Sensory-Focused Strategies to Manage Daily Anxiety

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

Eriana (Buteau) Kirwin, OTD, explains anxiety through the lens of our sensory systems, offers sensory-focused strategies to manage daily anxiety, and answers audience questions about how anxiety and our sensory systems are intertwined.

When you’re anxious, it can feel as if every system is overloaded—and, in fact, anxiety can affect your sensory system. This hypersensitivity can lead to not knowing how to get it under control and, in turn, intensify your anxiety. Now that so many of us are isolated and managing remote learning or working, a lot of this “sensory overload” has surfaced and left many feeling helpless to their anxiousness.

This content is also available in Spanish.

Audience Questions

Kirwin answered questions on sensory tactics and managing anxiety including:

  • What resources can help us to understand our own sensory preferences? With anxiety, it can be challenging to determine what truly works for us versus things being just fine. We definitely know what we don’t like but may not know what we’re accommodating versus what we really enjoy.
  • I have a child with OCD who reacts to sensory things. Is there some kind of testing that can be done? If so, which test should we look for?
  • These suggestions sound so great for physical symptoms of anxiety/feeling overwhelmed. What are your suggestions for obsessive thoughts related to anxiety?
  • Can you explain the difference between body sense and organ sense?
  • The idea of seeking a safe space seems to contradict the major technique of anxiety treatment, which is exposure and not retreating to a safe space. Could you comment on this?
  • COVID-19 has made it challenging to see people. Any suggestions for supporting anxious loved ones who do not live with us?
  • Do you have any suggestions for sensory tools/ideas to do with students right now since we can’t really share physical manipulative tools?
  • Can you provide some clarification on IEPs (individualized education programs)? What are they, and how as a parent can we begin the process of creating one for our child?
  • Are you able to speak to highly sensitive people or those with sensory processing sensitivity?
  • My safe place is my bedroom, and I find it challenging to sleep anywhere else. Any tips for getting comfortable in a hotel room or another location?
  • Are any of the exercises mentioned especially well-suited for someone who wakes up anxious during the night and cannot go back to sleep?
  • What can we do (if anything) to try to accommodate multiple kids in the same household who have different sensory preferences and needs?
  • If you can’t take a break and you have to keep going in a highly stressful high-paced job, how do you stay calm when your anxiety and your time pressure keeps escalating?
  • Since you’ve talked about pressure tactics as a way to lower anxiety, can you talk a little about weighted blankets? Are they legitimate science, and if they are, how can we figure out the right one to help with our anxiety?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.



You may find this additional information helpful:

About Eriana Kirwin, OTD

Eriana Kirwin, OTD, is an occupational therapist, formerly at McLean’s Pathways Academy. Pathways Academy is a year-round, therapeutic day school developed to meet the social, sensory, psychological, and educational needs of children and adolescents ages 6 through 22 with autism spectrum disorders.

Learn more about Pathways Academy.

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