Going to school.
  • Becoming a parent.
  • Leaving the parents’ home.
  • Re-entering the parents’ home after being away (such as having been at college, after a marriage or relationship breakup, or loss of a job).
  • Failure to succeed in a career.
  • Retirement

Diagnosis and Treatment

Psychotherapy is usually the best choice for Adjustment Disorder, because the disorder is seen as temporary and a somewhat normal reaction to a stressful event. The therapist works with the individual to find new behaviors and ideas and helps them to be able to deal more effectively with the problem. In addition, the therapist helps the individual find a clearer understanding of the issue/s. The treatment will often stress the significance of social support in the individual’s life. If there’s an issue with stress, therapy may also include relaxation training and techniques.

While Adjustment Disorder rarely extends beyond six months, there may be some lasting feeling that happens beyond that time frame. Those are normal and are usually not serious enough to require additional treatment.