Adjustment Disorders

Find a Mental Health Provider near you


Adjustment disorders are complex reactions to stress that involve negative thoughts, intense emotions, and behavioral changes. The response to a challenging event is far more intense than usual, leading to difficulties in personal relationships, work, or school.

Life-changing events such as work-related issues, starting school, dealing with an illness, or various other changes can trigger stress. Usually, people adapt to such changes within a few months. However, individuals with adjustment disorders continue to experience emotional and behavioral disturbances, leading to increased anxiety or depression.

Fortunately, treatment options are available to help individuals regain emotional well-being.

Symptoms of Adjustment Disorders

Symptoms of adjustment disorders can vary depending on the individual and the specific type of disorder. The stress experienced in response to a challenging event significantly impacts daily life, leading to various symptoms such as:

  • Feeling persistent sadness, hopelessness, or loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Frequent crying episodes.
  • Experiencing excessive worry, anxiety, nervousness, or feeling overwhelmed.
  • Feeling irritable, unable to cope with daily tasks, and unsure of where to start.
  • Having trouble sleeping and experiencing disruptions in sleep patterns.
  • Changes in appetite, leading to not eating enough.
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
  • Struggling with daily activities and responsibilities.
  • Withdrawing from social interactions with supportive friends and family.
  • Neglecting important tasks, like work or bill payments.
  • Having thoughts of suicide or engaging in self-harming behaviors.

Typically, symptoms of adjustment disorders develop within three months of a stressful event and last no longer than six months after the event’s end. However, in cases where the stressor is ongoing (e.g., long-term unemployment), the adjustment disorder may persist for more than six months.

Seeking Help

While stressors are often temporary, adjustment disorder symptoms can endure if the underlying stress persists or if new stressors emerge. It is essential to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional if you find it challenging to cope with daily life or if you struggle to get through each day.

If you are concerned about a child’s behavior, consult with their doctor to address the issues promptly.

Dealing with Suicidal Thoughts

Individuals with adjustment disorders are at higher risk of suicidal thoughts or behaviors. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, it is vital to reach out for immediate help. Consider contacting a suicide hotline for counseling:

  • In the U.S., call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24/7. You can also use the Lifeline Chat service, which is free and private.
  • U.S. veterans or service members can call 988 and press “1” for the Veterans Crisis Line, or text 838255, or chat online for support.
  • The U.S. Suicide & Crisis Lifeline offers a toll-free Spanish-language phone line at 1-888-628-9454.

Causes and Risk Factors

Major life changes or stressors are the primary causes of adjustment disorders. A combination of genetics, life experiences, and temperament may contribute to an individual’s susceptibility to developing an adjustment disorder.

Various risk factors can increase the likelihood of experiencing an adjustment disorder, including:

  • Experiencing significant stress during childhood, such as bullying or academic challenges.
  • Marital issues or divorce.
  • Difficulties in relationships or conflicts with others.
  • Major life transitions like retirement, parenthood, or relocation.
  • Experiencing traumatic events, such as losing a job, the death of a loved one, or financial problems.
  • Challenges at school or work.
  • Surviving life-threatening experiences, like physical assault, combat, or natural disasters.
  • Experiencing ongoing stressors like chronic illness or living in high-crime areas.
  • Experiencing multiple major changes or stressful events simultaneously.
  • Having other mental health conditions like major depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Complications and Prevention

If left unresolved, adjustment disorders can lead to more severe mental health conditions such as anxiety, major depression, or substance abuse.

While there are no guaranteed methods to prevent adjustment disorders, certain strategies can help during times of high stress:

  • Seek social support from friends and family.
  • Learn healthy coping skills to manage stress effectively.
  • Develop resilience to recover quickly from challenging situations.
  • Plan ahead and increase healthy habits when anticipating stressful events.
  • Consult healthcare or mental health professionals to explore healthy stress management techniques.

From Project Semicolon to your inbox

Sign up for free and stay up to date on advancements, health tips, current health topics, and expertise on managing health.


An adjustment disorder is a mental health condition characterized by excessive reactions to stress, leading to negative thoughts, intense emotions, and changes in behavior. If you suspect you might have an adjustment disorder, a mental health professional can help diagnose your condition by conducting a thorough assessment. They will explore major life stressors, your symptoms, and how they impact your daily life. Additionally, they may inquire about your medical, mental health, and social history to gain a comprehensive understanding.

Diagnosis Criteria

The diagnosis of adjustment disorders involves certain established guidelines, which include:

  • Experiencing emotional or behavioral symptoms within three months of a specific stressful event.
  • Displaying a higher-than-expected stress response to a life event, causing significant problems in personal connections, work, or school.
  • Ensuring that the symptoms are not attributable to another mental health issue or part of the typical grieving process.

Types of Adjustment Disorders

There are six recognized types of adjustment disorders, each with distinct symptoms:

  1. With Depressed Mood: Symptoms include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  2. With Anxiety: Symptoms consist of nervousness, worry, difficulty concentrating, and feeling overwhelmed. In children, separation anxiety from loved ones may be prevalent.
  3. With Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood: This type exhibits a combination of depressive and anxious symptoms.
  4. With Disturbed Conduct: Symptoms mainly involve behavioral issues like fighting or reckless driving. Children and teenagers may skip school or engage in destructive behaviors.
  5. With Disturbed Emotions and Conduct: This type involves a mixture of depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems.
  6. Unspecified: This category includes symptoms that do not fit into other types of adjustment disorders and may involve physical, family, or work-related problems.

Duration of Symptoms

The length of adjustment disorder symptoms can vary:

  • Short-term: Symptoms last six months or less, often called acute symptoms, and typically ease once the stressful event passes.
  • Long-term: Symptoms persist for more than six months, known as persistent or chronic symptoms, and continue to disrupt daily life.

Treatment Options

Fortunately, many individuals with adjustment disorders respond well to treatment, often requiring only brief interventions. Others, especially those with persistent symptoms or ongoing stress, may benefit from longer treatment. Treatment options include talk therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy, also known as talk psychotherapy, serves as the primary treatment for adjustment disorders. This therapeutic approach can be conducted individually, in a group setting, or as family therapy. Talk therapy can provide emotional support, assist in returning to a regular routine, help identify triggers for stress, and teach coping skills to manage stressful events effectively.


In some cases, medication such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs may be prescribed alongside talk therapy to address symptoms of depression and anxiety. Medication use may be temporary, typically lasting a few months. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before discontinuing any medication, as sudden cessation may lead to adverse physical reactions, especially with certain antidepressants.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

While undergoing treatment, there are steps you can take to care for your emotional well-being and build resilience to stress:

  • Stay connected with positive and supportive loved ones and friends.
  • Engage in activities that bring joy, a sense of accomplishment, and purpose daily.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle with sufficient sleep, a balanced diet, and regular exercise.
  • Practice mindfulness through journaling, prayer, or yoga.
  • Learn from past experiences to enhance coping skills.
  • Cultivate hope and a positive outlook on the future.
  • Avoid alcohol, drugs, and other substances that can lead to addiction.
  • Identify and develop personal strengths.
  • Confront fears and embrace challenges.
  • Work towards achieving personal goals.
  • Proactively plan to handle problems rather than avoid them.

Seeking Support

During difficult times, seeking support from loved ones or joining a support group can be beneficial. It provides an outlet to share feelings and experiences with individuals facing similar challenges.

Talking to Your Child

If your child is struggling to adjust, encourage open communication to discuss their feelings. Avoid assuming that talking about difficult changes, such as divorce, will worsen their emotions. Instead, let your child express their grief while reassuring them of your unwavering love and support.

Preparing for Your Appointment

If you suspect you have an adjustment disorder, consider scheduling an appointment with a primary care professional or a mental health specialist. To make the most of your visit, be prepared by:

  • Making note of your symptoms, their duration, and triggers.
  • Sharing significant life changes, both positive and negative.
  • Providing your medical history, including other physical or mental health conditions and medications.
  • Preparing questions to ask during the appointment.

During the evaluation, expect your healthcare provider to inquire about your symptoms, coping strategies, sleeping patterns, social interactions, work or school experiences, and any previous mental health treatments.

Remember, seeking professional help is crucial in addressing adjustment disorders and paving the way for emotional well-being and improved quality of life.

Find Treatment