Allergies and Anxiety

Worried Couple

In my years of working in advocacy with the allergic community, I have noticed that the topic of anxiety comes up quite frequently. It seems as though most allergic people I’ve met have experienced a bit of a challenge with anxiety at one point or another. My major bout with anxiety occurred during my grade 12 grad trip abroad. I had an allergic reaction that included the following symptoms: itchy mouth, throat, hives, and tightness in the chest. I ended up being okay.

Luckily, my reaction wasn’t that severe. I took an antihistamine and felt a lot better. The worst part for me was that I had asked all the right questions and took the necessary precautions. I realized that I was not really in control of the situation at all. That is what rattled me the most! Unfortunately, this happened on the second night of my trip.  For the next five days, I hardly ate anything except for some of the snack foods I had packed myself. I ended up losing quite a bit of weight in the next few days. Even after arriving home to Canada, I found myself very on edge around meal times. I would check ingredient labels incessantly. I was afraid that everything in my house was in some way cross-contaminated and started eating less and less. I began having panic attacks which was a really scary thing for me. The symptoms are similar to anaphylaxis—a sense of impending doom, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and dizziness. My sister was a great support to me and always helped talk me through my panic attacks.

I basically came to the realization that I can never control everything when it comes to my allergies. I can only do what I can to minimize the risk of a reaction and be prepared to handle a reaction when needed (this includes carrying my auto-injector and purchasing traveler’s insurance in advance, knowing the emergency number in the country you are staying etc.).  With this knowledge in mind, my anxiety is much better. I have not had a panic attack in years and I am able to logically assess risk in stressful situations. Since that graduation trip, I have backpacked through Europe and gone on two Cruises through the Caribbean with no further incidents. I don’t want my allergies to hold me back in life. I embrace new experiences with an open-mind and find comfort in knowing that I am always prepared.

Nicole K. 

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