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Occupational Therapy for Adolescent Anxiety

by | Jan 31, 2022 | Home, Play, School

Does your child or teen struggle with anxiety? If so, know they’re not alone. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), as many as 25% of adolescents between ages 13 and 18 are affected by anxiety disorders. While it’s difficult to see your child suffer from anxiety, there are treatment options available to them. As part of your adolescent’s treatment plan, you may want to consider occupational therapy for anxiety.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a response to stress that helps us handle difficult situations. In fact, experiencing some amount of anxiety is a normal part of life, even for kids. However, frequent and excessive anxiety can interfere with your child’s daily life. And if they have an anxiety disorder, they may worry about everyday situations, often blowing things out of proportion.

There are several different types of anxiety disorders that children, adolescents, and adults can have, including:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia)
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Selective mutism
  • Specific phobias

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Some people will have a combination of more than one type of anxiety disorder. Signs of adolescent anxiety can include:

  • Excessive worry that’s difficult to manage
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Problems falling sleeping
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Muscle tension

It’s important to remember that some amount of anxiety is normal from time to time. But if you think your child’s anxiety is interfering with their daily life and activities, there are treatment options available. Working with an occupational therapist can be helpful in treating anxiety in children and teens.

Can Occupational Therapy Help Treat Anxiety?

You might be surprised to learn that occupational therapy is helpful in treating anxiety in children and teens. Many parents associate occupational therapy with working on fine motor skills and sensory processing issues. But mental health and emotional concerns also can be addressed through occupational therapy.

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy helps individuals to develop, improve, and maintain the skills needed for everyday life. Pediatric occupational therapists are specially trained in helping youth to gain independence through these skills, promoting both physical and mental health. In occupational therapy, motor skills, social-emotional skills, and sensory processing can all be improved.

How can occupational therapy help an anxious child?

If your child or teen suffers from an anxiety disorder, you know that it can interfere with their day to day activities. These activities are what occupational therapists call “occupations.” This is why occupational therapy for anxiety can be an important step in treating an adolescent anxiety disorder.

Adolescent anxiety can interfere with:

  • Social skills. Children may withdraw from social activities as a result of anxiety symptoms.
  • Daily activities. Poor concentration, fatigue, and low motivation can make it difficult for children and adolescents to complete daily tasks and activities.
  • Education. Anxiety in children and adolescents can lead to poor concentration and difficulty processing information. They may also avoid participation in class.
  • Play. Excessive worry can interfere with relaxing and having fun.
  • Sleep. Worry can lead to difficulty sleeping and daytime fatigue.

While occupational therapists do often work with children on improving motor skills, they are also experienced in treating mental health issues in teens and children. They may use a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and social-emotional learning (SEL) to help your child or teen cope with anxiety symptoms.

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An occupational therapist can help your child by:

  • Teaching relaxation and mindfulness techniques
  • Teaching them to recognize thoughts, emotions, and behaviors
  • Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help manage symptoms
  • Creating a sensory diet to address sensory processing issues
  • Encouraging meaningful leisure activities

Additional Resources

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has resources for families and youth struggling with anxiety and other mental health concerns. On their website, you can learn about mental illnesses and how to get help. They even have detailed medication guides for parents.

Anxiety & Depression Association of America

This website has resources for learning about anxiety disorders and depression. Additionally, their therapist directory can help you to find the right therapist for your child or teen.

Minding Your Mind

This organization is focused on educating adolescents, young adults, and their parents on mental health. On their website, you can find educational videos, a podcast, as well as a directory of local and national resources and organizations.

The Trevor Project

While not specifically for anxiety disorders, the Trevor Project is a crisis intervention organization focused on LGBTQ+ youth. They have resources and articles on mental health issues (including anxiety) as they relate to LGBTQ+ adolescents.

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Final Thoughts

The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s physical and mental well-being, and children and adolescents are no exception. If you think your child or teen is struggling, talk to them about their fears and concerns. Keep an eye out for signs of an anxiety disorder, and reach out to their pediatrician, counselor, or occupational therapist for support.

Sources:

Anxiety Disorders – American Occupational Therapy Association. https://www.aota.org/-/media/Corporate/Files/Practice/Children/SchoolMHToolkit/Anxiety%20Disorders%20Info%20Sheet.pdf. 

Lydia Mockensturm
Lydia Mockensturm

“Hi! My name is Lydia and I’m a freelance writer who specializes in parenting and education. I have a bachelor’s degree in English and worked as a teacher and tutor before deciding to stay home full-time with my two young children. As a mom, I’m passionate about early childhood education and am always looking for fun and practical ways to teach my kids at home.”