Mental illness: adjustment disorder

Every person experiences a situation to which he or she must adapt. You usually succeed, even if it is not always easy. If adapting to a change or event that causes stress demands more from you than you can handle, an adjustment disorder may develop. Psychological complaints may arise, making normal functioning no longer possible. What exactly does an adjustment disorder mean and how should it be treated?

Stressful event

Everyone has experienced a traumatic situation, such as the death of a loved one, a relationship breakdown, loss of a job or a move. Even if there is a less drastic event, such as an argument, it can lead to stress. Normally a person can deal with this and adapt to it, even though it sometimes takes some time. If someone is unable to function normally after the event and continues to have psychological complaints, they may have an adjustment disorder. Not every traumatic event involving stress necessarily means that an adjustment disorder will also develop.

Adjustment disorder

In most cases, the stress complaints disappear within six months after the source of stress has disappeared. In case of illness or long-term relationship problems, it may take longer because the stressors are still present (for a while). If someone has an adjustment disorder, it does not mean that someone is maladjusted, but the person has difficulty adjusting emotionally to the changed situation.


This condition can manifest itself in different ways. This varies per person and depends on how someone deals with complaints. For example, someone may have the following complaints: fatigue, sad mood, loss of interest in others, anxiety, headache and a depressed feeling. In addition, a lack of appetite and sleeping problems may occur. If there is an adjustment disorder, the person may behave very differently than normal. A sweet person can suddenly become aggressive and pick fights with others.

Way of thinking

The complaints depend on how someone deals with their problems. One of the most important factors is the way of thinking. If you look at things negatively, things can feel heavier than they really are. This may make you think that you cannot handle a certain situation and may even make you feel helpless. Often the patient has created this feeling himself. Thinking such as: I can’t do it or I have no influence on it makes you give up more quickly and stop trying to work on your own situation, which only gives you a worse image of yourself. If you develop these negative thoughts further, it can lead to psychological complaints.

Way of solving problems

Sometimes you have to learn to solve problems and you can’t see a solution yourself. During life you have learned how to deal with certain situations. For example, you may have never learned how to ask someone else for help, which means you get stuck in a situation because you do not dare to ask for help. Some people don’t have the skills to deal with change. There are different ways to deal with problems. In general, people who can deal with problems in different ways will be better able to solve problems.

An example

Suppose you only have the ability to seek distraction when you are stressed. That can work well in a number of situations. But if you are moving, for example, looking for distraction is not the solution. You must then tackle the situation and not avoid it. Then you have to use another skill to solve this. Perhaps this still needs to be learned, such as being able to ask for help or daring to confront the situation.

What can you do yourself?

If you know that a change is coming, for example an expansion of your family or you want a different job, you can prepare yourself as best as possible. If you know what negative thoughts you have when there is a stressful situation, try to influence them. Review how you responded to stress in the past and ask yourself whether this was necessary. Ask yourself how you would like to respond and think about what resources you can use. Sometimes it can help to confide in someone and talk about it, for example a friend or family member. Maybe you realize that you only think about the negative things. Also try to think about positive things and try to change negative thoughts.

When to go to the doctor?

If it is very difficult to get rid of depressive feelings and you are unable to adapt to certain situations, it can seriously hinder your daily functioning both at home and at work. If you cannot resolve it yourself, contact your doctor. Sometimes just discussing your problem with your doctor can provide a solution. Sometimes a tranquilizer or sleeping aid is prescribed, even if that is not the solution to your problem. Your GP can refer you to a psychological care provider.


To deal with stressful situations well, it is important that you take good care of yourself. Eat healthy, don’t drink too much alcohol and exercise regularly. In addition, make sure that you can relax enough by getting enough sleep and doing relaxing things such as a hobby. If you take time for fun things and enjoy them, you will feel better about yourself. This allows you to respond better to stress and makes it easier to adapt.

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