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Getting Out of Your Allergy Comfort Zone

Woman pushing grocery cart

A common question asked in allergy support groups relates to how to move from fearing food allergies to confidently managing them.

The honest answer is: It's a learning process.

So let's explore that process.

Once you've adjusted to life with a food allergy, you'll likely find yourself in the allergy comfort zone. It's a place filled with routine, a sense of comfort, and most likely, limited risk-taking - all of which helps keep your anxiety manageable. Since we feel safe in our comfort zone, it can feel incredibly hard to motivate yourself to leave it.

So then, why would you want to leave a place that feels so comfortable just to welcome more fear?

To learn, grow, and develop food allergy confidence!

Sure, it's possible to stay in the allergy comfort zone forever and there's no judgment if that's the choice you make. But what happens when we stick within these rigid walls of comfort is that we limit our ability to engage in many meaningful life experiences because we experience fear and discomfort even just thinking about them, never mind trying them.

Therefore, let's look at the zones we move through to develop allergy confidence, and why it's beneficial to be willing to step outside of your allergy comfort zone!

The Fear Zone

Yes, the fear zone is just outside of the walls of the allergy comfort zone, but reminding yourself that it's just part of the process of developing confidence is useful.

Many experience increased anxiety, a lack of self-confidence, and even physical panic sensations while in the fear zone. This is understandable! When we are faced with the unknown, increased risk, and something new, it's common for anxiety and fear to increase.

However, we don't have to stay in the fear zone, and we don't have to run right back to our allergy comfort zone either (as much as we may want to). Reminding yourself that fear and anxiety are normal parts of this process, can help you feel more empowered to keep moving forward to the next zone!

The Learning Zone

The learning zone is where we do AND learn!

It's where we develop new skills that help us move closer to feeling food allergy confidence. Yes, this means we actually have to practice these new skills - which can make us feel very uncomfortable. But by practicing new skills, you are allowing yourself to experience situations that are useful for developing new insights that will truly make a difference in your mindset about allergy management. This is crucial because confidence is developed by building competence - or building your ability to do things effectively, such as navigating an anxiety-provoking situation.

Just because we're in the learning zone doesn't mean we don't still feel fear - these stages aren't as linear as the image shows. Again, anytime we're facing the unknown, unpredictability, uncertainty, newness, and transition, it's common for increased anxiety, and if there's perceived risk associated, an increase in fear as well. But these feelings of discomfort don't always signify danger - sometimes they signify growth!

The Growth Zone

This is the zone we can't wait to get to!

The growth zone is where we develop more confidence in our ability to navigate the feared experiences we've wanted to learn how to handle better. As a result, this often leads to decreased anxiety and fear, and essentially brings us to a new and expanded version of our allergy comfort zone!

Tips to Help You Move Through The Zones:

The following can help you stay committed to moving forward (rather than moving back to the allergy comfort zone) and towards growth and confidence in managing your allergies: 

  • Anxiety and stress management tools - Identifying and using anxiety management tools, such as thought editing, journaling, and mindfulness exercises, as well as tools to manage physical anxiety sensations, such as breathing and relaxation exercises, movement, and physical exercise.

  • Remembering the purpose - Staying connected to your WHY - the reason or benefits of going through this process (i.e. better ability and more confidence in navigating eating out, traveling, parties, etc).

  • Mindset reminders - Remembering that increased anxiety and fear are common when we underestimate our ability to manage a situation, and/or don't feel we have the necessary tools to do so - that's why going through the learning and doing stage (i.e. developing new skills) is key in building food allergy confidence!

  • Motivating questions to explore - Think about your own desired growth, starting by identifying what might be worth pushing yourself out of your allergy comfort zone. Explore the following questions:

    • What actions or experiences would you like to have that fear and/or anxiety are holding you back from?

    • Are there allergy management areas in which you'd like to learn new skills and/or grow confidence in managing? 

    • When have you stepped outside of your allergy comfort zone, and how did it help you grow?  

    • What would it take to motivate you to step outside of your allergy comfort zone again? 

    • What tools would help you follow through the zones to the growth stage? 

Final Thoughts:

When we're brave enough to leave our comfort zone and push through the fear zone into the learning zone, we allow ourselves to develop the skills that help make things feel less scary. Skills help us assess allergy risks, logically think through scenarios, and ultimately increase our belief in ourselves. All of this then helps us develop a more empowered attitude about living with food allergies!


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