Monday, February 1, 2016

Food Allergy Anxiety

As a parent of children with multiple allergies, I am all too familiar with the feelings of fear and anxiety that come soon after an allergy diagnosis. The doctors can be great in providing you with emergency medication, and perhaps some advice about how to manage the allergies, but few provide any ongoing support that may be needed for the emotional ups and downs that come with it. Actually, I'm not sure I know of any doctors that have provided that!
I have wanted to write about the anxiety that comes along with food allergies for some time now, but it has been hard to pinpoint exactly which "angle" I would take. The DSM 5 definition of anxiety (the book psychologists use to diagnose formal anxiety disorder) includes the point that the fear is "unreasonable or excessive". For someone who fears spiders, their fear is excessive, considering the danger most spiders pose in day to day life. However, if you fall into a pit of dangerous spiders, then that fear is completely reasonable and will cause you to climb out to safety as soon as possible. Is it reasonable to fear for your children when they are surrounded by substances that can threaten their life, but seem benign to everyone else? The answer is yes, the fear is reasonable and not excessive. In this way, the traditional way of dealing with anxiety is not very helpful. You can't just use positive thought to make that fear go away. Fear in the case of life threatening allergies is reasonable, and can actually help to keep you and your loved ones safe.

In our Facebook Allergy Fun - Support group, one parent asks, "if the phone rings, and it is childcare, or the grandparents, I immediately jump to the worst conclusion. Is this bad?"

Considering the situation, it is reasonable to fear that an allergic reaction has taken place. If we try and convince ourselves that the phone call is actually about where did we put the child's hat, then we may choose not to respond to the call straight away. If we panic and lose our ability to drive or think clearly, then the situation is made worse. What is a reasonable response? Yes, our heart rates may go up for a few minutes as we make the return call and find out more information. If there is no risk, then we need to be able to return to a calm state relatively quickly. How? Be thankful! For caregivers, it can be helpful if they leave a message that immediately alleviates our fear. As a school counsellor, I would often leave a message that started with, "Hi it's Grace, the school counsellor. There is nothing urgent, you child is fine, but it would be great if you could call me back when you have a moment."

So reasonable fear is helpful, but when the fear is overwhelming or crippling, then we need to look at it more closely.

Let's break it down.

What fears are there for today?

What fears are there for this week? What fears are there for the future... for next year... for 5 years' time... for 10 years' time?

Sometimes, our fears can snow ball and it can be helpful to separate what fear is helpful today, and what fears are for the future, and just too tiring to carry everyday. Truly... "Each day has enough trouble of its own" Matthew 6:34. Allergy parents need to plan a lot more than other parents - we plan food, doctors appointments, medication and we plan all the extra forms that comes with having a child with allergies. By all means plan, but we cannot live our day to day life in fear of what lies beyond this moment we are living.

Take time out away from allergies - maybe 5 minutes, preferably longer, and more regularly.

Don't read about allergies everyday. Facebook and the internet in general are a great tool for bringing together communities, especially in the allergy world, but anytime there is a food recall, or a death due to food allergies, we hear about it. This can skew our perspective and feed our fears. Be informed, but regulate what you read or think about.

Read other things - inspirational things.
Look at beautiful things - no body was every allergic to a rainbow!
Smell lovely things.
Touch things (or people) that bring you warmth, security and comfort.
Think on good things - think on amazing things, and count your blessings, whatever they may be.
Try and find time away from your burdens - time with your spouse, with friends to rejuvenate yourself.
Physical activity - it is important to let out some of our stress that we hold in our body. Whatever helps you - a walk, a run, a jump or a ride... just do it!

Find a supportive community - spouse, extended family, friends, online support, professional help. 

There are multitudes of online support groups available now on Facebook. You can find a group that is specific to the allergies you are dealing with, or a group that is more local and can help you find the right products and services you need. Pinterest has lots of recipes available. We tend to look for Paleo, or Nut free Paleo. Vegan recipes can also be helpful.

I invite you to join our Facebook group - Allergy Fun - Support.

If you are not approved within a few days, please send me a message. I try and block anyone who might just be sending spam through. It has been a wonderful and supportive group over the last few years, so we would love for other allergy families to join.

Never be ashamed to seek professional help. Life with allergies is not a path that we planned to travel and sometimes those around us just aren't able to support us enough... or maybe they are having trouble too.

Is there more you would like to know?

If you have a specific topic you would like to discuss, please send me a message. I would love to hear from you. This is just the first of many posts about how we can all live life to the full while managing life threatening food allergies.

Do you have a child with food allergies? Find out more about how to help their social and emotional development, so that they aren't crippled with anxiety themselves by checking out our Allergy Education page or enquire about a personal consultation via email:


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