The most predictable facet of life is its unpredictability. When we expect things to zig, they zag. When this happens, many people can be struck with something called adjustment disorder. Adjustment Disorder (sometimes referred to as Stress Response Syndrome) is when one experiences an acute or persistent emotional reaction filled with irrational thoughts and behavior after a major life change. The response is often disruptive and can impact quality of life. These events can trigger a period of adjusting where you experience significant stress and anxiety.
Some common life events include:
● The sudden or impending death of a loved one
● Being diagnosed with a serious or chronic illness
● Being the victim of a crime
● Job changes
● Surviving through a major accident or a disaster
● Significant life changes like getting married, having a baby, going to college, retiring, etc.
Adjustment Disorder differs from diagnoses such as major clinical depression or general anxiety disorder based on the number of symptoms, the intensity and primarily length of time. When managing adjustment disorder the manifestation may present as feeling overwhelmed, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal from others and trouble sleeping. Most of the time we can cope with our ever-changing lives but sometimes our stressors are abrupt, short term and/or intermittent and we simply have difficulty “getting back to normal”.
Typically, people adjust within a few months after a life changing event but when the response to the life disruption is extended, we encourage clients to seek treatment. This is not one size fits all; symptoms will vary from person to person. If you are suffering after a life event, here are some ways you can manage:
1. Seek professional help – Speak with your physician’s office, get into therapy - either one-on-one with a mental health professional or in a group setting to learn the right coping skills to help yourself.
2. Reduce daily stressors – Avoid things that trigger an intense negative reaction for you. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to manage your boundaries for self-care as you adjust.
3. Medicine – Depending on the symptoms a low dose antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication may help reduce the impact and help you identify the appropriate coping skills .
4. Be mindful of your intake – Maintaining a good diet not only helps your body but your mind as well. Try to reduce or eliminate your alcohol or caffeine intake as well.
5. Lean on your support system – Tell your friends and/or family about how you’re feeling. Having someone you trust that to listen without judgment or shaming is invaluable during times of stress.
There is no foolproof way to prevent Adjustment Disorder; but getting help early will lessen your symptoms. If left untreated, it can develop into a more serious condition like major depressive disorder. A licensed mental health professional can teach you ways to cope with stress and anxiety and put you on the path to wellness.