In our previous blog, we talked about helping teens with food allergies and anxiety. In this fourth, and final blog in the series, we will be discussing how stress goes hand in hand with being a food allergy parent. You worry about food, checking ingredient lists, accidental exposures, healthy eating, and cross contamination. You worry about reactions. You worry about other caretakers keeping your child safe. You worry about your child being included at parties and at lunch. You worry about where they go, what they do, and if they will remember to check every time. You worry if they are going to be bullied. You worry about the worst. You worry.
When you first find out your child has severe food allergies it can be all consuming. As you begin to navigate this new world, you will start to find your footing. Most days the worry can fuel you. You research and you plan. But other days the worry can overwhelm and undo you. Signs the worry may have morphed into a more problematic version of anxiety include:
- Sleeplessness, insomnia
- Excessive worry, rumination, preoccupation, and intrusive thoughts
- Negative self talk: “I can’t do this,”; “My child will never be safe,”; “My child will never be able to do things like other children.”
- Frequent headaches, stomach aches and somatic problems
- Excessive crying
- Irritability and agitation
- Feeling keyed up, tense and jittery all the time.
- Appetite/weight loss
- Excessive avoidance
Additionally, managing your anxieties as a parent can be a struggle. For many parents, attending to one’s own needs are low on the priority list. Children, however, take their emotional cues from those close to them. So if you are anxious and overwhelmed, this may spill onto your child as well. Moreover, you deserve to experience life not under constant duress. So start with the basics when reducing stress; including getting a full night’s sleep, eating regularly, and exercising. Other ways to reduce food allergy related anxiety include:
1. Increase your awareness
First and foremost stay connected to yourself. Your bodily sensations, emotions, actions and thoughts (BEAT) can communicate a tidal wave of information about how you are doing. Cultivate your awareness and connection with each of these human experiences. They will guide your journey toward knowing what you need when. It’s also important to take concerns of others in your inner circle seriously. If they think you’re stressed, check in with your life BEAT (Bodily sensations, Emotions, Actions, Thoughts).
2. Create a support system
Furthermore, being a food allergy parent also means you need a tribe. It is important to have people who can understand and validate your experience. Other food allergy parents are great at providing emotional support. In addition, they also provide information, recipes, perspective and ideas on handling difficult situations. Find a support group, attend a food allergy walk, or join an online group. In addition, teach those who you trust and who want to support your family, how to care and protect you and your child.
3. Be informed and educated
Feelings of anxiety tend to be very intertwined with feelings of being out of control. While you cannot control of everything, there are many ways you can be in control. Learn about food allergies, reactions and safety precautions. Develop a 504 plan with your child’s school. Investigate ways that your child and family can safely take part in life’s experiences.
4. Nurture your world outside of food allergies
Of course, managing food allergies for a child can be all-encompassing at times. It is important to cultivate your life and interests outside of food allergies. Carve out time for yourself. Manage guilt you may feel because you get to take a break from food allergies while your child cannot. Those moments of recharge will help you better support and empathize with your child’s struggle.
5. Take a break
Being constantly focused on food allergies can be a rollercoaster ride. The latest recommendations on when you should have eaten what foods to prevent food allergies can encourage guilt and shame. Advances in research can be exciting as well as disappointing. Parents keep their kids safe in various ways. Some homeschool and others never go to restaurants. It can be hard to feel steadfast in your choices when you hear of others taking a different approach. Finally, new stories documenting food allergy tragedies (which are rare) can leave you in tears. Take breaks from your favorite food allergy facebook group, websites, and the emotional rollercoaster ride of consuming all that information.
6. Get on the same page as your child’s other parent and/or your spouse
Dealing with food allergies can be particularly stressful when parents see the situation from different perspectives. It can feel downright dangerous. Create time to discuss your differing perspectives and truly listen to the other parent’s fears and concerns. Both parents should meet with the allergist to fully understand their child’s allergies and the necessary precautions. For many families, one parent takes on most of the responsibility for safety. This division of labor can leave the other parent with a lack of understanding of what safety truly entails. Work to manage food allergies as a family and allow all family members to have input on ways to create a safe environment.
7. Squash negative self talk and ruminations
Once again, being aware of your life BEAT (Bodily sensations, Emotions, Actions, Thoughts) is important. Sometimes thoughts can reflect all of your fears and insecurities and heighten anxiety. Remember thoughts are not necessarily a reflection of who you are or the reality of a situation. They are just thoughts. Be careful not to let negative self-talk or ruminations get out of control. Rather accept that they will enter you mind at times. Remind yourself of all the important decisions and precautions you have taken to keep you family safe.
8. Speak up
Tap into your assertiveness and practice speaking up. Sometimes anxiety can increase when we are nervous about when to speak up regarding food allergies. Here is where your education and tribe come in. Once you have the knowledge of what can be done, what could happen, and how you want things to go, speak with your tribe and get support on delivering your message. The more you speak up for your family’s needs, the less nervous and the more in control you may start to feel.
Remember, it is important to monitor and manage your anxiety as a food allergy parent because your child will feed off your emotional cues. When you feel overwhelmed with your child’s allergy, it is best to seek help for yourself. Support groups, assistance from your child’s other parent, as well as taking a break from the stress of your child’s allergy can all provide relief. If the worry becomes overwhelming seek out professional help. You cannot pour from an empty glass. You must help yourself and keep your anxiety under control before you can help your child. Stay away from negativity and be the strong, supportive parent that you are capable of being.
Check out the whole Food Allergies and Anxiety series:
Part 1: What does anxiety look like?
Part 2: Helping Young Children
Part 3: Helping Teens
Learn more about our Food Allergy Services
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Brave Minds Psychological Services helps children, teens and families overcome severe anxiety, stress, and painful experiences. We specialize in developing brave minded youth that can move forward despite fears and significant challenges.