Are You Suffering From A COVID-19 Related Adjustment Disorder?
November 11, 2020
The world has changed drastically in the past year. Whether or not you’ve been affected by COVID-19 personally, chances are that life in 2020 looks a bit different from when it started. For lots of us, adapting has taken a minute. For others, coping with pandemic-related stress, either directly or indirectly, is still quite the feat. If that sounds familiar, you may be going through a bout of Adjustment Disorder.
A Quick Review Of Adjustment Disorder
Adjustment Disorder is a group of symptoms triggered by an identifiable stressor. Some of these stressors include being diagnosed with a chronic/fatal illness, losing a job, starting a new career, etc.
Because it’s associated with transition, Adjustment Disorder is short-term by nature. In people diagnosed with the condition, symptoms will start to show up within three months of the stressful event and clear up no later than six months afterward.
It’s common to experience a certain amount of mental disquiet when things change suddenly. But it’s one’s reaction to those external forces which separate a typical stress-response from Adjustment Disorder. Our response to the triggering event must be disproportionate to what it calls for or seriously impede our functioning to align with the condition. What might be considered a ‘rough time’ for some will be utterly debilitating for those suffering from the disorder.
Adjustment Disorder is different from other mental illnesses because of how its symptoms vary between people. Some might find themselves in the midst of a depressive episode, while others may be in a constant state of anxiety. A number of people will experience anxiety and depression at the same time. In some instances, sufferers will even start to act out.
Help, Everything’s Changing!
For the past seven months, our collective sense of reality has been shaped by instability. When coronavirus came into public awareness, it seemed to happen all at once. Stay-at-home orders went into effect. Hospitals became overwhelmed, and an unprecedented amount of small businesses hung in the balance.
Either speeding up exponentially or coming to a complete halt, our rhythms changed drastically. Even if you’ve been lucky enough to be left unscathed by the virus physically, we’ve all had to do some adjusting. And for many of us, it has not been easy.
For most of us, the way we connect has shifted. With quarantine underway, our social circles have downsized if not disappeared altogether. And while Zoom calls and Facetimes have saved us from isolation, they don’t always do the trick for our need for companionship.
Let’s not discount role-shifts, either. Since COVID-19 has left many unemployed, fiscal uncertainty, and everything affected by it has become a great source of stress. And for those who have been able to work from home, the workload has increased. This is true for parents in particular, who have been thrown into the role of ‘teacher.’
Adjustment disorder most often results from a few stressful situations--health issues, job-related problems, interpersonal problems, and unemployment. Adapting to a change in one’s circumstance can be a lot for anyone. Adding two or three compounding stressors, however, is just too much.
During corona-times, it’s likely that each of us is going through more than one of the above. As humans, we like to feel a sense of control--that allows us to get our bearings when we need to. Adjustment Disorder happens when we lose the ability to demonstrate resilience in difficult times. Given the situation, it would make sense for that to sound like a tall order.
Adjustment Disorder In The Age Of Coronavirus
We’ve established that Adjustment Disorder is a reasonable response to the compounded stress that’s come with COVID-19 and that its presentation varies between people. With that, it may be helpful to talk more specifically about what that looks like.
One thing that’s important to note is how the condition affects people of different ages.
Adults will generally lean towards a depressive or anxious expression of Adjustment Disorder.
Struggling to practice self-care or get out of bed in the morning could fall within the realm of illness. This is especially true if that loss of motivation sets in after the novelty of working from home wears off.
Others are past the point of being stir crazy. People who live alone while stay-at-home orders are in place are particularly vulnerable to adjustment depression or anxiety. Of course, choosing to live solo does not equate to the onset of mental illness. Still, it’s easy to imagine why a person in these circumstances would begin to have a hard time dealing. When there’s a lack of immediate financial and social support available, stress derived from quarantine is magnified.
If this sounds like you, take an inventory of both your mental and physical space. Are the dishes piling up? Does your mind feel chaotic or even empty? If so, you may be going through a bout of Adjustment Disorder.
In children, stress often takes on a different form. While a child can grow anxious or depressed, children with Adjustment Disorder are more prone to behavioral differences. If a child begins to act out-of-character, it’s good to take notice. Some might start to act out by talking back or picking fights with siblings. Others might show a more charged anger response than before or a general inability to contain their feelings.
It’s an adjustment period for everyone, but because of where kids are in their development, they don’t have as much control over their emotional impulses as we do. For the same reason, kids are actually more prone to Adjustment Disorder than adults.
Parents trying to be there for their children are likely struggling too. With the new school year underway, there’s uncertainty surrounding safety and potential closures. Taking care of a child’s emotions while holding the possibility of assuming a teacher’s role is a lot for one or even two people. But these factors don’t yet account for the parent’s own mental health and job status. In this case, it would be more than understandable for one to have trouble adjusting.
How To Cope
Adjustment disorder is temporary, but that doesn’t make it any less painful than other mental illnesses. Our options may be limited, but there are ways to make quarantine and everything that comes with it more manageable.
Here are a few tips for coping with pandemic-related Adjustment Disorder--
Make A Schedule And Stick To It
Staying in the same space for weeks or months can make the days blend together. When that happens, it’s easy to feel like we’re floating through life, making motivation hard to come by. A great way to feel more grounded is to create a daily routine. By being intentional about what we’re doing, we feel more productive. If you’re not the kind of person who likes to map out their day, try writing a list of goals and checking them off throughout the day.
Exercise is a great mood-booster. But to get the best results, it should happen regularly. This doesn’t have to mean daily HIIT sessions either. Gentle activities like yoga are known to decrease anxiety and make us feel more connected with ourselves. Another great way to clear one’s head is by getting outside! Whether you live alone or with other people, getting some fresh air can calm and reinvigorate us.
When we’re not feeling our best, having things to look forward to can make all the difference. This can mean buying yourself a small present or even watching your favorite movie after a long day of work. When things are hard, finding joy can take some effort, but reinforcing the habit makes a world of difference.
Therapy is a great resource when our stress levels begin to rise. When we start to feel lost or overwhelmed, having a kind voice to help us get back on course can make us come back to ourselves in a way that feels profoundly healing. While in-person sessions are hard to come by, most therapists are doing virtual sessions. If seeking professional help isn’t within your means, find an online support group or a friend/family member you can confide in.
Getting used to this new normal can bring up all sorts of adverse reactions. Adjustment Disorder isn’t forever, but why suffer longer than we have to? If you find yourself having trouble coping, you aren’t alone. Seek help, talk to a loved one, and take care of those you care for. We’ll get through this one together.