What is it

Certain changes, such as entering school, starting a new job, or starting a family, can often be exciting, even when they cause some amount of stress, because they are generally considered to be positive changes. Many people look forward to obtaining a degree, rising in their chosen field, or having a home and family.

Changes, and especially difficult changes, can influence personal growth, and dealing with a change successfully may leave one stronger, more confident, and better prepared for what comes next in life. In other words, even those changes that are neither expected nor wanted might still produce some beneficial outcome.

Change can encourage the development of skills or knowledge, and might also bring about greater awareness of a condition or group. For example, the family of a person diagnosed with schizophrenia might become more aware of severe mental health conditions and their effects. Or the parents of a child who comes out as gay might become interested in LGBTQIA issues and equal rights and work to increase awareness. Change can also make clear what is important in one's life and allow for greater self-discovery and self-awareness.
 

What it includes

Because change can cause stress, it can have an effect on one's daily life. A person facing a big change might, for example, experience depression, anxiety, or fatigue; have headaches; develop trouble sleeping or eating well; or abuse drugs and alcohol.

Persistent symptoms of stress might improve with treatment in therapy, but an individual may also be able to prevent some of these symptoms by:

• Researching an upcoming change. Often, stress can develop out of fear of what is unknown. When one is well-informed about a change, it may be easier to face.
• Attending to one's physical and mental health. Being healthy in mind and body may make it easier to cope with changes in life. Sleeping well, exercising, and eating nutritional foods regularly may all be beneficial in improving both physical and mental health.
• Taking time to relax. Remaining calm in spite of stress may be easier when one's life is well-adjusted and includes time for leisure as well as work.
• Limiting change. It may be helpful to avoid making a large change immediately after another change. Generally, adjusting to a change takes some time, and making multiple changes at once, even smaller ones, may not allow enough time for an adequate adjustment period, which can cause stress.
• Discussing any difficulties adapting with another person. Family members may be able to help one adjust to change, but professional help may also benefit those experiencing difficulty or stress as a result of life changes.

A diagnosis of adjustment disorder can occur when a major life stress or change disrupts normal coping mechanisms and makes it difficult or impossible for a person to cope with new circumstances. Symptoms of this condition tend to begin within three months of the stress or change and often include a depressed or anxious mood, changes in daily habits, feelings of overwhelming stress and panic, difficulty enjoying activities, and changes in sleeping or eating. For example, a man whose wife died suddenly might become anxious and panicked as he tries to cope with his new situation, finding it difficult to go on his typical daily walks or prepare meals.

This condition may also lead an individual to engage in reckless or dangerous behaviour, avoid family and friends, or have thoughts of suicide. A diagnosed adjustment disorder generally indicates that a person is experiencing more emotional turmoil than others facing the same situation might experience. For example, a young woman who cries frequently after the death of her mother is likely experiencing distress typical to the major life change she has experienced, but a man who quits his job and stops speaking to his children after the death of his wife might be experiencing a significant amount of difficulty adjusting to his changed situation.

How a psychologist can help

References

Psychology Today

Author

Greg Currie

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