Sensory Calming vs Alerting Modulation Techniques in Occupational Therapy


Sensory calming refers to strategies or techniques that are used in occupational therapy to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety or agitation with clients. These can include things like deep breathing exercises, meditation, aromatherapy, and soft lighting.

Sensory alerting refers to strategies or techniques that are used to increase feelings of alertness, attention and focus with clients. These can include things like caffeine, bright lights, and loud noises.

Both sensory calming and alerting techniques can be beneficial in different situations of occupational therapy. Sensory calming techniques are often used in situations where a client is feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed, and may help to relax the body and mind, and improve overall well-being. Sensory alerting techniques, on the other hand, are often used in situations where a client needs to focus and be alert, such as during work, studying or physical activity.

For example, a client might use a sensory calming technique like deep breathing before taking an exam to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, while a professional athlete might use a sensory alerting technique like loud music to increase focus and performance during a sports game.

Different techniques may work differently for different people, and it’s important to find what works best for each client. Also, it’s not always necessary to choose between sensory calming or alerting, sometimes a balance of both can be the most beneficial.

There are also other ways to create a calming or alerting environment, such as through the use of color, texture, and temperature. For example, a calming environment might include soft, warm colors, comfortable textures, and a moderate temperature, while an alerting environment might include bright, cool colors, smooth textures, and a higher temperature.

Stimulating Qualities

  • Simple activities
  • Familiarity, e.g., blanket
  • Repetition, e.g., in routines
  • Neutrality, e.g., warmth of a blanket
  • Consistency, e.g., routine
  • Positive associations, e.g,. places
  • Slow-pace, e.g., movements
  • Rhythmic, e.g., movements or music

Calming Qualities

  • Complex, e.g,. music genre
  • Unexpected or unpredictable, e.g, touch
  • Novel, e.g., sounds
  • Irregular, e.g., music
  • Intense, e.g., taste
  • Incongruent, e.g., temperature
  • Negative association, e.g., faces
  • Fast-paced, e.g., sounds

Additional Considerations

It’s also worth mentioning that certain sensory inputs can have both calming and alerting effects depending on the context and the individual in therapy. For example, while music can be used as a sensory calming technique, it can also be used as a sensory alerting technique depending on the tempo, volume and genre.

Finally, it’s important to remember that sensory calming and alerting techniques are just one aspect of overall well-being. A healthy holistic approach to occupational therapy intervention including diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep are also important for maintaining a healthy mind and body.


Consider using self-rating scales over time, e.g., 0-10,

  • 0 = Calm 🙂
  • 5 = Neutral =|
  • 10 = Crisis 🙁