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What is Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety?

According to research, approximately 6.9% of adults in the United States receive a diagnosis for adjustment disorder every year. This disorder typically develops following a significant life change or sudden stressful even

When a stressful event comes up or a sudden change of circumstances, many people experience a wide range of emotions. However, some people may find that they are having trouble functioning daily. If you are experiencing these feelings and finding that this adjustment is getting in the way of your ability to function, then you may be experiencing adjustment disorder with anxiety. 

What Is Adjustment Disorder?

According to research, approximately 6.9% of adults in the United States receive a diagnosis for adjustment disorder every year. This disorder typically develops following a significant life change or sudden stressful event. 

Adjustment disorder with anxiety differs from stress. This disorder comes about when a person cannot cope or adjust to the changes in their life. It can present emotionally, mentally, and physically. 

To receive an adjustment disorder diagnosis, the person will usually experience specific symptoms after the stressful event. Recent findings have determined that the diagnostic criteria for adjustment disorder with anxiety have symptoms lasting for approximately six months. If symptoms persist beyond this timeframe, it can be chronic, a different mental health issue, or both.

What Are Some Causes for Adjustment Disorder?

Many events can lead to adjustment disorder. Some of the leading causes include: 

  • the death of a loved one
  • job loss
  • relationships problems or divorce 
  • moving 

Since everyone is unique in their response to challenging events, activating events for adjustment disorder can vary.

What Are the Symptoms?

Some of the most common symptoms of adjustment disorder include:

  • difficulty with concentration
  • memory trouble or loss
  • feeling overwhelmed with everyday tasks or activities
  • feeling worried
  • fatigue
  • twitching of muscles 
  • sleep issues, like insomnia or difficulty staying asleep
  • crying frequently 
  • changes in appetite
  • suicidal ideation

Are the Symptoms Similar to Anxiety? 

People who have anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) do not always have anxiety from a specific event.

However, some symptoms are similar in both anxiety and adjustment disorder. These include feelings of sadness and hopelessness, difficulties with sleep, overwhelming feelings of worry, and feeling nervous and/or jittery. 

How Is Adjustment Disorder Different Than PTSD?

Adjustment disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have some similarities but are both different conditions. They each have different approaches to treatments, as well.

The most significant difference between adjustment disorder and PTSD is that a stressful event or life change activates adjustment disorder. On the other hand, PTSD is triggered by a traumatic event like military combat, rape, sexual assault, and physical abuse.

Some symptoms of PTSD can also involve flashbacks, avoiding reminders of the incident, or feelings of guilt.

How Does Adjustment Disorder Differ From Depression?

Depression is generally characterized as having difficulty with emotion regulation. While adjustment disorder may seem similar to depression, the cause and how long the symptoms last make them different. 

Adjustment disorder generally lasts up to 6 months due to a change in life events. Depression, on the other hand, is more long-term and can be a result of environmental, psychological, or genetic factors.

Some medical professionals view adjustment disorder as situational depression since the symptoms can be similar but don’t last as long. 

How Is This Disorder Diagnosed and Treated?

According to a 2019 study, diagnosing adjustment disorder is becoming more common, and the methods are improving. Doctors will diagnose this mental health condition if a person experiences the previously mentioned symptoms due to a change in circumstance. 

For those experiencing symptoms of adjustment disorder, many short and long-term treatments can help. These include:

  • psychotherapy and counseling 
  • Prescription medications like antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications 
  • Regular exercise
  • Discussing their emotions with trusted loved ones. 

When to See a Doctor

Adjustment disorder is not always temporary. Even though some may cope with the stress after some time, many have this stressful event remaining as a part of their lives. Sometimes even a new stressor or life change can come up and the emotional struggle from before can come back.

If you are continuing to have challenges from adjustment disorder, it may be time to see a doctor. There are many treatment options that can help you cope better with stressful events and help you get back to your life.

In Summary

Many people experience adjustment disorder after a stressful life event or change in circumstance. If these symptoms are becoming debilitating and impacting your wellbeing, it may be time to speak to a doctor, especially if the symptoms have lasted several weeks. 

For people who have experienced symptoms for a more extended period, you should also talk to a medical professional in case you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder or depression.  

If you are experiencing suicidal ideation or thinking of harming yourself, be sure to reach out for help and find the support you need. For those who are worried that someone is an immediate suicidal risk, get help right away and call the national emergency services and do not leave them by themselves if possible.

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Billie Olsen

AUTHOR: Billie Olsen

Billie Olsen (she/they) is a lifestyle writer, disability justice advocate, and cozy femme located in Kelowna, BC, Canada. Their works have appeared in Metro News, Discorder, Sophomore Magazine, the Post-Feminist Post, DINE Magazine, and NerdReader.