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Is Occupational Therapy Helpful for Anxiety Disorders?

Is Occupational Therapy Helpful for Anxiety Disorders? 

Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health illness in the United States, affecting approximately 40 million adults. Anxiety disorders have the ability to affect people in a number of ways and can have a debilitating effect on all aspects of an individual’s life.

An occupational therapist can help to provide support and guidance to individuals suffering with anxiety disorders to help them reduce the effects of anxiety on their daily life and improve their quality of life.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling that many individuals experience throughout their life. In most cases, once the underlying cause of anxiety has passed, anxiety tends to subside.

However, when an individual experiences anxiety for a prolonged period of time, it can become overwhelming and interfere with their daily life.

Symptoms of anxiety vary among individuals and can include nervousness, feelings of fear, nausea, appetite changes, sleep difficulties, and panic attacks. It can also lead to decreased motivation for work and social activities, and can lead to difficulty forming and maintaining relationships with friends and family.

When anxiety starts to take over an individual’s life and prevents them from performing their daily activities, it’s likely that they’re suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety has been categorized into six forms of disorders: generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, and phobias.

How Can an Occupational Therapist Help?

An occupational therapist plays an integral role in helping individuals with anxiety disorders manage their condition and minimize the impact it has on their daily life. Typically the occupational therapist will assess the individual to understand how their anxiety is affecting their thoughts and feelings, and how the condition is impacting their life. 

An assessment typically includes a conversation, and standardized assessment forms. Once the occupational therapist understands the individuals condition and the circumstances surrounding it, they can help the individual set individualized goals using the SMART format – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. The therapist will then outline a plan, in collaboration with the individual, as to how these goals can be achieved.

The occupational therapist may utilize various techniques to help an individual manage their anxiety disorder.

These techniques include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT therapy addresses negative patterns in the way an individual views the world and themselves. This involves examining how negative thoughts contribute to anxiety and how the individual behaves and/or reacts in situations that trigger anxiety. The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to identify and correct negative thoughts and beliefs, which in turn, changes the way an individual feels.


This technique is sometimes used in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy. The therapist will help the individual reach a state of deep relaxation, and then use different techniques to help them face their fears and view them in a different way, thereby helping to reduce anxiety.

Relaxation techniques

These techniques help to reduce the physical effects of anxiety, especially once triggers for anxiety have been identified.

  • Self-Awareness skills using biofeedback – sensors are used to measure an individual’s physiological response (breathing, heart rate, muscle tension) to anxiety. The therapist helps the individual to understand their body’s response when their anxiety levels are rising, and how to modify their reactions.

  • Pacing Strategies – the therapist teaches the individual to pace themselves during the day, as anxiety can be exhausting. 

  • Grading activities – the therapist helps the individual overcome particular events that create peaks in anxiety levels by using small and structured steps.

  • Exercise – the therapist may recommend exercise as part of a treatment progress. Research has shown that as little as 30 minutes of exercises, three to five time a week, can help to provide significant relief of anxiety. 

If anxiety is affecting your life, it may be time to consult one of the occupational therapists at Blue Hills Sports & Spine Rehabilitation. They can assess your situation and give you the tools necessary to manage your condition. Keep in mind that there is no “quick fix” to anxiety. Overcoming an anxiety disorder takes time and commitment, and you may even feel worse before you feel better.

It’s important that you remember that occupational therapy, using the tools described above, has been found to be highly effective for treating anxiety over time. So stick to it and you’ll eventually see the benefits and be able to enjoy life to the fullest!