It is common to experience a range of emotions following a change of circumstances or a particularly stressful event. However, when a person finds it difficult to function in everyday life, symptoms may indicate adjustment disorder with anxiety.
Some of the main causes for adjustment disorder may include the death of a loved one, losing a job, or relationship issues. Common symptoms include jitteriness, nervousness, and worry, separation anxiety, or both.
Keep reading to learn more about adjustment disorder with anxiety, including symptoms, treatment options, and how it compares to other similar mental health conditions.
Research estimates that 6.9% of adults in the United States receive an adjustment disorder diagnosis every year. A person may experience adjustment disorder following a stressful event or life changes. Common activation events include relationship issues, loss of employment, the death of somebody close or moving house. People are all different, so factors activating events for adjustment disorder may vary.
Adjustment disorder with anxiety differs from stress. The former occurs when a person finds it difficult to cope or adjust to a particular change in circumstance.
Usually, adjustment disorder presents in emotional and mental ways, but people who experience it may also have physical symptoms.
A person may have adjustment disorder if they experience symptoms following the stressor. Research suggests that the diagnostic criteria for adjustment disorder with anxiety involve symptoms lasting around 6 months. If symptoms persist beyond this period, it becomes a different diagnosis.
People who experience chronic adjustment disorder may have symptoms for longer. If the stress factor persists, symptoms are likely also to be long term. Common symptoms of adjustment disorder include:
- difficulty concentrating
- memory loss
- feeling overwhelmed with everyday activities
- feeling worried or anxious
- muscle twitching or trembling
- finding sleeping difficult or experiencing insomnia
- frequent crying
- loss of appetite
- suicidal ideation
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 800-273-8255.
People who experience anxiety may have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). While symptoms are similar to adjustment disorder, GAD is consistent and often not due to a specific, identifiable event.
There are some symptoms that occur in both anxiety and adjustment disorder. Symptoms of anxiety often include the following:
- feeling hopeless or sad
- a change in sleeping patterns
- feeling worried, nervous, or jittery
Adjustment disorder can occur in both children and adults.
Some children may be resilient towards life changes, while others can find it challenging to deal with change. A child may be experiencing adjustment disorder when they display a change in mood or behavior. Children may also act out unexpectedly in school or at home.
When children experience adjustment disorder, diagnosis tends to share links with separation anxiety. How parents manage their child’s anxiety is a common factor of separation anxiety, according to 2019 research.
Typical causes of adjustment disorder in children include:
- moving schools
- moving house
- a parent or close relative experiencing a health condition
- divorce or change in home circumstances
- the death of a pet
- being bullied at school
Symptoms of adjustment disorder in children may include:
- stomach ache
- behaving differently at school or home
- perceived “naughty” behavior
- wetting the bed
Research suggests “naughty” behavior can be a manifestation of finding change difficult. There may be particular ways to address this that do not cause children to feel guilty.
Treatment may include therapy or medication. Children may also find daily exercise, fresh air, meditation, or simply having a conversation with a trusted adult helpful.
If a child is experiencing anxiety disorder, symptoms should not be long term. However, if they persist, a child may have GAD or depression. In these cases, a person can consult with a doctor if they have concerns about a child’s health.
There are short- and long-term treatments to try if individuals experience adjustment disorder with anxiety. They include:
There are similar symptoms in both adjustment disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, the two are distinguishing conditions with distinctive treatments.
Health experts estimate that 3.5% of adults in the U.S. experience PTSD.
The main difference between adjustment disorder and PTSD is that adjustment disorder is due to activation by a stressful event or change in the environment. In contrast, PTSD is often due to an overwhelmingly traumatic event such as military combat, sexual assault, and abuse.
Symptoms of PTSD may also include flashbacks to the event, avoiding reminders of the event, or lasting psychological symptoms such as guilt.
The past 50 years of research show that doctors characterize depression as difficulty in regulating emotion. While adjustment disorder is very similar to depression on the surface, the cause and symptom durations distinguish them.
Adjustment disorder usually lasts up to 6 months and is brought on by a particular change in circumstances. Depression tends to be longer term and can be due to environmental, psychological, or genetic factors.
Recommendations advise on seeking medical and psychological help if people experience depression.
Experts sometimes refer to adjustment disorder as situational depression, as the symptoms may be similar but do not last as long as depression.
It is not uncommon for people to experience adjustment disorder following a stressful change in life.
Individuals should see a doctor if they experience symptoms lasting several weeks, or if their symptoms affect their everyday life.
A person with long-term symptoms should also speak with a doctor as they may have GAD or depression.
If an individual is showing suicidal symptoms, they should speak with a doctor or consult with appropriate support. If a person is worried someone is at immediate suicidal risk, they should ring the national emergency services and not leave the person alone if possible.