Adjustment Reactions

Below is a very simplified and general explanation of adjustment reactions. You may experience some or all of these things or your experience may be different. You are welcome to contact us to discuss whether what you are experiencing is an adjustment reaction and what we can do to help. 

Being diagnosed with a physical health condition can make us feel all sorts of things. For some people there can be positive feelings of relief at finally having an answer to something we have worried about or huge motivation to make changes to improve our health. For others it is devastating news that can make us feel depressed or hugely anxious about the future. It may even be a big combination of feelings and it’s not just the person with the physical health diagnosis who can have an adjustment reaction. A child being diagnosed with a physical health condition can have a significant impact on the whole family for example.

Typically, upon diagnosis, we will start by finding out about the physical health condition and any potential treatments. We may even start treatments and move onto monitoring effects of treatments quite quickly. By focusing on these very practical and necessary aspects of physical health conditions, however, we can find that we haven’t stopped to think about how we feel about what’s going on for us. This may be fine or it may be that our bodies and our brains start to give us reminders that we need to think about this a bit more. For example, people can start to have physical symptoms of anxiety or start to struggle to sleep or have nightmares. Sometimes people put this down to symptoms of the physical health condition or effects of treatment approaches. Sometimes people will engage in behaviours associated with anxiety, such as avoiding the things we worry about; or behaviours associated with depression, such as not wanting to do much at all. These reactions can then start to get in the way of treating the physical health issue and there is then potential for a vicious cycle whereby both our physical and mental health are less than optimal and even worsening.

Adjustment reactions can occur following a new diagnosis but can also show after a change in physical health within a long established health condition. It is important to note that adjustment reactions can also feel delayed in that we can seem to be managing for a while or even be in a period where things feel like they are going well. It can be at this point that we somehow give ourselves permission to feel what has been going on since the physical management of the situation is passed or going relatively well. 

Healthcare teams can be very helpful and understanding about adjustment reactions but they have limited time and often will only be able to focus on the person with the diagnosis. Our Psychologists have specialist training and years of experience of working with children, young people, adults, couples, families and friends adjusting to a physical health change.