In celebration of Occupational Therapy Month, I am spending October defining the word “occupation”. Why? Because, contrary to the traditional understanding of the word, occupational therapists define this differently. For us, the word “occupation” does not only include “paid” work, employment, or jobs. Rather, we define it as the way people “occupy” their time and as such it actually includes all roles involved in living (therapy for living, who knew?). So, for this month, I will explore the journey of “occupation” complete from morning to night, highlighting how OT’s help when things breakdown along the continuum that is living.
I assume the routine for most of us is the same. Morning hits, we hear the alarm clock, snooze it a few times, and eventually swing our legs over the bed, stand, stretch and head to the washroom. Sounds easy, right? But what if it isn’t?
What if you have had a terrible sleep? Perhaps you live with chronic pain and cannot get comfortable in your bed. Or, you have an acute injury and are trying to sleep on broken ribs, while wearing a cast or sling, or with bruises, scrapes, or swollen body parts. Maybe you live with anxiety, depression, or have trouble controlling your thoughts when you try to drift off. You have restless legs, or are on medication that makes you sleep too much, or causes insomnia. You are worried about something, someone, or have a child, spouse, or family member in your home that might need you during the night. Tomorrow is a big day and you are excited or nervous. You have neighbors that are too loud, or are spending the night in a shelter because you have nowhere else to go. Really, obtaining a restful sleep is actually difficult.
Assuming you have slept, and recognize the alarm is going off, what if you can’t just “throw your legs over the bed, stand and stretch”. Then what? Do you have or need support or devices to make the transition from lying to sitting, from sitting to standing, to a walker, cane or onto a wheelchair or commode? Perhaps your depression or anxiety makes it extremely difficult to transition out of bed to face the day, or to start your morning routine. Maybe you need to stay in bed for an extra hour because the amount of sleep you got just won’t cut it for challenges that day will bring.
Occupation is all of that and as such, these things are addressed in occupational therapy. Why are you not sleeping? Can we assist you to obtain a better sleep surface? Can we educate you on how to obtain a restful sleep position by suggesting changes to how you are lying, or through the use of pillows or wedges? Can we help you to shut your mind off through progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, natural sleep remedies, or by assisting you to obtain medical assessment and intervention? Can we aid in reducing your stress such that you are more at ease when trying to fall asleep, or so you won’t wake as much during the night? If you are sleeping through your alarm, or can’t motivate yourself out of bed in the morning, perhaps we can provide you with cognitive and behavioral strategies to re-frame that process to enhance your success. If
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there are physical barriers to positioning in bed, sitting, transferring or standing, we can prescribe equipment, aids, tools and support to ensure this part of your morning routine is safe, to promote independence, or to assist your caregiver.
Spoken quite simply – occupation is getting out of bed in the morning, and if this is a challenge for you, occupational therapists treat that.