As we welcome 2023, let's set some mindful intentions for the year. Let's focus on finding practical ways to effectively manage the stress and anxiety we may feel related to living with food allergies and allergic diseases. And The Food Allergy Counselor is here to help you do just that with all of its resources!
What Exactly is Stress?
According to the American Psychological Association, “Stress is a normal reaction to everyday pressures, but can become unhealthy when it upsets your day-to-day functioning. Stress involves changes affecting nearly every system of the body, influencing how people feel and behave.”
Simply put, stress is how we feel and/or react when under pressure or threatened. It’s an emotional and physical response to a thought, feeling or situation, and with it often comes tension and a feeling that we don’t have the ability to manage the stress (or stressor causing the stress).
All the way back to the cavemen days, humans have experienced this automatic response to help the body/mind kick into gear to act quickly while seeking out safety/protection. (That's the fight-flight-freeze response). But the typical daily threats we experience today, such as bills and deadlines, don't require such a strong stress response. Therefore, our body's natural "alarm system" sometimes over-functions, leading us to stay stuck in the stress cycle.
Physically, stress can show up by causing headaches, digestive issues, high blood pressure, fatigue, problems with sleep, etc. Emotionally, it can give way to irritability, anger, worry, increased anxiety and depression, and even panic.
Am I Feeling Stress or Anxiety?
It's common to confuse stress and anxiety. After all, both are emotional responses, and they often show up hand-in-hand! But here are the differences to help you determine when you're experiencing stress and when you're experiencing anxiety.
What Can We Do About Stress?
The truth is we've all felt stress - we navigate through it each day! Paying the bills, making tough daily decisions, navigating childcare, etc. Some stress we're better at managing, while some feels like a constant struggle to regain balance from.
Therefore, it's helpful to recognize the stress triggers you're not navigating well. Becoming aware of them and acknowledging the need for more effective strategies is a great place to start!
The key is finding workable ways to manage stress when it does impact your functioning. Therefore, whatever works to help you release the emotional and physical tension should be a tool in your stress management toolkit!
This may include physical releases such as movement, walking and exercise. It could include feel-good things such as laughing and connecting with others/friends. Deep breathing, stretching and mindfulness exercises can be useful, too. It’s also helpful to regulate sleeping and eating patterns, as our mind and body are better able to handle stress when rested and fueled.
How Can We Manage the Ongoing Stress of Food Allergy?
For many, food allergy and allergic diseases likely fit into the category of an ongoing stressor, causing chronic stress. While that may be the case, we can still approach the stress in a way that makes it feel more manageable.
Here are some tips for making allergy-related stress more manageable:
Stress is part of life, so learning how to effectively navigate it and manage it well is crucial. Living with food allergy and allergic diseases does add more stress, but even so, we can still find workable ways to deal with it.
Start by taking inventory of your biggest stressors, and an honest look at the stress management tools you use (or don't use, but likely should be using). Commit to trying one new approach to managing your stress over the next week, and then reflect on how it impacted your physical and emotional stress levels. You can do this!
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