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Building Allergy Life Skills When Anxious

Family sitting on couch

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, 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 as 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 if 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: 

  • Skill you want to develop/practice: self-advocating and speaking up

  • Benefit of developing/practicing this skill: more comfortable eating out

Then, decide how/where you want to start practicing this skill. Maybe you want to start at a familiar restaurant at a non-peak hour. Or you might even want to simply start by practicing it at home in the mirror, pretending you're in the actual situation.

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: 

  • What went well? 

  • What would you like to do differently next time? 

  • What did you learn about yourself and/or the situation?

  • Were you able to work through the discomfort you felt while practicing? 

  • Were you able to stay connected with the benefit you'll get from this skill?

Final Thoughts...

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 a movement towards adding more into our comfort zone. 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!


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