Three Ways an Occupational Therapist Handles Work Stress

Allow me to introduce you to my new friend, Erika! We bumped into each other on Instagram and quickly realized how much we had in common- we're both healthcare workers with a passion for talking about burnout and helping others! Erika is an occupational therapist, certified health coach, founder and CEO of Joy Energy Time, and knows quite a bit about stress and anxiety through work and her personal life. She is not afraid to share her personal story and struggles, which I love. She has an INCREDIBLE website of resources for anxiety and stress and also hosts a podcast, Burnt Out to Lit Up, and I'll be honest, I listened to the first 6 episodes in one day. It's SO good! Keep reading though, she's about to share three tips on how she manages stress at work. 

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By: Erika del Pozo MOT, OTR-R

I have a pretty unusual schedule. I am a per-diem occupational therapist (OT) working in pediatrics on an outpatient basis.  I also am an adjunct professor. And I have my side hustle, Joy Energy Time. You can say I’m pretty busy. I work odd hours- I’m at the pediatric clinic from anytime after 1 (sometimes at 4) til 7 or 7:30 and I adjunct from 1-4pm two days in the week. So I have mornings off, but DON’T be fooled- if I’m not doing paperwork, evaluations, making up assignments, or grading something, I am working on my business. It’s 24/7- well almost, because I DO allow myself to rest!

One thing I will mention before I go into my tips is to consider your setting. I believe your setting in healthcare is everything. The life-or-death scenarios seen from an OT in the ICU differ vastly from developing fine motor skills in a 18 month old with developmental delay. Just like so many other professionals like nurses and physicians, we can be everywhere. That’s the beauty of OT. I decided that I couldn’t be in a hospital setting. I gag when I see blood or smell anything wonky. 

During my three month internship as an OT student, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it. I mean I had alcohol wipes in my pocket so that every time an odd smell just surfaced, I had my wipes ready to breathe in. There was one time I had to do ADLs (activities of daily living) with a patient that had an ostomy, which is the surgically created opening in the body for the discharge of body wastes from the large intestines, and I about almost died in front of the patient. So I stick to outpatient.  I am in outpatient pediatrics and I just don’t see life-threatening cases.

Another reason why (and probably my biggest reason) is because it is slow-paced. Especially in pediatrics, I have the same caseload more often than not. I am with the same kiddos because if they have Autism, they’re most likely receiving OT for life. I love seeing them progress and comparing their status months and years ago to how far they’ve come now. I like having a predictable schedule and knowing exactly who I am going to see for how long. I can’t handle the unpredictability in a hospital. I need solid routine- and if you do too, consider a setting that will offer you that so you can work at your best.

Here are my three tips from an OT’s perspective on how to handle stress at work:

Interpersonal Communication

The only other professionals I speak with besides OTs are speech language pathologists. We share the same patients so I believe in establishing a good rapport. We may not all be friends and that’s 100% OK. In fact, there may be another professional that is rude towards you or they’re just crabby in general (not your problem!) All you can do is kill ‘em with kindness. You should cover the minimum bases which includes sharing interest over your patients, keeping an open line of communication, and being polite. Set the example and be helpful- hopefully those crabby colleagues will reciprocate too!


At my first job, the outpatient clinic provided all the toys and equipment for therapists to use with the kids. Currently, the therapists must provide all the toys and materials. This is financially draining, so another therapist and I decided that we’re going to share our toys. Some therapists lock their toys and materials up- literally. And that’s cool, I get it- it’s your money. But sharing with someone else makes treating SO much easier. I think other therapists think if they share, their stuff will get lost or stolen (again, valid) but seriously- as long as you are respectful, don’t break the toy or lose it (‘fess up if you do!) then the world would be a better, easier place (or at least clinics will be) if you offer to share materials.

Leave Work at Work (Sometimes)

I must admit, I am 100% guilty of NOT doing this. Here’s the thing- when we get an evaluation, we have to administer the assessment and then write up an entire report on our own time. Even if we have a cancellation, we’re not getting paid if we’re not with a patient. Granted- as per-diems our hourly rate is more because of that- and the fact we don’t get any paid time off or benefits. So if I have two evaluations in a week and no cancellations- I have to spend my morning or late at night when I get home to grade the assessment, talk to the parent, write up the evaluation, create a plan of care, and a treatment note. It’s a lot! It’s a task that literally cannot get done in the 30 or 45 minutes you have with a patient because during that time you are administering the assessment. So how can I leave work at work when I have to do this? Well- I look for cancellations and gaps when I’m at work to get it done. After my last patient leaves at 7:15 or 7:30, I’m HUNGRY so I’d rather pack up and go home to eat dinner at a reasonable hour. My tip for doing work at home if you must- set a timer and put your phone away. Get it done with 100% focus and no distractions. Carve out an hour on a Saturday morning to get your work done before you enjoy your weekend. It’s dreaded work and in the past I would procrastinate the whole day and it would take me hours to do it, which is so painful.

Were these helpful? Leave me some feedback at - I’d really appreciate it!

You can read my guest post on her blog, it's all about how I find ways to effectively communicate while under stress!