Adjustment Disorders

Adjustment disorders are often confused with mood disorders or anxiety-related disorders because the symptoms are similar.  When you experience excess stress disproportionate to the normal expected response to a particular life event and it causes notable distress or impairment in functioning (e.g. problems at work, school, or in relationships), you may have this stress-related condition.

Life transitions, work conflicts, illness, death of a close relative, and other life changes can cause stress.  Typically, people adjust to the changes over the course of a few months.  When the stress-related symptoms persist, however, you may have an adjustment disorder.  

Symptoms of adjustment disorders can look very similar to symptoms of mood disorders or anxiety-related disorders.  The distinguishing features are the presence of an identifiable major life stressor, symptoms, and effects on the ability to function.  Symptoms may vary depending on the type of adjustment. They can impact how you perceive yourself and the world, influencing your actions and behaviors. 

Associated behaviors include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless or not enjoying things you used to enjoy
  • Recurrent crying spells
  • Excessive worry or feeling uneasy, jittery, edgy, frazzled or stressed out
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Lack of appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Trouble functioning in daily activities
  • Refusing social supports
  • Delay or avoid carrying out important obligations (i.e. work, bills)
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

Symptoms of adjustment disorders surface within three months of the stressful event and last no longer than 6 months following the event.  If the stressful situation is on-going and the symptoms persist, then the adjustment disorder may continue. 


Some adjustment disorders require only brief treatment while those experiencing on-going stress may require further attention.  If you are experiencing symptoms, psychotherapy is the primary course of treatment.  Psychotherapy can a) provide emotional support, b) help you return to your baseline level of function, c) understand why the stressful event adversely impacted you, and d) teach you coping skills to manage stress.
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