Life is full of stressors, whether it\u2019s something unexpected, such as a breakup with a girlfriend or being passed over for a promotion, or a major transition, such as getting married or retiring.\u00a0 Incidents like these can be very stressful \u2013 even if you\u2019re normally a pretty resilient person.\u00a0 You may feel that your world has suddenly been jarred just enough to lose the firm footing you normally have.\u00a0 Instead of adapting and moving on, you get stuck for a short while.\u00a0 Symptoms of depression or anxiety creep in, or you find yourself missing work or lashing out at others. Changes in your emotions, mood, and \/ or behaviors that occur in response to any type of life stressor may signal the development of what\u2019s known as an \u201cadjustment disorder\u201d.\u00a0 The changes must be above and beyond what would be considered a \u201cnormal\u201d reaction under the circumstances. In the bigger picture of mental health conditions, adjustment disorders are on the mild end of the continuum.\u00a0 They are typically don\u2019t last longer than a few weeks or a few months, and the symptoms aren\u2019t severe or numerous enough to meet the criteria for a more serious psychiatric disorder, such as major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.\u00a0 They can also often be treated effectively with short term treatment.\r\nDifferent Types of Adjustment Disorders\r\nThere are several different types of adjustment disorders.\u00a0 The type (or specific diagnosis) is determined by the prominent symptoms that you\u2019re experiencing:\r\nAdjustment disorder with anxiety\r\nAs the name suggests, anxiety in one form or another is the primary symptom.\u00a0 The anxiety may show up as constant or excessive worry, restlessness, or being nervous or on edge.\u00a0 \r\nAdjustment disorder with depressed mood\r\nThis type of adjustment disorder is characterized by depressive symptoms.\u00a0 Symptoms may include frequently feeling blue or sad, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, crying often, low energy, troubles with concentration or decision making, or finding it difficult to enjoy things that you normally would.\r\nAdjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood\r\nThis diagnosis is given when the stressful event or situation causes symptoms of both anxiety and depression to develop.\u00a0 For example, you might feel sad and listless, and find yourself worrying excessively.\r\nAdjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct \r\nThis particular adjustment disorder is diagnosed when the primary symptoms are a change in behavior that involves acting out in some manner, such as picking fights or not showing up for work.\r\nAdjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct \r\nThis diagnosis is given if your symptoms are both emotional (e.g. you\u2019re feeling anxious or depressed) and behavioral (e.g. you\u2019re vandalizing people\u2019s property) in nature.\r\nUnspecified adjustment disorder\r\nThis particular diagnosis is given when it\u2019s apparent that your symptoms were triggered by a life stressor, but they don\u2019t really fit any of the other categories.\u00a0 For example, you\u2019re not really depressed, per se, but you\u2019re isolating from everyone, unusually irritable or tense, or complaining of somatic symptoms such as stomach aches or fatigue.\r\nClinical Course\r\nTo qualify for a diagnosis of an adjustment disorder, the troubling symptoms must develop within 3 months of whatever triggered them.\u00a0 This type of disorder can occur following any type of life stressor.\u00a0 Stressors may include things such as:\r\n\r\n \tFinding out your spouse is having an affair\r\n \tBeing diagnosed with a serious medical condition\r\n \tLosing a loved one\r\n \tEnduring a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or flood\r\n \tGoing through a significant life transition, such as a job promotion, career change, or having a baby\r\n \tBeing injured in an accident\r\n \tGetting a divorce or ending a serious relationship\r\n\r\nOf course, sometimes when it rains it pours, and the adjustment disorder develops following a series of stressful events.\u00a0 It may also occur in response to a stressor that\u2019s ongoing, such as caring for a chronically ill parent or experiencing a lengthy period of unemployment. In most cases, an adjustment disorder is an \u201cacute\u201d episode.\u00a0 This means that the symptoms that signaled it abate within 6 months after the stressful incident, or after the negative consequences of the incident (e.g. the healing period after an injury) have passed.\u00a0 Sometimes an adjustment disorder is categorized as \u201cchronic\u201d, because the stressful situation (or its consequences) is chronic.\r\nDiagnosis\r\nThe diagnosis of an adjustment disorder is usually made by your primary doctor or a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.\u00a0 After describing your symptoms and giving a brief history of when they started, an adjustment disorder is determined to be the most appropriate diagnosis.\u00a0 The person evaluating you may want you to have a medical examination to rule out the possibility of any underlying medical issues that could potentially cause the symptoms you\u2019re experiencing.\u00a0 It would not be in your best interest to treat you for an adjustment disorder if your symptoms are being caused by something else.\r\nRuling out Other Potential Psychiatric Diagnoses\r\nMaking a mental health diagnosis isn\u2019t an exact science.\u00a0 However, a skilled clinician will be sure to do a thorough assessment in order to rule out other possible mental health conditions that might make for a more appropriate diagnosis. For example, many disorders can be triggered initially by a stressful or traumatic event.\u00a0 A major depressive episode, for example, could be triggered by a life stressor as well.\u00a0 The symptoms can last for as little as two weeks in order to qualify for a diagnosis.\u00a0 The person evaluating you would not diagnose you with an adjustment disorder if your depressive symptoms fit the criteria for major depressive disorder instead. Acute stress disorder (ASD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are always triggered by severe stress in the form of a traumatic incident (e.g. being the victim of a violent attack or witnessing a loved one die in a car crash).\u00a0\u00a0 These two disorders have essentially the same symptoms \u2013 they are differentiated based on when the symptoms first develop and how long they last, with ASD being an acute onset and short term (one month or less) symptoms, and PTSD being either a delayed onset (symptoms not developing until at least a month after the event) or the symptoms that appeared within the first month becoming chronic (extending beyond the first month following the event). With ASD and PTSD, however, the symptoms are much more significant than with an adjustment disorder.\u00a0 The anxiety experienced is much more involved, and may include frequent reliving of the trauma via flashbacks or nightmares, and notable avoidant behavior (e.g. going out of one\u2019s way to avoid the site of the trauma or anything that is a reminder).\u00a0 While the stressor that triggers and adjustment disorder can be traumatic in nature, it typically isn\u2019t.\u00a0 The adjustment disorder diagnosis would be given (following a trauma) if the symptoms did not fit the criteria for ASD, PTSD, or any other disorder. It\u2019s also important to note that an adjustment disorder diagnosis is not given if the symptoms are due to another mental health condition that is already present.\r\nTreatment\r\nAdjustment disorders often respond very well to talk therapy (psychotherapy).\u00a0 In some instances, depending on the severity of the symptoms, a brief course of medication may be beneficial also.\u00a0 Keep in mind, though, that while medication alone might alleviate troublesome symptoms, it won\u2019t address the underlying issues \u2013 the very things that made you vulnerable to the disorder in the first place.\u00a0 Nor will it help you develop coping skills that may be lacking, and that could serve you well when future stressors threaten to throw your life off track.\r\nTalk Therapy\r\nAs a general rule, talk therapy is the best treatment for an adjustment disorder.\u00a0 A skilled therapist can help you identify the reasons you were vulnerable to the impact of the stressor.\u00a0 For example, if the adjustment disorder was triggered by a break up or job loss, the therapist could help you identify any negative thought patterns and irrational beliefs that made it difficult for you to cope adequately.\u00a0 Your therapist can help you develop coping skills so that you\u2019ll be better equipped in the future.\u00a0 Learning good coping skills is invaluable, and something you can use for the rest of your life.\r\nMedication\r\nA short course of medication can be beneficial if you\u2019re suffering from an adjustment disorder.\u00a0 Typically, medication is prescribed to help specific symptoms, such as low mood or anxiety.\u00a0 An antidepressant is usually prescribed for depressive symptoms, although SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, like Zoloft and Paxil) are also often prescribed to treat anxiety.\u00a0 Antidepressants don\u2019t work quickly; it can take a few weeks before you realize the benefits. If anxiety is the prominent symptom, benzodiazepines are another option \u2013 but they should be taken with caution.\u00a0 They have a high potential for dependence and addiction, which is why they are meant to be used for only short term use (usually 4 weeks or less).\u00a0 Unlike antidepressants, though, benzodiazepines do work quickly.\u00a0 Medications in this category include Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan.\r\nSubstance Abuse\r\nLike most other mental health disorders, an adjustment disorder may increase your risk of substance abuse.\u00a0 This is because whenever troubling symptoms are present, the temptation to \u201cself-medicate\u201d them with alcohol or drugs can be hard to resist, especially if you\u2019re already prone to drink or use drugs as an escape from life\u2019s problems. If you have been diagnosed with an adjustment disorder (or haven\u2019t been officially diagnosed but realize you are struggling with the impact of a recent life stressor), and you find yourself drinking more than normal or using drugs as a way to cope (not including a medication that was prescribed specifically for the disorder), reach out for help.\u00a0 If you don\u2019t get help, you could find yourself spiraling into the dark world of substance abuse and addiction \u2013 and that will only compound your troubles. We all go through stressful situations, but sometimes we don\u2019t handle them very well.\u00a0 If you\u2019ve been through one recently and feel you might not be coping with it as well as you should, talk to your doctor or contact a mental health professional today.\u00a0 The sooner you address the issue, the better.\u00a0 Reaching out for help doesn\u2019t mean you\u2019re weak or deficient, and having symptoms doesn\u2019t mean you\u2019re crazy.\u00a0 It\u2019s all part of being human.\u00a0 Adjustment disorders are treatable; you can get your life back on track with the proper treatment and support.