You’ve just experienced the biggest event of your life: an addition to your family. Though this is a wonderful time, many parents experience Adjustment Disorder, or AD. This condition appears within three months of a significant life change, and closely resembles depression or anxiety. It differs from post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder, in that the stressor appears more minor. Coupled with the new demands of parenthood, adjustment disorder can make caring for your new child especially difficult. The good news is that this disorder is almost always temporary, and therapy can help!
“This is the biggest moment of your life.”
You’ve prepared for months. You’ve been excited, nervous, scared, overjoyed. But now you can’t seem to shake the negative emotions. If you’ve had a great transition in your life and are having difficulty coping, you may be suffering from Adjustment Disorder. Many new parents feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and inadequate. If you’re feeling these more severely than you think is appropriate, and you aren’t currently undergoing treatment for another condition, you may be experiencing AD. The following symptoms are often present:
- Lack of enjoyment
- Crying spells
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Thoughts of suicide
- Reckless driving
- Ignoring important tasks such as bill payment
- Withdrawing from family or friends
- Heart palpitations
- Trembling or twitching
Who Gets Adjustment Disorders?
While women are diagnosed with Adjustment Disorders almost twice as often as men, new dads suffer from AD as well. It is an extremely common condition, and affects people of various ages, races, genders, and lifestyles. Most often, AD occurrs during major life transitions such as adolescence, middle age, and late-life. There are six different types of disorders:
- Adjustment disorder with depressed mood: symptoms include feeling hopeless, tearful, and loss of enjoyment.
- Adjustment disorder with anxiety: symptoms include worry, nervousness, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, and feeling overwhelmed.
- Adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood: symptoms include a combination of the above two types.
- Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct: symptoms include behavior problems and violent or impulsive behavior.
- Adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct: symptoms include a combination of depression and anxiety as well as behavioral problems.
- Adjustment disorder unspecified: symptoms include emotional or behavioral problems that don’t fit another subtype.
How Therapy Can Help
While Adjustment Disorder is typically resolved within six months, therapy can be invaluable in helping you with this transition. For new parents, getting immediate help is imperative. Popular types of therapy for AD include psychotherapy, family therapy, behavior therapy, and self-help groups. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that is especially helpful in treating AD. During a session, your therapist will encourage you to explore the thoughts and feelings you have regarding your new role as a parent. You will discover the source of any negativity, as your therapist helps you see patterns of thought. You will learn to change these patterns into beneficial thoughts and actions.
As you recognize and eliminate these maladaptive thoughts, you’ll be able to return to your normal state of health. If your depression or anxiety has reached a serious level, medication may be prescribed by a qualified psychiatrist. These medications may include antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRIs), or anxiety medications such as Klonopin or Xanax.
While recovery from an Adjustment Disorder typically occurs within six months, it may last much longer or reoccur. For some parents, the condition is ongoing. This is because the role of a parent is ever-changing. In many other forms of AD, simply removing the stressor can have positive effects. When your major life change is your new baby, the solution is not as simple. Midnight feedings, endless diapers, long bouts of crying, and teething are challenging enough on their own. Therapy is necessary for learning to address your feelings and moving on, so that you can be the best parent possible.
I Think I Have an Adjustment Disorder. Now What?
If you are a new parent and feel like you may be experiencing AD, please reach out! There are likely many parenting resources in your community. Search for a qualified Cognitive Behavioral Therapist (CBT) online or near you. Help is available immediately, and your child’s wellbeing depends upon you being in peak condition. By starting therapy, you are ensuring that your baby will be cared for. You are also setting a positive example by demonstrating that getting help is healthy, acceptable, and absolutely normal. This is a significant change in your life! Learn to love each moment by addressing your mental health now. Therapy can help equip you with the tools to face this challenge, and any that may lie ahead.
If you are having trouble caring for yourself or your child, contact your doctor now. If you experience suicidal thoughts, contact emergency services or a suicide hotline immediately. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, spiritual leader, or counselor. Help is available, and you will feel better.
AD is temporary, and finding the right help can assist you in embracing this special time in your life.