We know that in order to gain confidence in our ability to manage our own or our child's allergies, we have to step outside of our comfort zone - because that's where growth happens. But when we finally do step outside and feel anxious, and then have the urge to turn and run, what do we do? It's a catch-22, right?
Well, maybe this new allergy psychosocial tool will help with this process!
A Guide For Practicing Allergy Life Skills:
This Guide for Practicing Allergy Life Skills (when feeling anxious) offers step-by-step guidance through this "out-of-our-comfort-zone" growth process with the goal of not letting the anxiety permanently hold us back. In turn, this helps us focus on EXPANDING OUR COMFORT ZONE so we can add more to it over time.
This guide is a reminder that when we are growing (developing a new skill or a new relationship, or just personal growth), there's discomfort, which may come in the form of anxiety, fear and overwhelm. Yes, allergic conditions do intensify things because of their life-impacting and even life-threatening nature, but at the core, we're still just building important life skills like we do in other areas of our lives. And remember, we don't need to take major leaps outside of our comfort zones (unless you feel ready to) - start small and build over time.
It's also important to note that you don't have to move through this guide in the order it's shown. Just like when we process grief, we can jump from stage to stage. So if you notice the anxiety before you begin practicing the new allergy life skill, then start there and work through the steps until you can try practicing the skill.
And it's equally important to remind yourself that it's okay if it takes you lots of practice to learn this new allergy life skill, or you can't even get through the whole process initially. The goal is growth, and growth takes time and practice!
Let's use the following scenario to show how this guide would be helpful:
You want to start eating out at restaurants more, but are nervous about speaking up and advocating for yourself. It makes you so anxious!
Always start by clarifying what the allergy life skill is you're trying to develop and the benefit of practicing it:
1. Practice what you'd like to tell the waiter or manager, and what you plan to ask them. Try saying/asking in different ways if you need to. Show them your allergy card.
2. Notice the anxious thoughts and feelings in your mind and body. Remind yourself that you're doing something new, but there's a big benefit to getting through this discomfort. Don't overly engage with them, but instead, work with them. Edit them from "What if" thoughts to "If, then" thoughts.
3. Explore the emotional and physical anxiety and discomfort. Maybe there's another question you need to ask or more information you want to share with the restaurant staff to help you safer and feel better about speaking up. You may also need to take a moment to physically relax yourself.
4. Use calming tools, such as deep breathing or focusing on something you can see or hear, if you notice your mind or body getting really anxious or uncomfortable.
5. Try the skill again - either at that time and/or in the future. Ask more questions during this experience, or note what you'd like to do differently next time.
After you've practiced, debrief about the experience with questions such as:
Again, in these kinds of uncomfortable situations, our focus needs to be working towards EXPANDING OUR COMFORT ZONE over time so that we can add more to it over time. Even if we aren't good at the skill the first few times we try it, or can't get through the whole process - that's okay! The goal is just to try and make movement towards adding more into our comfort zone.
Just like the image below, which represents what we THINK happens over time with grief - versus what ACTUALLY happens - our goal when managing allergies is to expand our comfort zone around the discomfort. Therefore, keeping this in mind with each step we take can help us talk back to our anxiety and stay the course!
So, give this tool a go the next time you want to try a new experience that feels overwhelming. Use it as a visual reminder that you DO have the ability to get yourself through the discomfort and expand your comfort zone, even if it feels hard to! I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this new psychosocial tool!
Looking for more tools and insights to help you move through the discomfort and fear of reactions in new, unfamiliar situations? Check these resources out:
Remember, support is out there if you need it! Check out the Food Allergy Counselor Directory, the Exploring Food Allergy Families podcast, the Food Allergy Behavioral Health Resource section, and the allergy-specific therapeutic worksheets.
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:
Thanks for reading,
If you've ever experienced an allergic reaction, or witnessed your child experiencing one, then you're likely familiar with how it can feel afterwards - once the reaction is over. These emotions and thoughts may include feelings such as fear, worry, sadness, or even guilt, and explorations to try and understand what happened in order to prevent it from happening again.
For some, they may process through this phase quickly, while others take longer. Some may even find themselves becoming stuck along the way, unable to find their way back to navigating food allergies confidently.
New podcast episode on this topic!
In episode 9 of the Exploring Food Allergy Families podcast, I'm joined by fellow allergy-informed clinician, psychologist Fawn McNeil-Haber, PhD.
Together, we explore common feelings and thoughts that many may feel for days, weeks or even months after a reaction. We explore how those emotional reactions may lead to common behavioral changes and actions. Additionally, we share strategies to help people through this while on the journey back to confidently managing food allergies. [These tips may be helpful for parents and allergic kids, teens, and adults].
Follow FAC on Twitter or Instagram, or on Facebook on the Food Allergy Counselor Directory page to get updates on the FAC Directory, blog or resources. And connect with FAC creator Tamara on Twitter or Instagram!
Listen to & subscribe to the Exploring Food Allergy Families podcast!
Connect with Tamara
on Facebook via
Tamara Hubbard, LCPC counseling page
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