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Is Food Allergy Anxiety Contagious?

Woman sitting in bed while typing on laptop

Given that anxiety is a normal human emotion, and uncertainty and feared experiences can trigger it, it's no surprise that reading things online can easily kick anxiety into high gear.

Most of the content shared online is done so with good intentions - to impart knowledge and empowerment. As such, it can feel useful to spend lots of time online, scrolling through allergy-related social media accounts and hopping in and out of online allergy groups. After all, food allergy-related anxiety often pushes us to believe that no stone should be left unturned, and therefore, we should check it ALL out!

But what happens when doing this INCREASES your anxiety and stress levels?

When it feels as if you've caught an "emotional infection" from reading others' experiences with allergies?

This can lead to food allergy anxiety and stress contagion, or absorbing anxiety and stress from others' posts. When this happens, you may find that you're now worrying about things you hadn't worried about before, or you may even start losing confidence in your allergy management approach.

This might present with thoughts such as: "I don't navigate my food allergy that way, but maybe I should be?!" and "Well, I hadn't thought of THAT, but now I'm so worried that's what will happen to me, too!"

In online groups, food allergy anxiety and stress contagion may even begin a domino effect of MORE anxiety-inducing posts from group members looking for feedback and reassurance to help address the increased anxiety from reading about others' experiences!

Am I suggesting that people stop following allergy social media accounts or stop joining online groups?

No, but I am encouraging mindful choices about HOW to interact with them.

So, how can you navigate this aspect of allergy-related content online without letting it come at the expense of your own mental health and emotional wellness?


4 Tips for Navigating (and Avoiding) Food Allergy Anxiety and Stress Contagion

  • Keep Scrolling: If specific topics and themes tend to trigger your anxiety and stress levels, then be mindful when choosing to read posts about them. How can you do this? Check in with yourself as you're reading things, and if you're walking away with more uncertainty and fear than helpful tips and insights, then those are not the types of posts that you should be engaging with.

  • Don't Overgeneralize: Minds like to find thinking traps to get stuck in, and overgeneralization is one of them. Overgeneralization leads you to assume that what happens to others will happen to you. If someone else with your same allergy has an anaphylactic reaction after eating at a specific restaurant, then that must mean you will, too, right? WRONG. There are lots of factors involved in allergy life experiences, so try catching your mind when it overgeneralizes things you're reading, and remind yourself that if that were the case, navigating allergies would be much simpler!

  • Stay Out of the Comparison Trap: Everyone applies allergy management guidelines in a personalized way based on their lifestyle. Therefore, remind yourself not to compare how you manage your allergy with how others manage theirs. As mentioned, there are many factors involved in allergy life experiences, so using others as an assessment for how well you're managing your allergy isn't a very effective tool. In fact, people typically feel worse about themselves after comparisons! So try and resist the temptation.

  • When In Doubt, Ask Your Allergist: Anaphylaxis guidelines state "When in doubt, use epinephrine." So let's add this additional reminder: "When in doubt (about allergy management), ask your allergist." When you read something online and you're unsure whether you should be worrying about it, ask your allergist/allergy healthcare team. It's so easy to get stuck in an internal debate with yourself, and/or spend hours researching online. Instead, call your allergy care team to get clarification, especially as it will be specific to you and your allergy management plan.

Remember to check in with yourself to keep an eye on how you're feeling as you engage with food allergy-focused content online. Don't be afraid to unfollow accounts or leave groups that aren't helping you build your allergy management skills and confidence!

Want more on this topic? Check out this article I wrote for Healio:


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