Normal stress vs. adjustment disorder: What's the difference?

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Normal stress vs. adjustment disorder: What's the difference?

Question

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

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Answer

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 so much trouble adjusting to the stressful change that you find it difficult to go about your daily routine, 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. An adjustment disorder can occur in both adults and children.

Signs and symptoms of an adjustment disorder can include:

  • Sadness
  • Crying spells
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Worry
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fighting
  • Poor school or work performance
  • Vandalism

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

Last Updated: 2010-01-29
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