What is Anxiety

Anxiety and fear is a condition that everyone faces at one time or another in life. It is a sense of hesitation and many times comes with symptoms such as sweating, headaches, trembling or tightness of the chest (Spangler, 2011). It is a natural response that the body gives to alert a person that all is not well and that changes must be made (Cole, 2012). Anxiety can be genetic, but also could be from a traumatic event or life stressor. It may be used as a motivating factor to make needed changes in life structure, behaviors or values to maintain or increase healthy emotional, mental and physical functioning. However, too much anxiety can stop a person from doing what is needed causing an imbalance which leads to a reduction in mental health (Cole, 2012). It is important to note that situations that cause anxiety are different for everyone, so it is important to understand a person’s view of any given event or situation.

Fear vs Anxiety

Fear is the response to an external known threat whereas anxiety is often internal and a response to an unknown threat or stress. Anxiety can be lifesaving as it can alert a person to potential danger (Stranger, 2011).

Stress and Anxiety

People have experiences and responses with stress and anxiety because something that is stressful to one may produce anxiety but not in the other individual. Note: It is important not to judge a person according to their response to stress.
Each person’s response is valid (Spangler, 2011).

Symptoms of Anxiety 

  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Nervousness or feelings of freight.
  • Decrease in concentration
  • Decrease in memory 
  • Reduced ability to pay attention

Panic Attacks

A panic attack is a sudden intense feeling of anxiety, doom, and intense fear. They are unexpected and feel like persistent concern or worry. The use of substances such as drugs, medications, and alcohol cannot be a contributing factor (Spangler, 2011). Usually, a person experiences approximately 10-20 minutes of symptoms that progress quickly and the person cannot name the source of what is causing fear.  Physically, the individual may have difficulty breathing and experience rapid heart rate, impaired memory, difficulty speaking, and deep personalization where they feel like they are having an out of body experience. Some fear death during this time because the panic attack feels like it is causing a heart attack (Spangler, 2011). Caffeine and nicotine worsen symptoms, risk of suicide increases and approximately 40% are at risk of developing a substance abuse problem in an attempt to cope.

Role of Occupational Therapy in Treating Anxiety

There are various approaches that occupational therapy takes depending on what areas anxiety has impacted an individual’s life. Occupational therapy will assess each person to develop a plan to increase daily activities through learning to manage and cope with symptoms and to decrease the severity of these symptoms. Some of these approaches include:

  • Educating on the negative effects of panicogens (substances increase feelings of panic)
  • Educating on positive effects of adaptogens (natural substances that regulate the body)
  • Breathing techniques that can be used anywhere at anytime
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Behavioral Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help decrease negative
    ways of thinking and behaving
  • Reestablishing meaningful roles and routines to help
    organize the day ADLs
  • Increase coping strategies and body awareness
  • Help in creating healthy sleep patterns because the
    lack of sleep can increase symptoms
  • Improving social interaction and social participation
    within the community
  • Develop strategies to regulate emotions. 
  • Aromatherapy
  • Sensory Integration to help calm by desensitizing 
  • Supportive Therapy
  • Insight Therapy

A mixture of these approaches may be used for positive outcomes for each person. Each approach would be customized specifically to the person to ensure client-centered care for the best outcome.


Cole, M. (2012). Group leadership: Cole’s Seven Steps. Group Dynamics in Occupational Therapy: The Theoretical Basis and
Practice Application of Group Intervention
. Thorofare, NJ: SLACK Inc. 

Spangler, N.W. (2011). Mood disorders. In Brown, C. & Stoffel, V.C., eds. Occupational therapy in mental health: A vision for participation. Philadelphia, PA: F.A. Davis Co.

Tedx Talks. (2017).  How to cope with anxiety. Olivia remes. Tedxuhasselt. Ted Talks. (Retrieved on November 11, 2019) Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWloIAQpMcQ

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