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Managing Food Allergy-Related Stress


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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.


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 the stressor causing the stress).


Back in the cavemen days, humans 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.


Stress:

  • Stress is typically triggered by something external

  • Stress can be acute/brief/situational or ongoing/chronic, and when ongoing, can lead you to feel stuck

  • Stress responses can lead people into an anxiety cycle

  • Stress can also be a motivating force, pushing you to achieve

  • Examples of short-term stress triggers are a fight with a friend, a work/school deadline, an upcoming event

  • Examples of long-term/ongoing stress triggers are chronic illness, inability to work/attend school, discrimination, basic needs not getting met

Anxiety:

  • Future-focused, anticipatory worries and thoughts; often show up like racing thoughts

  • Persistent and/or excessive worry that is still present even when the stressor isn't

  • Anxiety can be useful, helping us prepare and make safe choices

  • Can physically and emotionally show up similar to stress, but the stressor/trigger can help differentiate between them

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 feel like a constant struggle to regain balance.


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: 

  • Stay in the here and now; by being too future-focused, we are likely to increase anxiety, which doesn't help with stress management

  • Focus on what you CAN do to navigate each day well with your allergy

  • Focus on how you can INFLUENCE outcomes in stressful situations (rather than trying to control all possible outcomes)

  • Preparing for stressful scenarios and practicing allergy management skills can help decrease how stressful things feel

  • Break allergy management tasks into chunks and/or delegate tasks to others to help you manage the ongoing stress more effectively

  • Take good physical/emotional care of yourself so that when allergy-related stressors do happen, you're better able to handle them

  • Mindset matters! Yes, the allergy isn't likely to go away, but we don't need to navigate each day with a doom-and-gloom mindset either. It's absolutely possible to live a full and meaningful life - even with allergies and the stress they cause!

  • Positive self-talk helps! We're often judgmental of ourselves and supportive of others. So develop empowerment-based phrases you can say to yourself when feeling stressed, such as: "I'm brave!" and "This feels hard, but I can get through it!" and "I don't like this, but I'll feel better soon!"


Final Thoughts...

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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