A few months ago I visited a friend who was undertaking three of life’s big changes: she was moving into a new home in a new city, had recently had a baby, and decided to leave her career to enter what I deem one of the hardest jobs which are becoming a full-time mother to three beautiful children and a full-time house manager. Changing jobs is stressful enough not to mention moving states to pursue that new position. Her anxiety level was very high. She began feeling overwhelmed, panicky, irritable, and had unexplained body pain. When she visited her physician her doctor discounted the severity and related it to postpartum issues. However, my friend’s symptoms continued to grow and until she was no longer able to sleep, began losing weight and cried all the time. Fortunately, she went back to her doctor who referred her on to a psychologist. She was diagnosed with Adjustment Disorder.
What is Adjustment Disorder? According to the DSM5, Adjustment Disorder generally begins about twelve weeks after a stressful event. It typically does not go past six months however in some cases it can. Examples of Adjustment Disorder include the loss of a spouse or someone leaving their home and moving to college. In my own life, I have experienced big changes as most everyone has. I’ve moved, changed careers, gone back to higher education as an adult, had a child, and moved out of state for job positions. Each change was exhilarating, nerve-wracking, emotional, exhausting, and even expensive. Major life changes come in all forms including getting married death of a loved one, a divorce, major illness, job loss, or retirement.
In those moments of big change comes the opportunity for real internal change. When external changes happen we often have to change our routines, people we interact with on a regular basis, our financial plans, and even our short and long-term goals. The change can be overwhelming and sometimes triggering emotionally.
Expect that many feelings will wash over you during transition periods in your life. You may feel grief and sadness. Your anxiety may spike and you may experience feelings of panic, you may act out or try to withdraw. You may be over the moon one day and upset the next. There is nothing wrong with experiencing varying emotions. This is very normal when big life changes occur. When there is cause to be concerned is when your daily life routine is drastically changed. You no longer want to work or pay bills, have a hard time concentrating, have thoughts of suicide or other symptoms it is time to refer to a physician or a mental health professional for an evaluation.
Take time to honor emotions as they arise in your body. If you felt nothing during a big life change, this would be abnormal. Reflect on what is troubling. A good psychotherapist, psychologist, or counselor can help you identify what is worrying you. Together you can break it down and look at it from many angles. With the help of a therapist, you can work on overcoming negative thought processes. This can shift your mindset leading you to feel and respond with positivism and optimism. The addition of mindfulness practice can also greatly improve not only your mental health but your physical health as well. These strategies take work and energy on your part. You will see the benefits of your hard work and should have improved mental and physical energy.
If you are experiencing extended bouts of depression or anxiety, have thoughts of suicide, or experience extreme mood disorders, please immediately contact any of the following: your therapist, physician, local hospital, or dial 911 or the emergency line in your area.