This article is a summary of part of The Itch Podcast interview with Lisa Rosenberg (Lisa Rosenberg, Safe & Included LLC) on how to recognize anxiety in food allergy kids. A version of this article was published in Food Equality Initiative‘s May Magazine.
What is healthy anxiety?
We all need to have some level of anxiety because it’s a survival mechanism. Mild anxiety related to food allergy can be a protective defense. For instance, anxiety often leads to the allergic person being more cautious, which is what you want, especially when it comes to your kids being alone at school having to manage their allergies. But, anxiety can become debilitating, which is when it leads to harm. You need to find a balance between “helping” anxiety and “debilitating” (harmful) anxiety.
How do you know if it is debilitating anxiety?
If it is affecting day-to-day functioning, it’s a problem.
When it’s stopping us from doing things that we really want to do like going to a friend’s house, going on vacation, or being able to eat out at a restaurant, it shows that the scales are too far tipped towards “debilitating” anxiety.
We all have “anxiety antennas”. These antennas give us the feeling of something being safe or unsafe. When danger is near, they go up; and when it passes, our antennas should go back down. However, sometimes they get stuck in the “up” position, and this is when it becomes a problem. Your stuck antennae may start to impede (negatively affect) your ability to enjoy life.
How to recognize anxiety?
😡 → Feeling Very Angry
Anger is definitely one of the clues that people don’t often clue into.Lisa Rosenberg
Signs of anxiety that people don’t often associate with anxiety is anger.
Think back to a situation where you felt angry, such as when your child was invited to a birthday party or you were invited out to dinner. The thought of “why are they having it here?” may cause frustration rather than spark joy around celebrating a special occasion.
That anger often comes from a place of anxiety, and being unable to recognize why you may not want to attend this event.
Anger as a sign of anxiety can occur at any age and doesn’t just have to be as an adult. For example, it is common to see kids get angry with themselves. Kids may be angry about why they have a food allergy in the first place. That anger manifests into frustration, and often kids internalize their feelings, thinking that “something is wrong” with them. On the other hand, adults often externalize anger and become angry with others because they “don’t get it” when it comes to what it is truly like to live with a food allergy.
Being angry with ourselves or others is not helpful. Anger often makes us unhappy so we choose to avoid situations that cause us to feel those uncomfortable feelings, which in turn, lead us to feel more isolated.
So what can we do about it? It often helps to focus on the circumstances and stick to facts. Remove emotions as best as possible.
First, identify what you need from others to be able to enjoy the experience. What do you need others to do to help decrease your anxiety and create a safer space? Here are some examples:
- Ask everyone to wash hands
- Speak to a chef first
- Look at ingredients
How to recognize anxiety?
😶 → Not Wanting To Do Anything
Avoidance is a behavior that comes out of anxiety.
Our thoughts control our behaviors. Sometimes when we are worried, our worry shows up in our body as well. It might show up as a headache or stomach ache, lethargy, being inactive, or always tired. An anxious person often does not want to do anything. They often want to stay home and watch TV to avoid the uncomfortable feelings (both physical and emotional) that anxiety can cause.
Anxiety can feel like being on a gerbil wheel. Your mind is constantly going, spinning, and it doesn’t stop; it’s exhausting.
Coping strategies such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and exercise can help you get off the spinning wheel.
Why work with a professional?
A professional can help you identify your level of anxiety in different environments. They will work with you on figuring out how to identify these levels of thinking and to go through the preventative steps to take, such as before an event that you know is anxiety-provoking. This way, you can be proactive with how to approach it. In short, you develop a toolbox of coping skills and learn to pick the right tool for each situation. Different skills will work at different times and sometimes we figure it out by trial and error.
A professional behavioral health clinician can help you learn which tools work for you, and eventually, you will be able to decrease your anxiety on your own so that you can be present and enjoy yourself while still being safe.
Whether this is for you or your child, it’s really about prioritizing yourself, even if that means reconfiguring your budget to be able to find the money for a short period of time to work with a professional. Counseling is not typically a forever strategy. The goal is to be able to learn coping skills and then be able to apply them without your therapist over time.
How to find help for all budgets
Look for a local therapist or one that specializes in working with food allergy patients. When making the first contact, it is common to worry about the cost of therapy. Many therapists accept insurance plans. If you are not covered or cannot afford to work with a professional, call a therapist to ask if they have a sliding fee scale or if they offer pro bono hours. Many people are afraid to ask, but clinicians want to help people.
Other ways to find support are to use your community resources, such as a house of worship, that provide counseling services. Also, your local university’s graduate psychology or social work programs may have graduate students working in clinics who might be able to provide Behavioral Health Services at a reduced cost.
If you’re a college student (and even for some alumni), typically campus services are free.
Resources to help with anxiety
- www.talkspace.com: Online therapy with a licensed therapist
- www.needymeds.org: A list of low cost or sliding scale medical clinics in your area; also great for finding low cost medication alternatives.
- Text START to 741741: Text with a licensed behavioral health professional – for behavioral health crisis
- 1800- 273-TALK: Talk with a licensed behavioral health professional – for behavioral health crisis
Listen to Lisa on The Itch Podcast
Kortney is your typical atopic triad who manages asthma, eczema and multiple food allergies. Kortney is a co-creator of the online community Allergy Travels and co-host of The Itch Podcast. She wants to spread joy in a community that can easily see the hard side of life with atopic disease and believes that you can have a full life with food allergies, it may just be lived a little differently!