Tag Archives: Joanna C.

Anxiety and Allergies

Woman Second Guessing

One of the difficult things about allergies, is it seems as though you cannot always control 100 percent of situations. A few great examples of when I have experienced this included when you are on a plane, in a restaurant, at a party, or where external factors are at play in general. I find that, when I am in these situations where I do not have control over possible allergic scenarios, anxiety rushes right up to meet me! Having those feelings, coupled with previous bullying experiences about my allergies, doesn’t make things easier. Sometimes people joke about me being a control freak. But I find it is a real challenge not to be at least a little bit of a control freak when you have life-threatening allergies. I develop anxiety from sources beyond just my allergies. So I have had more than my share of symptoms and reactions. I have a few recommendations for anyone suffering and trying to manage anxiety in their life, from allergies or anything else:

Be prepared

Always be as prepared as you can for situations you expect to trigger anxiety. I notoriously think about where I am going and what might be happening. The more I can be prepared for situations mentally, the easier it is for me to create solutions for problems I might run into. Or I can take proactive steps.

Communicate

I am a strong proponent of communicating your allergies to others. Anytime I am in a situation that may trigger my allergies, I try to mitigate what might develop into anxiety. Flying or being in places with no immediate access to medical care is where I frequently develop anxiety. I am always sure to have my own food, tell the flight attendant about my allergies, and to carry two auto-injectors with me. Many times this has opened-up conversations with other passengers about allergies – secondarily creating an opportunity for allergy education!

Recognize and manage

One of the largest hurdles I’ve had has been understanding what my triggers for anxiety are and what the symptoms of anxiety are. As an allergy-specific example, I know that being in restaurants or houses where I don’t trust food preparation are big triggers for me. Even if I am told that everything is safe for me to consume, deep down I do not trust that it is. I feel anxiety building. As a solution to reduce anxiety, I politely decline eating or just have a beverage. Learning to recognize when I may be impacted by anxiety, and how to manage the situation, has been incredibly powerful for me.

You are not alone

I have learned over the years that there are so many other people with allergies that do not tell many people about them. Know that you are not the only one at a restaurant that has allergies. You are not the only one on a flight with allergies. And you are not the only one who has anxiety from allergies and has to navigate managing allergies in your life. If you ever feel overwhelmed or that your anxiety is building to a level that is too much for you to manage, ask for help and share your concerns with someone you trust. Find out what works for you to help you live a life with as little anxiety as possible.

Anxiety is not fun. It also is not always easy to solve. If you are one of the people that suffers from anxiety and hears people tell you things like “don’t stress, it’s not worth it” or to “take it easy, it will be fine,” you may have the same reaction as I often do. I cannot simply shake off anxiety in two seconds. It is much more complicated. In conclusion, I also guarantee that, by learning to be open to finding ways to know your triggers, symptoms, and manage your anxiety, you will live a fuller, happier, and much less-stressed life!

Joanna C.

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Managing Allergies During the Holidays

Holiday Meal

I always sigh a little when the holiday season rolls around (and not just because of gift shopping). It happens during any holiday, really, due to food and allergies. Sometimes I just wish for even one day without allergies! But, alas, my allergies are around. So I manage as best I can. There are three areas that I find to be the most challenging when it comes to food allergies around any holiday season: baking and cooking, family and friend gatherings, and inconveniencing others. I have a few favorite tips and I’ll share those at the end of my blog post!

Baking and Cooking

 

Luckily for me, I have grown up cooking with my parents and both sets of grandparents. Holiday baking has always been a fun thing for me; but it gets trickier each time I have encountered a new allergen (I’m now allergic to nuts, soy and dairy and I spent five years flipping between being vegetarian and vegan). During my university years, and ever since, I have been leading a more health-conscious life. Finding recipes that can accommodate my allergens, healthy lifestyle, and those that are delicious for my family, then, is a massive win!

Family and Friend Gatherings

 

My family keeps pretty similar annual traditions for holiday dinners and events; and being around the same people all the time allows them to be familiar with my allergies. Most of the time everyone is conscientious about what is being put in the food as well as being on the lookout for cross-contamination. And they are okay with me always asking what is inside certain dishes. Despite this, I often do not feel 100% safe. So I make sure ahead of time that I know there is a dish we can bring or I talk to family members that are cooking before to remind them about my allergies, cross-contamination, and find out what ingredients they are cooking with. It is easy for people to mistakenly forget an allergen. Being preventative helps keep me safe and creates a less-stressful environment for everyone when I am present at the gathering. After all, a big part of the holidays involves having fun with family and friends and eating delicious food!

Inconvenience to Others

 

No matter how many times my family and friends tell me that I am not an inconvenience, (and that the need for me to have to request certain things for dinners or choose to not have baking or beverages that are prepared during the holiday season is totally okay) I still feel that I am an inconvenience. Sometimes I will avoid eating all together if I don’t feel safe with my allergies. Or I just leave the event early (I did that recently at my friend’s dinner and it wasn’t that fun.). At times, I find it frustrating that my allergies create extra work for other people. I find it normal to use different ingredients, cook from scratch all the time, and know what I have in everything. So I don’t find it to be an issue. But I do recognize that these aren’t habits for most people.

 

As a promised bonus, my favorite tips to navigate through the holiday season with ease include:

 

  • Find a couple food blogs or recipe books that you love! Share these with family and friends. One of my favorites is ohsheglows.com

 

  • If you have “abnormal ingredients” you cook with, i.e. butter, egg or flour substitutes, try to introduce these to people you will be with through recipes before the holiday season. Nothing should come as a surprise to them if you take this approach. They may even take on using these substitutes themselves (my best friend now swears by vegan cheese instead of dairy based).
  • Remind people about your allergies and the severity of cross-contamination.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t eat it!
  • Try to always have a dish that you know you can comfortably eat.

 

Happy Holidays and stay safe!

 

Joanna C.

Road-trips and Allergies

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Allergies and road-trips = the potential of being far away from a hospital and immediate medical attention for equally possible long durations of time. This definitely makes the list of “things that make me uncomfortable and slightly stressed while away from home.” I’ve had a decent amount of experience to live through this stressor—mostly thanks to my parents. We have travelled in our tent trailer since I was about 5 years old as we road-tripped all across Canada.

I’ve had to manage anaphylaxis since I was 16 months old (okay, my parents did for the first while…); and my parents brought me up to always be conscious about what I was ingesting, cross-contamination, and about the management of possible allergic reactions. (To this day, I cannot imagine the stress involved in leaving me as a 6 year old at kindergarten and to my own devices!) My road-trip experience growing up looked mostly like this. For 2-3 weeks each summer, I would travel via mini-van and tent-trailer with my brother, parents, and dog to somewhere in Canada. We travelled to the east coast, west coast, prairies, and northern territories… suffice it to say that I learned quite a bit about Canadian culture. I also learned a few staples about road-tripping with allergies. Here they are (in no specific order):

  • Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan! 

It is so important to have your own food that is safe for you to eat. One of the reasons that my family went camping so much is because we could easily manage what we were eating and know it was safe for me. Stock up on all ingredients you will need to have and take them with you.

  • Auto-injector, plus a spare!!!

I cannot stress this enough. I always carry two auto-injectors with me. On a recent trip I took, when I was unsure about medical care, I took more than two. You can never be too careful. As for any other medications you may possibly need—bring them. Check that all of your prescriptions are up to date and you have extras if you think you may need them.

  • Extra safe snacks:

It’s easy for friends to stop off and pick up a snack here or there; but it is not always that easy for those of us with allergies or food sensitivities. Carrying your extra snacks or treats with you can make it so much easier, and more fun, to be able to share similar experiences and not feel left out. As much as possible, I want to limit feeling like a burden to my friends and family because my allergies limit where and what I can eat. So I always make sure I have some kind of snack with me. They want to stop off at a cafe? Cool! I’ll grab a tea and have a snack that I brought. They can enjoy their latte and cake or whatever they get. It is always better to be safe than sorry!

  • Can you bring food? 

I was recently at a music festival where they had a policy that no food was allowed to be brought in unless you had allergies. Check to see if this is a factor for any of the stops you are making on your road trip! Also, make sure you see if you need any kinds of letters from your doctor about needing auto-injectors or any other drugs that are to be kept with you. I have been hassled about this before. Leave my auto-injectors with the security staff at the front gates? Yea, right…not happening!

  • Map medical facilities:

This is something I have been more vigilant about doing since I have been older as opposed to when I was younger. I look at where I am staying and figure out where nearby medical facilities are. It puts me at ease to know what I have accessible to me and how readily available I am to medical care should an emergency happen. If I am not staying in a city (i.e. camping), I know what the easiest route back to where medical care is and, if I am remote, I know what my options are in terms of who to contact for help (i.e. park rangers) if we need immediate assistance.

  • Tell your friends about your allergies:

This is another point I cannot stress enough! It is so important to communicate your allergies/food sensitivities to the people you are travelling with. I find it to be a less than fun feeling when we’re in the car and I see that chocolate bar or bag of trail mix that has peanuts in it (one of my allergens); and I think “oh no, I can’t be near that… It is never fun to feel like the ‘buzz kill’.  Tell your friends/travel companions beforehand to avoid this situation!

  • Medic Alert: 

I do not remember a time in my life when I haven’t had my MedicAlert bracelet (actually, I only remember the times when I do not have it because I lost it!). A MedicAlert is something that is so important to have. Even in the recent first aid course I did, it is part of the training to look to see if there is medical identification jewellery on the person. This jewellery can speak for you when you can’t when, for example, you have passed out or are in a panic and forgot to say certain things. Specifically, my MedicAlert advises that I am allergic to penicillin. This is important if I have an allergic reaction. The medical responders will easily be able to identify that I cannot have that drug. For the small cost that it is, having a MedicAlert is like a safety blanket that is always with you; and there are a lot of styles it comes in now. Being ‘fashion forward’ isn’t an issue anymore!

Those are my top suggestions for embarking on a road trip when you have allergies. There are definitely multiple other considerations that should be made before going on a trip; don’t limit yourself. Do you have any tips that have been useful? Share in the comments!

Happy travels!

Joanna C.

Allergies as Disability: The Pros and Cons

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Often, when people find out I am allergic to peanuts, they say: “How do you live without peanut butter?!”  My response is:  “Well, it’s kind of a life-threatening allergy. So…”

Allergies are more of a win than a burden for me. Yes, it can be an annoyance to manage my allergies when I am going to eat out, go to people’s houses for dinner or have business lunches and dinners. That being said, I am pretty satisfied with the idea that I am always endlessly conscious of what I am eating.

I am used to reading labels, asking about ingredients and knowing everything that is in my food. In efforts towards choosing healthy lifestyle options, this is an easy cross-over for me. I have no new habits to form when reviewing foods. Along the same lines, one of the cons in having allergies means having to put out the extra cash for specific foods because of the foods I can or cannot eat.

The idea of labelling people with allergies as having a disability has been brought up in various sectors of society. I feel this would be an interesting concept. I am not sure how that would change lifestyles or benefits (medical) for people with allergies; but it would be nice to have a similar qualification for a tax deduction based on the extra costs that can be associated with purchasing allergen free foods, for example. Another pro of having people with allergies be labeled with “a disability” is the potential for it to create more black and white legislation towards issues like dealing with allergies on airplanes and allergen free areas at sporting venues (to name but a few possibilities).

There are some potential conflations that may come with being labeled with a “disability.” Unfortunately, people may have a hard time identifying something as a disability when it sits outside more traditional physical or mental issues. Allergies are comprised of neither of those, at least in a straightforward sense. So I can understand the frustrations people with allergies might have if others were to equate their disability with having a physical or mental rather than as a stand alone category. As a person with allergies, I have to manage my allergies daily so I do not consume things that will put my life at risk. So I remain unsure how having myself recognized as a person with an allergic disability versus person with allergies would change daily management.

Personally, I am okay with having allergies. Would life be easier without them? Yes. But I have them and, if there are ways that we can lessen the burden financially and socially for people with allergies, I am personally all for that.

Joanna

Eating Out With Allergies: Asking the Right Questions

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Rule #1: There are never too many questions you can ask about food you are about to consume. That was the number one lesson my parents instilled in me about eating out.

I have been allergic to peanuts since I was 16 months old. My parents started teaching me very young to be vocal about my allergies regardless of where I was. To this day, I have no idea how they let me go to kindergarten by myself, knowing I could unknowingly put my allergen into my mouth. Yet, here I am, turning 28 next month and have yet to have an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts since I was 16 months old. It might seem crazy. But I am insanely vigilant to avoid risks when at all possible.

I suggest following the follow basic precautions when choosing to dine out (or eating with family and friends):

1) Carry your auto-injector: Always, always, always carry your auto-injector. This cannot be stressed enough. There are so many sad stories about individuals who did not have their auto-injector with them to treat a reaction.

2) Call before you go: After checking the menu online, call the restaurant and ask to speak with someone from the kitchen. Find out if they use your allergen in the kitchen. If so, ask what dishes. If they do say ‘yes’, I always ask how they deal with cross-contamination and if they can use fresh utensils and ingredients when preparing my food. Just the other day, I had a chef actually thank me for calling to ask before coming. He mentioned that he wished more people would do that.

3) Don’t be afraid to speak up: I usually scan the menu as soon as I get to the restaurant and pick out an option to eat. When my dining companions and I order drinks, I ask my server to check my selected meal with the kitchen in regards to my allergies. This way, I do not feel awkward making my friends or family wait when checking about my allergies. Remember, if you do not feel comfortable dining at the establishment you chose, it is okay to say no to eating there.

4) Plan ahead: I always carry snacks and plan where I am going to eat as best possible. If I cannot plan that for various reasons, then I try to select a restaurant specializing in a food type that I generally can eat (for me that’s Italian and Greek).

5) Alternate planning: If you plan to cook a meal with friends, this does not mitigate the odds of cross-contamination. Always mention your allergies and take whatever precautions you need to in order to stay safe; I get that this can feel like a burden. But your friends will understand.

Eating out with allergies does not need to hamper your fun. As with managing every other avenue of life with allergies, be smart!

Joanna