Adjustment Disorders

By Dr. Loretta Lanphier, ND, CN, HHP, CH

Life on planet earth is stressful any way you slice it. We all have to deal with change, problems, and difficulties in our lives – it’s simply part of the human condition. However, some people have a more difficult time adjusting to the ups and downs, and this typically occurs due to a number of factors. Sometimes individuals who have trouble bouncing back from stressors in their lives are diagnosed with a stress-related mental illness called Adjustment Disorder (AD).

As we live our lives, it is normal to experience periods of adjustment. Psychiatrists have certain criteria that they use in order to identify someone with Adjustment Disorder. If one is unable to recover from a one-time stressor or ongoing stress in a reasonable amount of time, Adjustment Disorder may be a possibility.

What Are the Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder?

These may vary widely based on the individual and the type of Adjustment Disorder they may be suffering from. However, there are some common signs that may point toward the Adjustment Disorder. These include:

  • Emotional numbness (shutting down)
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling overwhelmed by life problems
  • Feeling sadness or depression
  • Emotional outbursts (crying spells, rage)
  • Anxiety
  • Worry
  • Desperation
  • Forgetfulness
  • Poor concentration
  • Lack of joy or purpose in life
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Sleeping too much

In addition to the above internal or emotional symptoms, some people with Adjustment Disorder may also act out and have behavioral symptoms such as:

  • Isolating or avoiding social situations
  • Aggressive actions and attitudes toward others
  • Inability to perform well at work or school
  • Acts of vandalism
  • Failing to manage day-to-day affairs (such as paying bills)

What Can Trigger an Adjustment Disorder?

Because Adjustment Disorder is defined as a stress-related mental illness, it is no surprise that the triggers which may set it off in a person are typically stressors. These can be either one-time events or ongoing stressful lifestyles and situations.

It is interesting to take a look at studies regarding this condition that indicate that in children and teens, both genders have about the same chance of developing Adjustment Disorder, all other factors being equal. However, when looking at adults with Adjustment Disorder, men have about 50% the incidence rate that women do. Ongoing research is trying to determine why this gender discrepancy exists. However, it is thought that the development of Adjustment Disorder is a complex process involving many factors. Some of these include brain chemistry, personality and temperament, as well as life experiences and learned behaviors that have taught certain people how to deal with stress differently. Adjustment Disorder may have much to do with what we learn as children in our families of origin about dealing with the inevitable stress in life – either in healthy ways or in not so healthy ways.

Stress has many consequences in our lives, both physically, mentally, and spiritually. Stress is usually associated with negative events, but it is important to remember that even good things in our lives can be stressful, especially if they involve change.

Stressors that may contribute to the development of Adjustment Disorder include:

  • Death of a child, spouse, or other loved one
  • A serious illness, either acute or chronic
  • Stress over money (financial problems)
  • Poverty
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional assalit or abuse
  • Divorce
  • Children changing family situations (through adoption, divorce, etc.)
  • Job loss or unemployment
  • A new job or career
  • Retiring
  • Getting married
  • Pregnancy
  • Changing schools or neighborhoods
  • Moving
  • Living in a dysfunctional or abusive family
  • Combat or potential military combat
  • Teasing or blilying in school
  • Relational stress on the job
  • Living in a dangerous or high-crime area

It is also thought that an individual who struggles with other mental health conditions may be at greater risk for Adjustment Disorder. Some of the complications of Adjustment Disorder or in conjunction with Adjustment Disorder may include:

  • Substance abuse
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Antisocial behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts, feelings, or behaviors
  • Other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, neurosis, psychosis, etc.

Are There Different Types of Adjustment Disorders?

Psychiatrists have grouped Adjustment Disorder into several different categories. The first major classification is either acute adjustment disorder or chronic adjustment disorder.

Acute Adjustment Disorder occurs for six months or less and is triggered by a one-time event or series of events in short order. An example would be someone who experiences the death of a loved one or a sudden job loss. Most people who are otherwise emotionally healthy may show some symptoms of Adjustment Disorder, but will recover without intervention especially if they have healthy lifestyle habits (more on this later).

Chronic Adjustment Disorder exhibits symptoms for longer than six months, and may be more challenging to reverse. Chronic Adjustment Disorder involves ongoing stress such as living in an abusive family or relationship or dealing with chronic illness in yourself or a family member.

The diagnosis of mental illness is an imperfect system at best, but six types of Adjustment Disorder have been identified:

  • Adjustment Disorder unspecified
  • Adjustment Disorder with depressed mood
  • Adjustment Disorder with anxiety
  • Adjustment Disorder with both depressed mood and anxiety
  • Adjustment Disorder with disturbance of conduct
  • Adjustment Disorder with both disturbance of conduct and emotions

A word of caution: When seeking input from a healthcare provider for Adjustment Disorder or any other mental illness, be careful of anyone who quickly or easily gives a certain diagnosis, especially if they want to immediately throw medication at the problem. Antidepressants and other drugs typically prescribed for mental illness or behavioral problems will often cause more harm than good and sidetrack the patient or their parents from dealing with the root issues and finding long-term healing instead of simply masking symptoms. This is especially true for children and teens. Fortunately, there are some very effective natural and non-invasive ways to treat or prevent Adjustment Disorder.

How Do I Know If I Have Adjustment Disorder?

This is a very good question, as we all have to deal with stress in our lives. Negative responses to difficulties in life (such as fear, sadness, confusion, etc.) are completely normal. When sad things happen, we should feel sad. When fearful events enter our lives, it is normal to feel afraid.

Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of degree and balance in our lives. If we are having a difficult time conquering negative emotions or behaviors after a stressful setback, or if this process is taking an unusually long time, this could be a red flag. Another thing to watch out for is patterns in our lives. If we consistently struggle when stress occurs – in patterns that are unhealthy and repetitive – this may also be a sign of potential Adjustment Disorder.

Perhaps the best thing to do is take stock or inventory of things in your life that can be considered stressful and look at how you have been dealing with them, for good or for bad. This may help you to better determine if you have Adjustment Disorder issues. It is also helpful to talk this over with a trusted friend or healthcare provider to gain their perspective as well. Parents, watch your kids carefully, especially if they have high-stress lives. Talk to them and work to keep lines of communication open, as many children and teens tend to keep negative thoughts and feelings bottled up. Just getting them to open up may be the best “treatment” you can offer.

How Can Adjustment Disorder Best Be Treated or Prevented?

The good news about Adjustment Disorder is that it can primarily be avoided or treated through lifestyle changes that we should all be implementing for our personal wellness – Adjustment Disorder or no Adjustment Disorder. Some of these include:

  • A support network. We all need friends, family, or other individuals we can get to know and let them know us. This is particularly vital when we are dealing with stressful times in our lives. Keep in mind that it is much easier to access these trusted friends if the relationships are already in place and developed before stress strikes. Sharing our troubles, joys, and achievements with others is the best antidote for mental and emotional disorders of all types.
  • A healthy diet. What and how we eat has a myriad of repercussions on both our physical and emotional lives. A diet based on lots of organic fruits and vegetables, essential fatty acids, healthy fats, and plant-based protein sources will keep our minds and bodies fit and able to absorb and utilize the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients we need to thrive. Consistently eating well is one of the best disease-fighters anyone can use.
  • Pure, clean water. The cells of our body are literally bathed in water. >Water is needed for every function in the body. It is estimated that a very high percentage of people are chronically dehydrated. People who are dehydrated usually have difficulty with any type of stress. Drink at least one-half of your body weight in ounces of water – every day. You will not only feel better, you will also look better.
  • Daily Exercise. Regular physical activity can prevent and/or help tremendously with Adjustment Disorder.Working up a good sweat releases endorphins that help stabilize our moods and make it easier for us to relax. Deep-breathing is also an excellent stress-reducer both when exercising and at rest.
  • Daily Sunshine.It is extremely important that the body get enough Vitamin D-3.This can be accomplished through daily sunshine (30 minutes) and/or by consuming a liquid Vitamin D-3 supplement.
  • Sleep. The importance of plenty of quality sleep cannot be understated. The body and mind needs this time of restoration and repair.Sufficient sleep is critical when we are under stress or dealing with symptoms associated with Adjustment Disorder.
  • Non-Toxic Supplementation Recommended are an all-natural B-Complex, extra Vitamin B-6, Lithium Orotate, Pure Energy and a liquid, organic multi-vitamin-mineral complex such as intraMAX.

When overcoming Adjustment Disorder or other stress-related illnesses, it is critical that one does not let these “lifestyle of wellness” habits lapse or get lost in the shuffle. Consistently practicing them before, during, and after stressful events in life is one of the secrets to a life that is balanced both physically and emotionally.

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