Adjusting to difficult life events

Do you… ?

  • Have difficulties adjusting or getting used to life following a recent stressful event and/or significant change in your life (e.g. serious illness, a relationship ending, loss of employment)?
  • Find it hard to cope, plan ahead or continue with life after this stressful event or change?
  • Experience tension, anxiety or depressed mood as a result of this stressful event or change?
  • Suffer from physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach-aches, fatigue or dizziness in the time following this stressful event or change?
  • Feel like you don’t want to be around other people or have difficulties with every day activities since this stressful event or change?

What is Stress and what is an Adjustment Disorder?

Stress is the word that many people use when they are describing how the demands of their life seem to be increasingly difficult for them to cope with. For many, stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure and this can build up in various areas of our lives (e.g. work and relationships). The ability to cope with this pressure varies from person to person and what one person finds stressful may not be a problem for someone else.

Low levels of stress are normal, most of us experience this; this form of stress can be useful to us at times to make us concentrate on a goal or to highlight something that needs to change. However, on-going stress can cause problems and make us feel physically unwell. For more information on stress and how to manage it please click here.

An adjustment disorder is when a person has difficulty coping with one or more significant and stressful events or life changes. These could include bereavement, divorce, separation or a relationship ending, serious illness or health issues in yourself or among friends or family, loss of employment, financial hardships, moving to a different home, country or city or other unexpected catastrophes or general life changes. Such stressful life events or changes can affect you in a number of ways. You might:

  • Become distressed or preoccupied with the stressful event or life change
  • Feel low or depressed in mood
  • Feel anxious and worried
  • Feel overwhelmed or unable to cope
  • Experience physical symptoms (such as insomnia, headache, abdominal pain, chest pain, palpitations, tiredness, dizziness, muscle tension or pain, concentration difficulties, loss of appetite)
  • Feel socially withdrawn or unable to carry our everyday activities and notice an impact on your work or academic performance

Adjustment disorder can be acute, where it lasts for up to 6 months, or chronic, lasting for longer when the stressful event or change has longer term consequences.

How common is adjustment disorder?

We all experience some level of stress at various points in life and the ability to cope with stress varies from person to person. People tend to be more likely to develop adjustment disorder during times of typical transition and change, such as during adolescence and in mid or late life. Men and women are affected equally.

What can I do about it?

Stress and adjustment disorder can be managed with guided self help, psychological therapy and/or medication. Depending on your circumstances, you may benefit from one of these types of treatment or a combination of the two.

Guided self help

A Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner will guide you through techniques to help with managing stress and anxiety. This can be done with self-help booklets or via iCope Online – our online therapy platform for tools and techniques to manage your symptoms.

Psychological Therapies

Different types of therapies are available for people with adjustment difficulties. These include:

  • Counselling may be offered within our service or we may direct you towards free or low cost counselling options in the Borough of Kingston if we feel this would best meet your needs.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy involves looking at the way in which your thinking and behaviour may affect your mood. Treatment can be offered in one-to-one sessions or in a group.
  • Interpersonal Therapy is a time-limited and structured approach to the treatment of depression. Its central idea is that psychological symptoms, such as depressed mood, can be understood as a response to current difficulties in relationships and affect the quality of those relationships. By addressing interpersonal situations, improvements to both relationships and depressive mood can be found.
  • Behavioural Couples Therapy for people who have a regular partner and where the relationship may linked to the depression, or where involving the partner may be of potential therapeutic benefit.
  • Dynamic Interpersonal Therapy helps you understand the connection between your depression symptoms and what is happening in your relationships by looking at patterns that can be traced back to your childhood.
How to get help?

If you would like to know more about guided self help or Psychological Therapy, please contact us.

Self-help options

If you are affected by stress or adjustment disorder, there are many ways that you can ease the impact of stress or anxiety yourself. Some techniques can help you to deal with stressful situations better and reduce overall stress/anxiety levels.

Exercise: regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, will help you combat stress and release tension. It also encourages your brain to release the chemical serotonin, which can improve your mood. Aim to do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. Moderate exercise should make you feel slightly out of breath and tired. Going for a brisk walk is a good example.

Relaxation and controlled breathing: as well as getting regular exercise, learning how to relax is important. You may find relaxation and breathing exercises helpful, or you may prefer activities such as yoga or pilates to help you unwind.

Diet: changing your diet may help ease your symptoms. Too much caffeine can make you more anxious than normal. This is because caffeine can disrupt your sleep and also speed up your heartbeat. If you are tired, you are less likely to be able to control your anxious feelings.

Smoking and drinking: smoking and alcohol have been shown to make feelings of anxiety worse. Drink alcohol in moderation and, if you smoke, try to give up. The NHS provides free support to people who would like to stop smoking.

Support groups for stress and adjustment disorder: these are also a good way to meet other people with similar experiences. Support groups often involve face-to-face meetings where you can talk about your difficulties and problems with other people. Many support groups also provide support and guidance over the phone or in writing. Ask your GP about local support groups in your area, look up online emotional support services near you. or check the International Stress Management Association.

Understanding your stress and anxiety: some people find that reading about stress and anxiety can help them deal with their condition. There are many books based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). These may help you understand your psychological problems better and learn ways to overcome them by changing your behaviour.