Food Allergy Anxiety: Individuals and the Family
MY OWN EXPERIENCE
When I became the parent of a child with a food allergy 14 years ago, I was surprised by the resulting stress it produced in both the individuals in my family and the family system itself. When I looked for information to help guide my family through this stress, I was frankly shocked by the dearth of resources to help us navigate this journey.
A lot has changed in 14 years. Families have many more resources and more research has been done about the psychological effects of food allergies on the individual and on the family. However, there are still very few mental health providers in the United States that have the experience and knowledge to treat the unique challenges that food allergies present. I have that knowledge both on a personal and professional level.
FOOD ALLERGY STRESSORS
Although any point in time can be stressful in your journey, particularly stressful times can include:
- The initial reaction to an allergen
- The official diagnosis
- Additional reactions to an established allergen or the discovery of additional allergens
- A reaction that presents with escalated symptoms from previous reactions
- Food challenges
- Any point in time that your child is going through significant developmental transitions
- Sibling Adjustment
- When family members do not understand the seriousness of the food allergy and/or refuse to accommodate the food allergy
- When parents disagree on the treatment plan or degree of food allergy vigilance necessary
- When considering OIT (oral immunotherapy treatment) or SLIT (sublingual immunotherapy)
- Treatment with OIT (oral immunotherapy treatment) or SLIT (sublingual immunotherapy)
- When a child is bullied or left out because of their food allergies
- Navigating holidays such as Halloween and Easter
- Eating out and vacations
Is Anxiety About A Food Allergy Holding You Or Your Child Back?
Do you or your child have serious food allergies that create a sense of fear and anxiety in everyday situations? Are you concerned that this allergy is preventing you or your child from trying new things or having new experiences? Have you found that family time, traditions, and shared meals are no longer enjoyable because of the allergen elephant in the room?
Perhaps neither of you have felt at ease ever since your child was diagnosed with a food allergy. You or your child may constantly be worried that they’ll be exposed to the allergen at school, at friends’ houses, while eating out, or even in your own kitchen.
Because of this, you may be concerned that your child’s world is becoming smaller or that all the anxiety is interfering with your ability to parent. And it’s possible that the hypervigilance related to your child’s food safety needs has adversely impacted your partner or other children.
It could even be that a food allergy has had a big impact on your child’s social life. Maybe they no longer enjoy the activities that once made them happy, or perhaps they feel embarrassed about their allergy. It’s possible that your child has been bullied by other kids about their restrictions or that they feel left out of certain group activities.
Alternatively, you may be the one who has recently discovered or long struggled with a food allergy. This unexpected life stressor may have impacted your cooking routine or social life.
Or perhaps you have developed alpha-gal syndrome (an allergy to red meat and other mammalian food products) as a result of a tick bite. If this is the case, your diet has likely been suddenly and severely limited, and you may have trouble navigating life with this new condition.
Living with a food allergy can be disruptive and anxiety-inducing, but it doesn’t have to make life unbearable. In therapy for food allergy anxiety, you can learn to adjust your mindset and reduce your fear.
Food Allergies Continue To Be On The Rise
According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE)-for whom I am a regular writer and contributor-one out of every 13 children has a food allergy. And of that relatively large population, 40 percent are allergic to more than one food.Moreover, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in the span of about a decade-from 1997 to 2008-the instances of food allergies in children increased by 50 percent.
As parents, these numbers can be cause for great concern. Upon discovering that our child has a serious food allergy, we’re likely to develop a sense of hypervigilance and chronic worry. Unfortunately, there are people in our families and/or communities at large that may not fully consider the dangers of food allergies. As a result, they don’t take precautions seriously or understand the stress we experience about the food that goes into our own or our children’s bodies.
It can be very difficult to strike a balance between being safe and being so guarded that it could ultimately be detrimental to our child’s developmental progress. We want them to grow, have new experiences, and engage in life in a way that encourages them to be independent. After all, they’re just children, and we want them to have the fun and carefree lifestyle of a kid.
But of course, food isn’t really something we can avoid. Eating is such a huge part of our culture and social lives as human beings that it only adds to the stress when we think about how inescapable the implications of a food allergy can be. In many cases, the more we try to control the stress and anxiety connected to food ingredients, the worse and more chronic our worries become.
Yet in therapy, you can voice your experiences with anxiety due to food allergy without fear of judgment or being misunderstood. And with the tools you develop in therapy, you’ll be better equipped to navigate your or your child’s food allergy stress and anxiety.
Therapy Offers You A New Perspective On Your Food Allergy Anxiety
If you or your child have a food allergy, you may find it hard to feel seen in your fears and food limitations. However, as both a psychologist and a parent of a child with food allergies, I can offer you a safe space where you will be understood and validated. Together, we can give voice to your food allergy anxieties and find tailored, effective ways for overcoming them.
Before we begin the treatment process, I will ask you to schedule a screening call to ensure that I am the right match for you and your family. During this conversation, I will learn more about your needs and also give you information about my approach to therapy.
When it comes to devising a plan, I aim to be solution-focused and flexible so that I can customize therapy to meet your or your child’s needs. My training in Marriage and Family Therapy has given me great insight into the needs of parents and children alike. And because I am a telehealth clinician, we can schedule sessions to work around your timeframe and without the hassle of a commute.
Throughout working together in therapy to treat your food allergy anxiety, we will spend a lot of time focusing on your values and the ways in which your current behaviors are either moving you closer to or farther away from your goals. As I learn more about how your or your child’s symptoms affect your daily life, I will be able to help you chart a course of action that aligns with your values.
My approach often draws from elements of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to target distorted thinking patterns. However, I predominantly use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which makes room for uncomfortable thoughts and feelings instead of judging or trying to change them. I find that ACT not only clarifies values for my clients struggling with anxiety but also encourages a sense of self-compassion and acceptance.
In addition to these evidence-based modalities, I incorporate mindfulness into food allergy anxiety therapy in a way that will allow you to be more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. And if it’s helpful, I am likely to include gentle aspects of exposure therapy into sessions so that you can increase psychological flexibility in moments of stress and anxiety.
It’s possible to live a full life with food allergies, in harmony with your most deeply held values and goals. By participating in therapy for food allergy anxiety, you can learn how to safely re-introduce the foods and experiences that you miss.
I want you and your child to enjoy life again. And instead of imagining the future with a sense of stress, you can look forward to meals together at the dinner table with renewed excitement and optimism.
Perhaps you’re ready to face your anxiety over food allergies, but you still have questions, such as…
If I talk about my food allergy anxiety, it will only make it worse.
A favorite saying of mine is a quote by Jon Kabat-Zinn, an expert on mindfulness, who said, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.” While I can’t guarantee that you won’t experience fear related to your food allergy during and after therapy, I can give you a lifetime of tools that will create room for your anxiety and, ultimately, make it more manageable and bearable.
I noticed you don’t take insurance…
There are a few reasons why I don’t take insurance, but the primary one is that your privacy is of the utmost concern to me. Whereas insurance companies require your private and personal information-including diagnosis and notes-my services are strictly confidential.
Moreover, insurance companies require a diagnosis to pay for your sessions. In other words, in order to be paid by insurance, I would have to give my clients a diagnosis, even if they don’t have one–and this does not align with my values. Instead, because I am not adherent to insurance policies, I can tailor treatment to meet your precise needs.
How do I know if my or my child’s food allergy anxiety is excessive?
Therapy is a great opportunity for you to identify the impact that food allergy anxiety has on your and/or your child’s life. And my approach can help you to clarify your motivations and how they are (or are not) aligning with the vision you have for your life.
As a regular contributor to FARE, I wrote an article to help parents identify whether or not the anxiety about their child’s food allergies is excessive. So, if you want to learn more, you can read my post here.
You Can Learn To Conquer Your Fear Of Food Allergies
If a food allergy has been the source of constant fear and worry in your home, therapy can help you to adjust your mindset and reduce anxiety. For more information or to schedule a free consultation, please visit my contact page or call (713) 844-8492.
We can work together to set your individual and family boundaries and align your behaviors with your values and goals, while always keeping safety in mind.
I can help parents, older adolescents (14+) and families affected by food allergies. If you are a food allergy parent, I can help you and your child become advocates for their safety while decreasing your stress level surrounding the allergy.
FARE (Food Allergy Resource and Education) articles by Dr. Freeman