*This post is one of the 2022 "Pre-Food Allergy Awareness Week" posts. Stay tuned for more this week, including another allergy life skill and an in-depth look at "The 6 Stages of Allergy Parenting" framework.
Follow the FAC on Instagram (@FoodAllergyCounselor), Facebook (www.Facebook.com/FoodAllergyCounselor) and Twitter (@FACounselor) for more valuable information and posts!
Living with allergies means experiencing emotional discomfort, since uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety, worry, sadness, anger, and overwhelm can pop up at any time.
But our mind doesn't like discomfort or anything that creates it, such as unpredictability, uncertainty, anything that isn't very clear cut, and sensations that mimic allergic reactions. It feels icky, hard and sometimes even impossible to get through these discomforts. And since our mind wants predictability and certainty to help it feel calmer and safer, it encourages us to make choices that lead us towards that calm - which typically means our mind pushes us to avoid the situation that created the uncomfortable feelings.
While it may seem easier (and safer) to always avoid situations that make us feel this way, if we do, then we limit our ability to develop confidence while living with allergies.
So then, this next statement may stir up those uncomfortable feelings for you:
UNFORTUNATELY, WE HAVE TO STEP OUTSIDE OF OUR COMFORT ZONE TO GROW OUR ALLERGY CONFIDENCE.
Simply put, if we avoid every opportunity to practice allergy management skills because it's outside of our comfort zone, then it limits our ability to expand that comfort zone and eventually learn how to live confidently with allergies.
Sure, you still have the choice to avoid uncomfortable scenarios, BUT, if that is the main tool you use to get through the discomfort, then you're limiting your ability to live a fully engaged life even WITH allergies.
So then, how do we learn to step outside of our comfort zone when so many situations feel so unsafe when managing allergies?
We need to identify strategies and tool that help us work through the uncomfortable feelings and sensations we experience in order to get to the other side - confidently living with our allergy. (Stay tuned for another skill coming this week to help when we do decide to step outside of this comfort zone).
The list of strategies and tools that will help us work THROUGH the discomfort (rather than letting it STOP us) may include:
And here's a NEW tool to put in your toolkit!
The G-R-O-W Technique is a mindfulness-based skill to help you notice the discomfort, understand it, and move forward even with it being there. (It can be adapted and taught to kids, too!)
G: GIVE the feeling or sensation a name. You can simply name the emotion, or get more creative, giving it an actual name like "Mr. Worry". This allows you some distance between you and the feeling and/or sensation. This is what helps us pause so we can CHOOSE our actions and don't have to automatically do what the feeling or sensations says you should do.
R: REVIEW why the feeling or sensation might be there. Get really curious - what does this feeling want you to know? Are you trying something new? Do you need more information on a topic? Are you doing something important, but scary? We typically jump to assumptions and worst-case-scenarios conclusions. We may assume something is too risky based on our feeling, so it’s important to identify other reasons something may feel uncomfortable to do.
O: OBSERVE how it feels in your mind and body. Get to know how your mind and body reacts to this feeling or sensation. Does your stomach feel upset? Is your mind racing? Become familiar with how it feels when this emotion is present so you can tell the difference between anxiety and reaction sensations, and how it feels when you're doing something new versus doing something unsafe.
W: WAYS to move forward with discomfort. This means mapping out workable solutions. What do you need to help you try this new situation or move forward rather than automatically avoid it?
I'll leave you with this last piece of encouragement:
Make the commitment to yourself that learning how to grow through discomfort and get off the allergy anxiety/overwhelm autopilot mode is important enough for you to do, even when it feels incredibly hard to. Sometimes that all you need to do to get yourself on that journey, and it's a great place to start!
Yes, it takes time and practice, but you WILL learn how strong you are...even if you don't always feel that strength.
Food Allergy Awareness Week (FAAW) 2021 may be over, but the education and advocacy efforts won't stop! Together, we will continue to educate the general public and work to make a difference in the lives of those managing food allergies and allergic conditions.
As part of this community, here is my ongoing commitment to this effort:
I commit to continuing to be a change maker regarding food allergy mental health - having the conversations, building the relationships, identifying the gaps and then helping to fill them!
In the meantime, if you've missed any of the 2021 FAAW tips offered this week, you can review them all below, including the additional guidance offered for each one.
DAY 1 - Sunday, May 9th, 2021:
In honor of all of you amazing allergy moms, and the first day of Food Allergy Awareness Week (FAAW), here are the results from the 1st question on the "2020 Food Allergy Mom Experience Survey". What do you think of these results? Why do you think 57% of moms surveyed felt allergy moms don't speak up about their experiences enough? (Full anonymous survey answers will be shared in an upcoming blog post).
Check out Exploring Food Allergy Families podcast episode 15 for full results from the moms' survey. Find it on the Podcast page or on any podcast app - Apple Podcast, Spotify, iHeartRadio, etc
DAY 2 - Monday, May 10th, 2021:
Today's FAAW tip is focused on reframing anxious allergy thoughts. Let's start with some helpful reminders about anxiety:
You can find the following worksheets (and more) to help manage allergy anxiety and worry in the "Worksheets" section:
DAY 3 - Tuesday, May 11th, 2021:
Today's FAAW tip is all about the urge to control when we feel overwhelmed, anxious or fearful of allergies. This is usually triggered by the unpredictability and uncertainty that comes along with food allergy life.
Wouldn't it be ideal if we could always control every risk possible? Unfortunately, that's not a realistic goal, nor is it actually helpful! While trying to control things may decrease the discomfort you feel from the worry, it's a temporary relief which usually leads to increased and growing anxiety over time. More and more energy goes into trying to stay ahead of everything, and when that gets too hard, avoiding people, places and things will start happening. Trying to control also robs you of opportunities to learn and grow - to focus on figuring out what you need to confidently get through tough situations (or thoughts/feelings).
Rather than AIMING TO CONTROL, think about HAVING INFLUENCE OR IMPACT on situations, especially daunting ones.
COMMUNITY CHALLENGE: The image below is just an example to help you process your own list for yourself, or if you're a parent, for your child. Grab a sheet of paper, draw the image below, and have fun exploring just how much impact you have on your ability to decrease anxiety and increase confidence!
COMMUNITY INPUT: What else would you add to this list, in either section?
FAAW BONUS - New "Urge to Control" worksheet, which can be found in the Worksheets section on this website:
DAY 4 - Wednesday, May 12th, 2021:
Wednesday's FAAW tip focuses on your food allergy mindset, because it matters!
Ask yourself these questions to help assess your allergy mindset:
These questions relate to your mindset, or whether you believe the qualities you possess make you capable of handling situations. People can have a "fixed" or "growth" mindset. Think of these as the type of glasses you're wearing - the lenses with which you see things. When wearing "fixed mindset" glasses, you're more likely to believe that you're not able to deal with whatever you're being faced with. With "growth mindset" glasses on, you're better able to envision yourself getting through roadblocks that are standing in your way.
Our mindset may change depending on situations we're in or experiences we've previously had. You may feel confident navigating some parts of life with food allergies, while feeling incapable of managing the aspects that you're most fearful of. But by subscribing to a growth mindset, you're allowing yourself the ability to grow confidence, manage anxiety, and essentially handle even the hardest of situations.
Community Challenge: Pick one allergy-related thought to try and reframe into a growth mindset-focused thought. If you're a parent, help your child use growth-mindset language - "I'm not comfortable with this, YET!" or "I'm still learning by practicing with my epi!"
To help practice this concept, you can download the "FA Mindset Matters" worksheet from the Worksheets section. To read more about growth mindset, look up Carol Dweck and her books.
DAY 5 - Thursday, May 13th, 2021:
Thursday's FAAW tip offers a problem-solving method that's helpful for when the fear and anxiety feel overwhelming.
When you need to make a decision but your emotions are taking over, having a problem-solving tool to help navigate the scenario can be beneficial. That's where the I.D.E.A.L. Method comes in! This technique helps define the main problem in a situation, and guides you through creating and evaluating solutions. Essentially, it helps you look at things more objectively.
Benefits of the I.D.E.A.L. Method:
Community Challenge: Choose something you feel stuck navigating lately and use the I.D.E.A.L Method steps to help you feel less stuck and better able to consider potential solutions.
The "I.D.E.A.L. Method " worksheet can be downloaded from the Worksheets section.
DAY 6 - Friday, May 14th, 2021:
Friday's FAAW tip has to do with processing the emotions associated with yours or your child's food allergy diagnosis. Avoiding allergens is helpful, but avoiding emotions isn't!
Of course you can recall the feelings you felt the day you learned about the food allergy, but have you connected with the stories that came out of it? When we experience something as emotional as a life-changing diagnosis, there's often a narrative that our mind attaches to - sometimes so quickly that we don't even notice it. It just sort of sneaks in and we don't take time to acknowledge it, let alone process it.
In the case of food allergies, we immediately jump into action - doing, learning, avoiding, protecting. We may process the surface thoughts and feelings, but the deeper emotions and stories likely stay put because there's no time or energy for that work. But what happens when we don't make the time to process them? They find ways to come back up, especially when we feel vulnerable, such as after another reaction or during a life transition that leads to increased emotions again. And those stories we told ourselves about the early experiences with food allergies have the ability to impact our allergy mindset - changing how we manage it all in the future.
Yes, it's uncomfortable to revisit that time in our minds, but it can help unhook you from unhelpful narratives that may keep you from moving forward in the way you want to on this allergy journey, especially if those narratives are focused on blame, guilt, and self-judgement. This image shows some of the emotions and diagnosis narratives that may be experienced. This isn't an exhaustive list, so use it as a starting point to help you identify your own. Use self-compassion and kindness with yourself as you process these, just as you'd offer a friend. Notice if you're still holding onto anything internally that's keeping you stuck, pushing you around or derailing you from being the allergic person or parent you want to be.
If you feel you need the support of processing this with a licensed therapist, you can find an allergy-informed one via the Food Allergy Counselor Directory.
DAY 7 - Saturday, May 15th, 2021:
Saturday's FAAW tip offers a post-reaction compass to help rebuild confidence and decrease anxiety after anaphylaxis through the T.R.A.C.E. approach.
It's very common to feel like a reaction, anaphylactic or not, has set you back emotionally and decreased willingness to live fully due to fear of another reaction. This is a normal response to a traumatic situation, so allowing yourself to honor those thoughts and feelings is a part of the healing process. But once the initial overwhelm from the reaction settles a bit, it's important to create your game plan to build your confidence again. Without this step, you risk staying stuck, hooked by fear and catastrophizing thoughts that keep you unable to truly move forward in a way that benefits yourself and/or your child.
T.R.A.C.E. is an easy way to remember the key components of this rebuilding process. It takes time to rebuild trust, getting back to a routine, reviewing with your allergist, practicing tons of compassion, and educating yourself on anxiety and to fill the knowledge gaps.
Community Conversation - what has helped you and/or your child move forward after a reaction?
You can find a free downloadable worksheet version of T.R.A.C.E. in the Worksheets section.
I hope you were able to share or learn new things this Food Allergy Awareness Week. I'd love to hear from you - what were some of the best tips
you learned or share this week?
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.
[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.]
RELATED Helpful Resources:
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