Can occupational therapy help with anxiety?

Can occupational therapy help with anxiety?

Thursday, May 12, 2022

We can all get a little anxious about things. Something new or something difficult can be a bit frightening and give us the famous ‘butterflies in our stomach’ feeling.

This isn’t usually a problem.

In fact, it can be a great tool, heightening our senses and keeping us focused on the current task.

Yet, when this fear begins to overpower logic and negatively affect our lives, then it can be a definite problem and even a serious mental disorder.

One-quarter of all Australians will experience an anxiety condition during their lifetime and this number rises significantly for minority groups. It’s nothing to be ashamed of but reaching out for support is important.

In this post, we’ll be exploring how occupational therapy can help with anxiety. 

Recognising Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders can be seen through a variety of ticks or unhealthy habits. One of the most damaging is social reclusion.

Those suffering from anxiety may cut off ties with the rest of the world, avoiding events and people to prevent any chance of extra stress or worry.

This can be a helpful strategy in moderation, but complete social withdrawal can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and, in turn, sadness.

As with any treatment, the answer lies in moderation.

Some common symptoms of anxiety also include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Hyperventilation
  • Sweating
  • Weak at the knees
  • Insomnia
  • Feelings of intense panic/doom

Suffering from some or all of these is a reasonable sign that you have an anxiety disorder and would benefit from professional treatment with an occupational therapist.

When does anxiety become a problem?

Anxiety is both an emotion and a mental disorder. There is an important distinction between the two.

The emotion of anxiety is simply feelings of worry or fear about something. Everyone experiences these and they aren’t a problem.

Anxiety disorder is when these thoughts are recurring and self-destructive. They often overcome logic and can heavily influence your choices (whether you go to a certain event or meet up with people, etc.).

Often, anxiety disorders create a negative thought chain where you spiral down a series of worst-case scenarios, sometimes leading to a full-on panic attack.

The anxiety itself can cause further anxiety. People worry about why they’re worrying. They start to believe there’s something wrong with them and it’s all somehow their fault.

This causes greater stress, creating greater anxiety and the whole destructive cycle continues.

The best thing you can do in these situations is to remember that there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re not alone and support is available. 

Coping Skills for People with Anxiety

No two people are the same. However, these are some of the most effective coping strategies for anxiety:

  • Slow breathing. When you’re suffering from anxiety, your breathing will speed up and you begin to hyperventilate.
  • Stay in the present. It’s important to ground yourself in the moment instead of overthinking worst-case scenarios.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise is great for your mental health and helps naturally produce endorphins and similar ‘feel good’ chemicals.
  • Sleep well. This can be easy to say but hard to do. Some things that can help is to establish a regular bedtime and avoid TV and screens late at night.
  • Meditate. Meditation can help with some of the other strategies, specifically grounding yourself in the present and keeping your breathing level.

These are standard coping strategies and while they have definite value, there’s only so much they can do.

If you’re struggling with anxiety, then seeking professional help is the best way to move forward. Occupational therapy can help you manage your anxiety and achieve your goals.

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy is all about helping people participate in activities they find meaningful.

This can include everyday activities to allow greater independence, fun hobbies to bring joy or anything else that the client would benefit from.

The relationship between occupational therapists and their clients is a positive one as the therapist learns how to best support them and their goals.

Your goals define the help you receive. For example, someone with limited mobility might benefit from movement exercises whereas someone suffering from a mental disease might need coping strategies.

Occupational therapists are trained professionals and can help with a whole range of issues regarding physical and mental health. 

Can an occupational therapist diagnose anxiety?

Occupational therapists undergo professional training that allows them to diagnose a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety.

To determine that the mental illness is anxiety, occupational therapists will check for common symptoms such as excessive worry, social withdrawal, and insomnia.

Your Guide to Online Therapy

How does occupational therapy help with anxiety?

Occupational therapy can help anxiety through a variety of treatments that engage the client and build positive habits.

The pathway to coping with anxiety is different for each person and occupational therapists will create custom programs based on the client’s goals.

However, all occupational therapists have a toolkit of general treatments and recommendations when it comes to anxiety. Here are some of the most common: 

Behavioural Therapy 

Behavioural therapy is an action-focused treatment with many variations. Its purpose is to replace an unhealthy action with a healthy one.

A really great example is where the occupational therapist will model an ideal reaction. The occupational therapist will show a calm and logical reaction in a situation where the client would normally suffer from anxiety.

The idea is that the next time the client is in this situation, they will automatically model a calmer reaction. 

Humanistic Therapy 

Humanistic therapy is one of the healthiest treatments for a variety of mental illnesses, including anxiety.

Its core principle is that everyone is unique and shouldn’t be lumped into big groups based on one characteristic.

This makes it one of the most accommodating therapy types and through it, occupational therapists seek to truly connect with clients as individuals.

Support Groups

Occupational therapists and other professionals will often recommend support groups.

As mentioned earlier, many people with anxiety will withdraw from the outside world. Support groups provide a safe social interaction with empathetic individuals.

Support groups also help show that you’re not alone and provide emotional support as well as a routine and a bit of accountability to motivate you to care for yourself.

Can an occupational therapist diagnose mental health?

Occupational therapists undergo extensive training and have the skills to diagnose mental health illnesses.

To properly identify the mental disease and recommend the best treatment, occupational therapists will monitor symptoms for a wide range of mental disorders.

Why choose an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapy is one of the most adaptive types of therapy. It provides support to people whose health makes it hard for them to participate in everyday life.

Unlike other forms of therapy, an occupational therapist will engage constantly with the client, discussing their strengths and weaknesses to plan their next steps.

This is the healthiest way to support a person’s social, mental, and physical health, as clients are heavily involved in important and potentially life-changing decisions.

Not only do they have the freedom to make decisions, but occupational therapy helps people find many aspects of freedom. These include being able to move freely, care for yourself and engage in meaningful activities that might not have been possible without the help of an occupational therapist.

All of this can be quite liberating and provide a huge mental boost.

One of the core beliefs of occupational therapy is that the best way to support people struggling with something is to help them rebuild a new normal.

This can be done through meaningful hobbies, volunteer work, education, and anything else that the client and occupational therapist believe will build a healthy routine.

It’s important to remember that occupational therapy doesn’t force ‘normal life’ onto people. Everyone’s normal is different and OTs work closely with clients to develop a routine that truly makes them happy.

Occupational Therapy for Children with Anxiety

Did you know? 1 in 14 Australian children experience an anxiety disorder. This can present itself in similar ways to adults, but it also has its own unique struggles.

Anxiety and worry are a perfectly normal part of growing up. Whether it's fear of the dark or clinging to parents, children are often anxious.

This is what makes anxiety disorder crippling for some children. It’s often mistaken as being just normal worry or temper tantrums or ‘a phase’. Instead of receiving the proper treatment, children are stuck suffering.

It can be tough as a parent to know what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to children. Should they be walking by now? Are all children this grouchy? Is this an actual anxiety disorder or just normal childhood worry?

The symptoms can be like anxiety in adults. However, there are a couple of others that are common. These include struggling to concentrate, not sleeping, or eating and constantly worrying.

Even this is a bit confusing as not many children have great concentration or eating habits and going to bed on time is often a distant dream.

If you’re struggling to know for sure what’s healthy and what’s not, then get in touch with an occupational therapist.

Certain occupational therapists are trained to specifically work with children suffering from anxiety. They can provide much-needed relief.


Anxiety disorders can be difficult to manage.

The most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone and help is available through occupational therapists and other trained professionals.

Occupational therapy is a great tool to help with a variety of physical and mental struggles, including anxiety.

Its adaptable methods prioritise the client's goals to make sure the work they do feels meaningful and helps build a happier and healthier life.

For some, this might be greater self-care and for others, it's the ability to volunteer, travel or really anything that brings joy.

Occupational therapists help with a wide range of mental and physical issues. To learn more, head to Physio Inq.

If you’re working through anxiety, then the adaptive support of an occupational therapist will be invaluable. Book your Occupational Therapist today!

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