When someone is first diagnosed with a food allergy, there are many emotions that emerge. Over time, it may become easier to adjust, but anxiety can be a real problem.
What makes food allergies so stressful?
Three basic human needs are food, safety, and belonging. An issue with food allergies is that these very different needs are connected in our society, and when food allergy is added to the mix, it can cause conflict between these needs rather than connect them. Where there is conflict, stress can develop, and stress can lead to anxiety.
It’s important to realize that some anxiety can be good – it can help us be more careful and take needed safety precautions. Unfortunately, too much anxiety can weigh an individual down. The toll it takes can manifest in many ways including physical, behavioral, cognitive, and social, resulting in disruption of lives for the allergy sufferer as well as those close to them.
There are specific strategies to combat the anxiety caused by food allergies:
Emotional Safety Plan for Parents
- Accept the challenge bravely. Your child will mirror your emotions – positive perspectives will go a long way in helping them find strength.
- Knowledge is power. Read. Research. Ask questions and reach out to others who understand your challenge.
- Take care of yourself. Always.
- Teach and empower your child with knowledge. Ask your provider for tools that can help them understand the nuances of their situation.
- Seek support when necessary. Reach out to your provider, support groups, and other parents.
- Create an Emergency Care Plan that changes as your child grows.
- Create balance in your life and make time for the little things that create normalcy.
Emotional Safety Plan for Children or Teenagers
- Accept the challenge bravely.
- Learn and follow your Emergency Care Plan.
- Tell others about what your food allergy means to you, and about your care plan.
- Be aware of your feelings so they protect you, not hinder you.
- Calm your thoughts; think more positively.
- Find strategies to calm your body. Deep breathing, music, and other tools listed below can help.
- Learn all you can about yourself, your allergy is only one thing about you. It does not define you.
Emotional Safety Plan for Adults
- Accept the challenge bravely.
- Knowledge is power. Again, research and ask questions.
- Create YOUR normal lifestyle.
- Take care of yourself.
- Spread out your energy.
- Find people that you can talk with, or be with comfortably, who understand.
- Use tools to calm your mind and body.
- Seek support when necessary. You don’t have to go through it alone.
Ways to Calm Both Your Body and Thoughts
- Get some fresh air
- Listen to soothing music
- Notice how anxiety feels and affects you
- Use relaxation exercises and deep breathing to relax
- Pet a favorite animal
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Hug someone you trust
- Be optimistic
- Notice when you are safe
- Focus on what you CAN do, not what you CAN’T
- Think about your successful precautions
- Ask advice
- Remind yourself of your skills
Anxiety can be a very challenging part of adjusting to a food allergy. When time is taken to learn, prepare, and implement some basic strategies, anxiety can be lessened, allowing life to be more fully enjoyed. Calming allergy symptoms with sublingual immunotherapy may help to lessen anxiety, too.
By Sarah Aubin, Nutrition and Dietetic Student, Allergy Associates of La Crosse
Herzog, J. Managing the emotional impact of living with a food allergy. Foodallergy.org