5 Ways You Can Help a Loved One With Adjustment Disorder
Adjustment disorder is a stress-related mental illness that is triggered by events, situations, and other factors that cause sustained distress or trauma. It can cause depression and anxiety, behavioral changes, and difficulty functioning normally in all areas of a person’s life. If you care about someone who has gone through a stressful time and is not adjusting well, help them however you can, including getting at a diagnosis and treatment. Therapy and medication can help alleviate symptoms and provide better coping mechanisms for stress.
If you have a family member, partner, or friend coping poorly with stress or trauma, they may have adjustment disorder. This is not a permanent condition, but it can be debilitating. They can benefit from your support and help. Learn more about the condition in order to be supportive. Push for treatment; help them reduce stress in their lives; engage them in healthy lifestyle choices; and keep your loved one active in positive and supportive social circles. With your care and support, along with treatment, they will get better.
What Is Adjustment Disorder?
If you have a loved one with adjustment disorder it means they have experienced something very stressful or possibly even traumatic. This mental illness is triggered by stressful, difficult life situations. Not everyone who goes through difficult times will develop this condition, however, and what triggers it can vary by individual. Some examples include:
- The end of an important relationship
- Loss of a job and ensuing financial problems
- Living with a chronic or terminal illness
- Losing a loved one
- Being assaulted or victimized in another way
Often there are multiple sources of stress that overwhelm an individual and lead to an inability to cope in a healthful way. Someone struggling to cope and who may be diagnosed with adjustment disorder may show a number of symptoms:
- Depression, sadness, hopelessness, crying
- Anxiety, nervousness, excessive worrying
- Lack of appetite and weight loss
- A sense of being overwhelmed or buried by stress
- Unusual behavioral changes
- Social withdrawal
- Inability to focus on tasks
- Avoiding responsibilities
- Suicidal thoughts
Adjustment disorder is diagnosed when someone has experienced a great deal of stress or a trauma and has a reaction out of proportion to the situation. They cannot cope well and are unable to function normally, experiencing challenges at work or home. This can last up to six months.
Supporting Someone with Adjustment Disorder
Adjustment disorder is typically temporary, but it can also be debilitating and trigger a number of serious complications. It makes normal life not just difficult, but impossible. Someone you care about with this disorder is probably feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, scared, and depressed.
Your loved one is experiencing significant distress, so be there to provide positive support. You can assist them in several ways, but most importantly help them get into treatment. If nothing else is helping, your loved one needs professional mental health care.
1. If Possible, Reduce Stressful Situations, People, and Events.
Like other trauma- and stressor-related mental illnesses, adjustment disorder has a known cause: exposure to an event or series of events that are traumatic or stressful. Often with adjustment disorder, the symptoms will begin to subside when those stressors are removed.
You may not have the power or the ability to remove all the factors in your loved one’s life that are causing this negative response. But anything you can do to reduce their stress will be useful. For instance, you may be able to help around the house, doing chores or assisting with child care. Take over some of their responsibilities to give them fewer things to worry about.
If people in your loved one’s life are causing stress, encourage them to cut ties if possible. Help them spend more time with positive, supportive people and to avoid those that cause them distress. If the stressful situation is a big life change, like a move or a divorce, be there to listen and so that your loved one knows you are there to help in any way you can. All of these things can significantly reduce stress and make life a little easier for someone who is struggling to cope.
2. Encourage and Participate in Healthy Lifestyle Changes.
Being mentally and physically healthy is a protective factor against poor reactions to stress and trauma. Help your loved one improve their health with lifestyle changes. Whether they have been in treatment and are in recovery or have yet to seek care, making these healthy changes may help them better cope with stressful life situations. You can do these things together:
- Learn about good nutrition and cook more healthy meals at home.
- Exercise regularly, including taking walks together.
- Practice and try mindfulness techniques like breathing exercises and meditation for relaxation.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs, as many people with adjustment disorder are susceptible to substance abuse.
- Get adequate sleep every night.
- Journal feelings and events, focusing on gratitude.
Any kind of positive activity that reduces stress is helpful. Encourage your loved one to engage in activities they enjoy and get involved too. This could mean reading together, taking an art class, training for and running a 5k race, or just having coffee and a chat.
3. Push for Treatment If Symptoms Don’t Resolve.
It’s helpful to use healthy lifestyle choices and activities as well as stress reduction to manage adjustment disorder. But these measures are not always enough. Your loved one may need more professional care, and treatment in a residential facility is a good choice.
Treatment for adjustment disorder includes therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy and trauma-focused therapies. Behavioral therapies help patients learn healthy coping strategies, set and achieve goals, make positive lifestyle changes, and build self-confidence. Trauma therapies help them face past bad experiences and process them in ways that are healthy and productive.
With residential treatment, your loved one will have access to these therapies and the experienced professionals to guide them through it. Because adjustment disorder often co-occurs with other mental illnesses, they will also have the benefit of a thorough evaluation so that all issues can be addressed at once.
Patients can benefit from an extended period of time in treatment, from a couple weeks to a few months, to heal and learn how to better cope with stress. A residential treatment center can also provide medical care. Medications, like antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, can be helpful for adjustment disorder.
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4. Participate in Treatment and Therapy Sessions.
Your loved one will get the most out of treatment if you and others who are able get involved. The best treatment facilities offer family services, allowing family members to participate in therapy, psychoeducation, and family days and sessions.
Show the person you care about that you are not just dropping them off at treatment—you want to be there to support and help them. Get involved in any way you can and that therapists allow. Participation not only shows you care but also gives you the tools needed to be able to provide better, more focused support during and after the transition from treatment to home.
5. Facilitate Positive Social Engagement.
Once your loved one has finished treatment, they will need you to continue to provide support by encouraging positive lifestyle changes, helping them mitigate stress, and just being there as someone who cares. Add social activities to these other areas of support to help your loved one heal and to protect them from future stress and trauma.
A positive social network and strong support from others are protective factors against the negative effects of stress and trauma. Having social ties helps promote good mental health and will help your loved one cope better in the future when stressful situations arise.
Help your loved one build up this positive network by encouraging and facilitating social engagement. If necessary, start out slowly. Set up activities with one or two family members and close friends, and eventually push your loved one to branch out and go to parties, try new social activities, and make new friends.
There are many ways you can be a positive influence in the life of someone you care about who struggles with adjustment disorder. Being there to listen and provide support is powerful, but ultimately the best thing you can do is make sure your loved one gets the professional evaluation and treatment they need to get better.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles-based program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.