Do you suffer from
Adjustment Disorder?

You have just moved to a new country, perhaps to the UAE, and incredibly excited by all the novel and exciting experiences that you are going to have.

By Samineh I Shaheem

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Published: Sat 13 Nov 2010, 10:27 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 9:58 AM

Regardless of where you are from, the reason for the move or how much travel experience you have had in the past, most people, after the honeymoon period and enthusiasm has died down, will encounter a psychological condition referred to as an Adjustment Disorder.

An adjustment disorder is a behavioral and emotional challenge, accompanied by some physical symptoms, usually encountered after three to six months of entering a new setting, which is unfamiliar and surrounded by stress, ambiguity and uncertainty.

Both men and women experience this condition, however due to different reasons they deal with symptoms encountered in a distinctive way. The main factors that contribute to the onset of an adjustment disorder can be divided into two different categories. The first category explores the values, perceptions and expectations of the individual before they have arrived to the new location. Therefore it is important to explore the accurate or realistic expectations you had pre departure as well as looking at any prejudices or discriminatory attitudes you may have entertained before arrival.

If there is a difference between your expectations and actual experiences it is likely that a certain amount of anxiety will be experienced as well as some disappointment due to the disparity in experience.

The second category of factors related to an adjustment disorder takes into account the in- country adjustment variables such cultural distance between country of origin and host country, living conditions, coping with the practical and logistical aspects of adaptation, amount of familial or emotional support as well as the quality of contact the expatriate has with their family and friends back home.

It is likely that the more culturally distant the country of origin is from the host culture, the greater the challenges of adjustment might be. Who we are is very much influenced by where we are and during our time away in a new location, our identity may transform as we adjust to the diverse value systems of the host country. This transformation of cultural identity can temporarily cause uncertainly about our self-concept, affecting our confidence and self esteem as we evaluate who we were before arrival and how our identity is changing.

Of course, for many, this process represents an opportunity to learn and grow as they embrace and embark on this unique journey. Unfortunately for others, the adjustment process can be much more daunting and can result in psychological difficulties, even more serious than simply an adjustment disorder.

A prolonged experience of adaptation difficulties, if not confronted and dealt with, can impact your health, work and quality of life. These may include generalized anxiety, panic attacks, depression, psychosomatic symptoms, lack of enthusiasm, and an overall sense of regret about some recent life decisions.

What’s interesting is that most people might be rather confused about psychological symptoms experienced and try to initially attribute or blame them on peripheral issues, such as relationship or work difficulties, rather than understanding that it is primarily related to moving to a new country. Afterall, the idea that we should feel grateful and privileged for this recent opportunity often supersedes the acknowledgment that it is very natural to go through an adjustment process, affecting people both physically and psychologically.

If you feel that you might have similar symptoms associated to adjustment disorder try and minimise adaptation stressors by implementing some of these strategies:

l Begin by reevaluating your expectations and asking yourself how realistic they were pre arrival.

l Try not to see the world through your own cultural lenses; remember ‘You have your way, I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way and the only, it does not exist.’ Nietzsche

l Try not to constantly compare; this is a new experience and should be appreciated in the context that it is occurring.

l Learn more about the culture you living in so that you don’t feel ‘culturally blind’

l Try and learn some of the language of the host culture since learning the language gives you great insight into the value systems of the people.

l Try and make friends with both individuals from your country of origin as well as those who come from different backgrounds.

l Have regular contact with friends and family members back home.

l Explore the country you are living in rather than just returning home at every opportunity.

l Introduce aspects of your own culture to your new friends such as food, music or social activities.

l Be tolerant and patient to differences; differences are not deficiencies.

As always, its important to consult a health care professional if symptoms persist however the majority of individuals going through an adjustment disorder eventually adapt quite comfortably, sometimes so much that their new home becomes their only home.

Samineh I Shaheem is an author, an assistant professor of psychology, currently lecturing in Dubai, as well as a cross cultural consultant at the Human Relations Institute. She has appeared on numerous radio programs and conferences and has studied and worked in different parts of the world, including the United Sates of America, UK, Netherlands, and the UAE. Please forward your thoughts to

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