When big changes occur (such as a divorce, a change in occupational status, a chronic illness, business difficulties, natural disaster, etc.), they can be very stressful. When you don't adequately adjust to those big changes, then this is described as having an adjustment disorder.

The symptoms include:

  • exaggerated feelings of distress;
  • significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning;
  • insomnia;
  • feeling overwhelmed;
  • depression;
  • anxiety;
  • aggressive or antisocial behaviour (particularly in adolescents); and
  • (in children) bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, and baby talk.

The initial, most appropriate, strategy would be to resolve the cause of the stress (e.g. to cure the chronic illness, to regain employment if retrenched, etc.), and most will find that the distressing symptoms will disappear within one to six months. However, when it is not possible to resolve the cause, then psychological assistance is often necessary.

Psycho-Education is useful to explain that, while the big change has triggered the poor emotional response, the symptoms of that poor response are (believe it, or not) generally self-inflicted. Cognitive Therapy is then useful to teach the skills of emotional self-control necessary to change one's response to the stressful trigger.

General information only; not specific personal advice. Do not make decision based solely on information on this website. See a health professional for advice about your specific problems. Symptom lists are based primarily on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition diagnostic criteria (by the American Psychiatric Association, 2013).