What's the difference between normal stress and an adjustment disorder?

Answer From Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D.

Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to positive or negative situations in your life, such as a new job or the death of a loved one. Stress itself isn't abnormal or bad. What's important is how you deal with stress.

When you have trouble adjusting to a stressful change and you find it difficult to go about your daily routine for more than just a brief period, you may have developed an adjustment disorder. An adjustment disorder is a type of stress-related mental illness that can affect your feelings, thoughts and behaviors.

Signs and symptoms of an adjustment disorder can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Poor school or work performance
  • Relationship problems
  • Sadness
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Worry
  • Trouble sleeping

If you're dealing with a stressful situation in your life, try self-help measures, such as talking things over with caring family or friends, practicing yoga or meditation, getting regular exercise, avoiding alcohol and drugs, and cutting back on your to-do list. If these techniques don't help and you feel like you're still having a hard time coping, talk to your doctor.

Jan. 09, 2019