Tag Archives: Managing Anxiety

Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Life-Threatening Allergies

Having a life-threatening food allergy can be scary, but what happens when you also suffer from a diagnosed anxiety disorder? How do you cope with having a sensitive food allergy, without having anxiety attacks every time you go out to eat, or go to a party?

About five years ago, I was diagnosed with a form of Generalized Anxiety Disorder but had been noticing symptoms for far longer than that. For me, Generalized Anxiety Disorder symptoms come in the form of constant worrying, with certain situations making those worries feel even more intense. Prior to this diagnosis, I experienced two anaphylactic reactions, both of which required me to administer my EpiPen®. One of these anaphylactic reactions occurred at a Christmas party I was at, and another was at a casual fast food restaurant, where there was a miscommunication between myself and the cashier. Both instances caused my anxiety levels to rise and made me feel intensely worried anytime I ate away from home.

Overcoming the obstacles of being able to eat food that I didn’t prepare myself was a challenge, but with time and preparation, eating out became a manageable task, which didn’t cause me to feel severe anxiety.

The first step I took in managing my food allergy anxiety was making a promise to myself to be far more diligent than I had been in the past. One area of my life that I recognized I needed to take more control over in order to help manage my anxiety was going to events with baked goods. Typically, if I went to this kind of event , I felt confident enough to eat it if the baker assured me that they were tree nut and peanut safe. However, this still left the possibility of “what if?” As a healthier alternative for my mental health, I started bringing my own baked goods, or potluck items to parties in two separate containers – one container for myself, to ensure that my items didn’t get cross contaminated with other items, and another container for the rest of the party-goers to enjoy. If I wanted to enjoy food that I didn’t bring, I started to make sure that it was pre-packaged from a store and had ingredient labels on it that I could read. I would also ensure I was the first one to grab food out of the package before any other cross-contamination could occur.

The second step I took in managing my food allergy anxiety, was being more careful and inquisitive at restaurants – even fast food ones. Typically, when going to a fast food restaurant, I had a bad habit of not mentioning my food allergies at all. When ordering a sandwich, which was supposed to be allergy safe, it mistakenly had a sauce on it which included tree-nuts. This bad experience caused me to have severe anxiety whenever I visited any type of restaurant or fast food establishment. After this incident, I started being more diligent to ensure that every restaurant I visited – from fast food to fine dining – was aware that I had life-threatening allergies to tree nuts and peanuts. I also started to make sure that I asked about the food making and cooking procedures at the restaurant, and whether or not the kitchen used tree nuts and peanuts in their dishes. Doing my research and asking lots of questions helps to minimize my anxiety and helps to ensure I feel safer when eating out in public.

The third and final step that I took in conquering my food allergy anxiety was being more confident. Not only did I feel anxious about my food allergies, but I also constantly worried about whether I was being a burden to the people around me when asking lots of questions about allergy safe items or holding up the server at a restaurant to ensure my dish was safe for me to eat. Since being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I’ve come across a lot of resources which have helped me deal with my constant worries. Over time, I’ve learned that I’m not being bothersome when asking about allergy safe food, because without doing that, my life could be at risk.

Having life-threatening food allergies, and managing anxiety can be tough, but with the right tools and confidence, it’s extremely possible.

– Rachel MacCarl

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The Anxiety of Never Having an Allergic Reaction

As someone who has been immersed in the food allergy world for most my life, I’ve read and heard a lot about anxiety with food allergies. However, most of the attention has always been on anxiety after experiencing an allergic reaction. As an example, my brother has had three major reactions to peanuts or tree nuts where he had to use his epinephrine auto-injector. After each of these reactions, he was very hesitant to eat out or try any new foods for fear that they might trigger another reaction. One of my best friends grew into his food allergies after the age of 20 and has since experienced at least 11 severe allergic reactions, some of which required the use of multiple epinephrine auto-injectors and very close calls in getting to the hospital. Needless to say, his anxiety when eating in a social setting is quite high!

My own anxiety about my food allergy to peanuts and tree nuts feels quite different. I’m technically at-risk for anaphylaxis. I’ve been tested every other year for as long as I can remember and the result is always the same. The peanut bump always swells up like a balloon. That being said, I’ve been extremely fortunate and never experienced an allergic reaction. I know the signs and symptoms only through what I’ve read, heard, or seen. I’ve never physically or mentally experienced what a reaction actually feels like but I still get anxious at times.

man with stressed face expression brain melting into linesI’ll give you an example. Around the holiday season, people like to share baked goods with me at the physiotherapy clinic I work for. I know baked goods are potentially risky for someone with a peanut/tree nut allergy so I always triple check ingredients and ask about the risk for cross-contamination. Only when I feel 100% confident that the treat is allergen-safe, will I take a bite. Well on one particular instance, a patient brought in brownies. I asked about each and every ingredient, was taken through the steps required to make them, and was assured they were “nut-free” because she had a nephew who had the same allergy. From the protocol I made for myself, the brownies passed every test. So I took a bite. It was delicious! I thought about how I could easily eat the entire batch and not think twice about it.

Then, I heard the patient chatting with another patient about Belgian chocolate that she bought from a bulk food store. Bulk food? Belgian chocolate? One red flag went up. She continued to talk about how that chocolate was so good that she put it in the brownies. Another red flag went up. As she turned to me, she asked if I could taste that chocolate. All I could think about was the risk of cross-contamination from the bulk food store. As a rule, I never eat “may contain peanuts or tree nuts” products because any risk is too much risk for me. So in the moment, I simply nodded my reply, set down the rest of my brownie and left the clinic to go on my lunch. As I drove, I checked my signs and symptoms a hundred times thinking that I was likely to react. I was shaking and had put myself into an anxious fit! An hour passed, then two, then three, and I realized I must have been lucky this time.

It may have been an over reaction on my part but I still think I had reason to feel anxious. The unknown, especially when it comes to food, can be quite nerve-wracking. I also think that maybe my own anxiety stems from the fact that I’ve had to administer an epinephrine auto-injector on both my brother and my best friend. Maybe it stems from the fact that I have seen the fear in my friend’s face when he was experiencing his most severe allergic reaction. Whatever the case, I’ve learned to slow my breathing, calm my thoughts, and focus on what is actually happening, not what I think could happen. This strategy has helped me conquer food-related anxiety multiple times and I consider myself very lucky to be 17 years without an allergic reaction (knock on wood!!)

– Dylan B.

Anxiety and Your Allergies

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, you’re sitting in a restaurant or at a friend’s, or even on a plane. You’re minding your own business, when you see your allergen walk by in the hands of someone you’ve already made aware of your food allergy. You also made sure that any food around you was be allergen-free. But, there it is, walking around within smelling distance or maybe, scarily enough, within touching distance. You start to panic; you watch the food as it travels around the room, it looms closer and closer. You wonder, is that my allergen? Is it coming over here? Am I just imagining it? Do I say something? A million thoughts swirl around your head, you wonder if you should say something or just leave, but you’re stuck, the words form in your mind but can’t seem to make the journey to your mouth. And then it starts, the panic sets in as the food is placed near you, or you watch the same person handle your food with the unwashed hands that touched your allergen. You shrink into your chair, and try to fold into yourself, you can’t make a noise, your breath becomes short, and you’re frozen in that moment.

Portrait of young man suffering for depression

I’ve been in this situation one too many times, and sometimes the feeling of panic still creeps up on me unsuspectingly. You so badly want to speak up for yourself but you feel deflated and beat since they didn’t listen the first time. It’s enough to make you want to never venture out for food again. It can be hard to put into words the panicky feeling you get when your allergen pops up un-expectantly or in a situation you can’t remove yourself from, and even more so to voice that feeling and ask for help. It seems like anxiety and food allergies can sometimes go hand-in-hand, but that doesn’t mean we have to go it alone. It took me a long time to find my voice, and express my concern in risky situations, and yes sometimes its uncomfortable or even awkward but I’ve discovered it’s a fleeting feeling compared to the anxiety and dread of not saying anything or feeling trapped. It takes time and practice but expressing your concerns out loud and making an effort to rectify the situation will leave you with a little more confidence each and every time.

Trust the people around you and the people you care about, practice the situation with them, or have a statement prepared.
Now stop me if you’ve heard this one before, you’re in the same situation, you see your allergen coming close to you. Instead of backing down, you find your voice, confidently express your concerns and instead of dread, you feel happy and satisfied with not only the situation but also yourself.

– Arianne K.

Food Allergies at the Ball Game

A summer baseball game is a huge event in my city (Go Blue Jays!). My friends and I live for the humid weekend games, the ice-cold beers, the popcorn, and just the pure excitement of the game. Another huge tradition at baseball games, though, is chomping down on some peanuts. The average person will definitely indulge on this traditional baseball snack, but for individuals with a peanut allergy, the baseball field can suddenly become a very scary place.

I’m severely allergic to peanuts, and I’ve somehow never experienced people around me eating peanuts during a baseball game until the most recent game I went to. My friends and I had amazing seats. We had just sat down with our beers and popcorn and were waiting for the game to start. When I did a quick turn to see the area around us, I noticed a family a few rows behind us just going to town on a bag of peanuts. They were chomping down on those peanuts like they have never tasted them before, and were throwing the shells EVERYWHERE. I was super thankful I wasn’t closer to them, but I was also a little anxious because they really weren’t that far away from me.

Toronto, Canada - July 27, 2010: An aerial view of the Rogers Center in Toronto, Canada. The stadium houses the Toronto Blue Jays and was opened in 1989.

I don’t think a food allergy should stop you from attending a baseball game. You have every right to be there as anyone else! However, there are definitely a few ways that you can decrease your chances of anything happening:

  • When buying your tickets, inquire about “nut-free” sections at the stadium. In Toronto, they sometimes provide nut-free zones where no peanut or tree nuts are allowed.
  • If you don’t want to sit in the “nut-free” section of the game because you have amazing tickets that you want to take advantage of, don’t fret. Ensure you have your EpiPens® on you and upon sitting, take a quick scan of your surrounding areas to see if anyone is eating your allergen. If they are, engage them in friendly conversation and let them know what’s going on. People can be very accommodating; so don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
  • Wash your hands if you plan to eat anything and always read the ingredients!

Going to a baseball game doesn’t have to be scary. There are easy ways to make the situation safer for you. Now go buy some tickets and root for the home team with your friends/family!

– Giulia C.

Three Tips on Dealing with Food Allergy Anxiety

“You can’t always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.”

– Wayne Dyer

Anxiety is normal – everyone experiences it to some level. When you have food allergies, you may experience more anxiety that the average person. But the key is learning to manage that anxiety.

Having life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish/seafood, wheat, barley, and buckwheat, anxiety has been a feeling I have gotten accustomed to over the years. However, I have also learned how to manage this anxiety by using the following three tips:

  1. Be prepared.

BE PREPARED, message on business note paper, computer and coffee on table

– If you are going to a restaurant or a friend/family member’s house, tell them about your food allergies beforehand.
– Make sure you always have your auto-injector just in case you need to use it.
– If you can bring your own food to make it easier – do so. For instance, when I go on vacation, I often take dry brown rice pasta and rice flour bread to put my mind at ease, as well as make the kitchen staff’s job simpler.

  1. Communicate and don’t “feel bad.”

– Stress the importance of avoiding these allergens in the meal, even at the restaurant or friend/family member’s house.
– Use words and allergy cards, if possible. Using both ensures that all of your food allergies are communicated accurately and completely.
– I used to “feel bad” about communicating my allergies when eating out/at others’ homes. Sometimes I still do – BUT, it is important to remember that it is better to be safe. Both you and the other party will greatly appreciate that.

3. Relax.

– Breathe in and out slowly through your nose – this may sound simple, but my dentist taught me this one, and I’ve used it whenever I feel anxiety. It always helps.
– Distract yourself from the anxiety. If you are with others, talk with them, or watch the television if there is one nearby. Telling those you are with about your anxiety can also help, as they will try to help you manage it.
– Think rationally – if you are prepared and communicate, you should be fine.
– BE POSITIVE!

Although you cannot control everything, controlling as much of the situation both internally and externally as possible, will help you manage anxiety. The feeling of anxiety when eating out does not fully go away for me, which I’ve heard is quite normal. However, by managing my anxiety, I can effectively decrease my anxiety to a level where it no longer negatively affects me.

– Shivangi S.