Adjustment Disorder is a broad term used to describe difficulties coping, or disproportionate distress in response to a significant life event. Causes of adjustment disorders include but are not limited to the death of a loved one, separation, changing jobs or living arrangements, illness/injury, financial strain, interpersonal conflict, or sexual issues. Adjustment disorder may present with low mood, tearfulness, hopelessness, nervousness, worry, separation anxiety, restlessness, impulsiveness or risky behaviour, social withdrawal, reduced self-esteem, insomnia, fatigue, headaches, nausea, heart palpitations, body pain or soreness and suicidal thoughts. It can affect people of any age and background. In children and teens, symptoms tend to be more behavioural in nature, such as skipping school, acting out, or fighting. In adults, symptoms tend to be more emotional, often presenting as anxiety and sadness.
If you are currently or have recently experienced a significant change or life event, you may notice yourself experiencing these symptoms. Adjustment Disorders, if left untreated, can develop into major depressive disorder or an anxiety disorder, and so, it is essential to seek help as soon as possible. Of course, this can be especially difficult to do while experiencing a major life change, none the less it is important to do so. It may be comforting to know many people experience an adjustment disorder at some point in their life and with the right treatment these issues are resolved, and your original quality of life can be regained or even exceeded. Adjustment disorders are very treatable, especially with the help of a trained psychologist or counsellor. However, there are a few things that you can do in the meantime to help address the symptoms and thought patterns related to adjustment disorders.
You can get a head start on your healing journey by doing activities to distract from reliving the past events that are causing your distress. Here are two easy methods you can start today:
1. Go for a walk. When going for a walk, our brain releases a chemical called endorphins which are responsible for stimulating relaxation and improving our mood. By going for a walk first thing in the morning, you are setting yourself up with a positive and productive mindset to start the day. Likewise, a walk in the evening can be an excellent way to reduce the stressors you’ve faced throughout your day.
2. Breathing Exercises. If you find yourself in a stressful situation or mindset, do you find yourself breathing slowly and deeply, or fast and shallow? When we experience (or even think of) a stressful situation, our breathing becomes fast and shallow as our body prepares for fight, flight, or freeze. By spending just five minutes focusing on breathing slowly and deeply, your mind and body will get the message that there is nothing threatening or harmful in the present moment. Practicing this technique for five minutes in the morning and evening, you will gradually train your conscious and subconscious mind to live in the present moment, rather than in the negative events of the past.
While these techniques are a great practice to start the healing process, the best treatment for adjustment disorder is psychotherapy (Constantin et al., 2020). Therapies commonly implemented for the treatment of adjustment disorder include (Carta et al., 2009; Constantin et al., 2020):
– Family and group therapies
– Support groups
– Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)
– Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)
– Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Family, couples, and group therapies (eg our Retreats) often have a focus on communication skills and can address issues that are faced by the whole group, as well as provide useful information to facilitate the support of loved ones, this can be especially helpful for children and young people with adjustment issues or when adjustment disorders are resulting from a relevant topic such as a family breakdown.
Support groups offer an environment and communication tone where like-minded people with similar lived experience can relate and provide support. Additionally, support groups can provide opportunity to improve social, interpersonal and communication skills.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) addresses maladaptive thoughts or misplaced attributions of negative emotions in relation to the stressor. It may also include activity scheduling, problem solving, anger management and stress management and relaxation therapies.
Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) approaches for adjustment disorder include education about the disorder, a focus on the ‘here and now’, and consideration of different options for changing maladaptive behaviour patterns.
Stress Inoculation Training (SIT) is used when the Adjustment Disorder is especially related to stress. SIT focuses on enhancing a person’s sense of control and their ability to manage their emotions and behaviours when faced with the stressor or reminder of the stressor.
A combination of two or more of these therapies, amongst others, may be utilised in the treatment of adjustment disorders. As you begin the process of resolving the issues you are facing, having a trained psychologist or counsellor to help guide the treatment process and discuss the best options for you is essential to a holistic recovery. With the support of a therapist and the mindfulness practices mentioned earlier, you will be well on your way to developing effective coping strategies and reducing the symptoms associated with Adjustment Disorder.
It can sometimes be easy to rationalise avoiding therapy when others have coped differently, or you feel your concerns are unjustified. We are here to help, regardless of the issues you face and no matter how ‘big’ or ‘small’ they may be, what matters is how you feel and how life’s stressors effect you. We will do everything we can to make sure that you can go on to live your finest life. If you are experiencing the symptoms associated with Adjustment Disorder or have recently experienced significant life event that you are having trouble coping with, don’t hesitate to get help. You can book an appointment with one of our trained therapists online and then all you have to do is show up – we’ve made it even easier, with the option of a video call if that better suits your needs.
Carta, M. G., Balestrieri, M., Murru, A., & Hardoy, M. C. (2009). Adjustment Disorder: epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment. Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health, 5(15). https://doi.org/10.1186/1745-0179-5-15
Constantin, D., Dinu, E. A., Rogozea, L., Burtea, V., & Leasu, F.-G. (2020). Therapeutic Interventions for Adjustment Disorder: A Systematic Review. American Journal of Therapeutics, 27(4), 375-386. https://doi.org/10.1097/MJT.0000000000001170