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GROW Through Allergy Discomfort

teacher and students learning outside

Living with food allergies and other allergic diagnoses 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 food allergy-related confidence.

Simply put, if we avoid every opportunity to practice food 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 tools 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.

The list of strategies and tools that will help us work THROUGH the discomfort (rather than letting it STOP us) may include: 

  • Communication: Discuss with your allergist the actual versus perceived risk levels of various situations and scenarios that make you very uncomfortable

  • Identification: Make a list of scenarios you'd like to learn to develop more comfort with, and rank them by the level of importance in your life (i.e. how meaningful would it be and/or how much quality of life would it bring), and by distress level (i.e. how uncomfortable does it make you feel). This can help you determine WHERE to start first. 

  • Distress Management Tools: This can include tools to help with physical distress and uncomfortable situations (i.e. deep breathing, movement/walking),  and emotional distress (i.e. mindfulness strategies)

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. Best of all, 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 feelings or sensations say we 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 feelings, so it’s important to identify other reasons why something may feel uncomfortable to do.

O: OBSERVE how it feels in your mind and body

Get to know how your mind and body react 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 is 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. 


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