One of the most common questions I see being asked within the food allergy community is:
"How do I help my son or daughter with their food allergy anxiety or worry?"
The answer to that question isn't simplistic, as there are likely many factors contributing to the anxiety or worry. But at the core of the answer is the advice to help their child better understand the worry in order to develop strategies to help effectively manage it.
What exactly is worry?
The terms "anxiety", "worry", and "fear" are often used interchangeably. So do they mean the same thing? No, but they are definitely related.
Whereas anxiety typically stems from the uncertainty, unpredictability and unknown about future situations, worry is the thinking part of anxiety. It's what often leads our minds to dwelling on worst case scenarios, the "what ifs", or leads us into a thinking trap known as "catastrophizing".
Whether our worry is triggered by anxiety about the future or fear due to a threat in the here-and-now, it can lead us down the rabbit hole of thoughts. This may then trigger uncomfortable emotions and physical sensations, which often convinces us even more that our worried thoughts must be valid!
What helps to manage worrY?
There are a variety of therapeutic approaches to help people learn to manage or navigate life with their anxiety or worry. Whether through basic psychoeducation, or strategies based on approaches stemming from evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, or exposure therapy, the goals are typically to help people change negative thought patterns, learn relaxation or grounding skills, and change behaviors that lead to the distressing impacts or outcomes.
The Managing Food Allergy Worries Worksheet
The following 3-page therapeutic worksheet was created to help older kids, teens, and even adults begin to address their food allergy-related worries. The goal of the worksheet is to help you identify practical strategies that effectively help you break free from those worry traps. It encourages getting to know more about the thoughts that fuel the worry. It also guides you to notice how the worry makes you feel physically since anxiety and worry often bring on physical sensations that may even trick you into thinking you're having an allergic reaction.
You can download this 3-page therapeutic worksheet below
via Scribd or through the file download option.
[Disclaimer: This therapeutic activity is meant to help understand and manage worries, but is not meant to take the place of counseling. Please reach out to a licensed clinical mental healthcare provider if you feel that your anxiety or worry is impacting your life in a way that feels unmanageable on your own. You can locate an allergy-informed therapist in your state via the Food Allergy Counselor Directory.]
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Thanks for reading,
The latest podcast episode of Exploring Food Allergy Families was inspired by stories I've read about within food allergy support groups, experiences my clients (and I) have had, and of course, Brene Brown! You truly can't explore the topic of vulnerability without including what Brene's research has unveiled.
Vulnerability felt like an important topic to begin discussing because the truth is, we will all feel feelings of vulnerability throughout our lives. When we fall in love. When we put ourselves out there for others to see. And of course, when we navigate life with food allergies or other allergic conditions.
This 15-minute episode covers the following aspects of vulnerability:
You can find Episode 03 here. Missed the other episodes covering the intro to the podcast (4 mins), and what survey responses from 90 food allergy dads revealed (26 mins)?
Find them here via the podcast website, or find Exploring Food Allergy Families on your favorite podcast app!
Additionally, below is the "Take Home Challenge" handout associated with Episode 03, which can also be found in the "Exploring Food Allergy Families Podcast - Take Home Challenge" section of the Food Allergy Mental Health Resource page.
And while it may be tempting to just read the handout without listening to the episode, the additional context within the episode is extremely helpful as well!
(Note: I'm not an allergist, so this piece should not be taken as medical advice. However, I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor that often works with those managing food allergies, as well as a parent of a child with a food allergy that has taken part in a clinical trial and follow up treatment. I've experienced the feelings that many parents feel while pursuing treatments, but also have the clinical background to know it's important to explore any and all emotions while pursuing food allergy treatments. Please always be sure to communicate all thoughts and feelings with your allergist or treatment team.)
When we think of pursuing food allergy treatments, hope tends to be the leading emotion. Hope for positive outcomes. Hope that pursuing the treatment will result in the ability to tolerate accidental, small or maybe even large amounts of the allergen. Hope that quality of life will improve once in maintenance.
However, the reality is that food allergy treatments don't always go as planned. With oral immunotherapy (OIT) for instance, some can tolerate doses, while others can't. In cases where OIT doesn't go smoothly, working with your allergist on adjustments, such as changes in dosing amounts, dosing foods, or time of doses may help resolve potential roadblocks.
But SOMETIMES, tweaks and changes don't resolve the issues. Whether it's for medical reasons or due to psychological barriers, sometimes food allergy treatments come to a screeching halt. Therefore, it's no surprise that some of the emotions that may follow this scenario are...
It's these less popular emotions I'd like to explore. I'm fully aware that this piece may be encouraging you to visit thoughts and feelings that may feel better staying put, stuffed down deep inside. While exploring these emotions may make you feel vulnerable and uncomfortable, it's important to process them, as they themselves can create food allergy treatment roadblocks if left unchecked. Read through some of the thoughts and feelings below to help identify if any have been involved in your journey so that you can process them and move forward.
*NOTE: While the content below is helpful in exploring thoughts and feelings, please be sure to always discuss any treatment-related thoughts, feelings, decisions, or potential roadblocks you're experiencing with your allergist or treatment team.*
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