What is an adjustment?

Change is as much a part of life as growth and breathing. Each phase of life and season offers its own challenges and changes to adapt to. For example, think of the transition from a learner to a student, a child to a teenager, a single person to a relationship, a woman who does not have children to a mother (see also postnatal depression), and a partner to a single person. Each of these life stages presents its own challenges and some changes are easier to adapt to than others.

Although change is usually associated with challenges for most people, some people seem to handle it without problems, while others feel that everything is too much for them. Why is that so? As with any other psychological phenomenon, many factors play a role, for example:

  1. temperament and personality;
  2. risk factors;
  3. stressore; and
  4. coping skills (coping skills).

Temperament and personality personality are usually important factors that influence one's functioning. Am I human or task oriented; even or driven? Do I see the “big picture” or am I a detail person ?; Do I prefer a group of people or rather one-on-one contact? Temperament is intertwined with some of these core characteristics and forms the basis of someone's personality, which determines the behavior by which we express our temperament. Our behavior has often been learned and a way to adapt to the demands of our environment.

As I get to know and understand myself, I can try to make sense of my experiences and manage my qualities. A task-oriented introvert can e.g. learn to set aside time during periods of adaptation to be alone and recover, while a human-oriented extrovert, e.g. as many people as possible and have fun with their experience (s). At the same time, a task-oriented extrovert will have to learn to communicate their wishes in a more diplomatic way if they do not want to damage their relationships in the process.

What can help me get to know my temperament and personality style?

  1. self-help books and courses can provide information;
  2. psychometric tests (researched tests that can provide information on a wide range of aspects of my functioning and help me gain insight into who I am.)
  3. therapy (it remains a valuable way to discover and understand myself, while exploring with my therapist my own “story”, thoughts, emotions and behaviors).


What are risk factors?

Risk factors are aspects of my life and composition that can make me vulnerable to emotional problems), for example:

  1. my history of mental health / mental health problems
  2. mental health of my family
  3. lack of support

History of mental health
If I used to, e.g. experiencing a depressive episode or struggling with panic attacks makes it more vulnerable to develop psychological symptoms again (eg during a change).

Mental health of my family
If I used to, e.g. experiencing a depressive episode or struggling with panic attacks makes it more vulnerable to develop psychological symptoms again (eg during a change).

Lack of support
Social support is widely recognized as a protection factor for psychological problems. This does not mean that everyone must necessarily have many people who help, but that my personal preference (according to my temperament and personality) and need for attention / help / support and security must be met.

As already mentioned, there are several variables in one's life cycle. Some may be experienced as traumatic or stressful, while others are more enjoyable. Situations that typically cause stress include: moving, losing a loved one / relationship, adjusting to parenting (see also postnatal depression), change in / loss of work, to be diagnosed with a terminal illness. The stressor can be short-lived or chronic.


Handling skills

Although I can't do much to change my temperament or personality, I can learn skills to manage my behavior. These skills, which can help me to adapt more easily, include:

  1. I am honest about my experience and recognize the challenges
    Often we deny the challenges that a situation poses to us and try to be “strong”. However, suppressing my true experiences and emotions may make me more vulnerable to psychological symptoms e.g. a depressing episode
  2. I learn to give my feelings a place and regulate myself in a healthy way
    It is crucial to my mental health that I allow myself to recognize my emotions, feel them and learn to deal with them. Change is often accompanied by mixed feelings. Even “good” changes can elicit an experience of loss. I take a moment to connect with my “heart” and accept the feelings I experience as my feelings.
  3. Self-care is a priority for me
    It is important that I look after my overall well-being as I go through a period of adjustment. A healthy diet, regular exercise, enough sleep and making time to recover are part of this.
  4. I ask for help and support
    It's sometimes hard to admit that I'm struggling. Yet there is so much value in sharing my struggle with someone and accepting help.
  5. I get professional help
    Sometimes it is not enough for people around me to know what I am experiencing and I need the help of a professional who can provide therapeutic support.


When is it time to call in professional help?

Here are some signs and symptoms that may occur in people who are struggling with adaptation and who may, as a result, develop further psychological problems:

  1. struggling to sleep
  2. loss of or increase in appetite
  3. struggling to relax
  4. forgetfulness
  5. problems with focus and concentration
  6. lack of energy and motivation
  7. start to disregard rules and boundaries more often
  8. feeling anxious
  9. haughtiness
  10. increase in irritation
  11. explosiveness (more than usual)
  12. teariness

If someone experiences two or more of the above frequently, we recommend professional help.

Disclaimer: The above is not indicative of a diagnosis. Diagnoses should only be made by a professional.

What is the difference between problems with adjustment and psychological conditions such as depression en general anxiety?

The difference between an adaptive disorder and e.g. a depressive episode, lies in the duration of the psychological symptoms, as well as its intensity and the extent to which it affects someone's functioning. It is always better to get a professional diagnosis.


If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, we suggest the following options:
  1. call your GP (if available);
  2. go to your nearest hospital emergency room;
  3. call one of the following emergency numbers: SADAG (the South African Depression and Anxiety Group) 24-hour helpline: 0800 456 789 or suicide crisis line: 0800 567 567; or
  4. contact Wie is ek?