Living with food allergies can be a daily struggle many face—constantly scanning restaurant menus and ingredient labels and carefully considering every food item before consumption. Unfortunately, the physical symptoms of an allergy attack are only one part of this journey —the mental aspects can often be even more challenging. In this blog post, we delve into understanding the psychological impacts experienced by those with food allergies and provide strategies for tackling the emotional stressors they may cause.
First, it’s important to understand that the impacts of food allergies can vary depending on the individual. With that being said, one of the primary impacts is hypervigilance surrounding mealtime and food preparation, as every ingredient must be carefully considered before consumption. This can lead to restricted social interactions with peers, as meals or outings become avoided due to anxiety over potential allergens.
Furthermore, strained familial relationships may occur, as parents may feel extra pressure to keep children safe from harm’s way. Lastly, there is an increased reluctance to travel from the anxiety of consuming unknown foods in unfamiliar environments. These reactions can lead to further isolation for those living with food allergies, which can result in more extreme psychological effects like depression or anxiety disorder.
From those impacts, here are some strategies to cope with allergic anxiety. Proximity and contact challenges have been utilized in situations where families are extremely nervous and concerned that airborne or contact exposures will cause anaphylactic reactions. While studies have proven that airborne and contact exposure-induced reactions are exceedingly rare, fear of these types of exposures on planes or other enclosed spaces still pervades. To desensitize families to this fear, a stepwise proximity challenge can be pursued in the office. When successfully performed, these challenges have been shown to significantly reduce anxiety by normalizing exposures in a controlled and safe setting.
Food oral immunotherapy (OIT) can also be used to reduce food-related anxiety as well as improve quality of life. Several studies have demonstrated that patients who complete OIT programs experience reduced anxiety, increased social engagement, reduced fear of accidental exposure, and reduced psychosocial burden.
While proximity challenges and OIT can have indirect effects on food-related anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) administered by a licensed mental health professional is a more direct route patients can take to reduce the psychological impact of food allergies. Cognitive behavioral therapy at its core assesses emotions, behaviors, and negative thoughts to see how they are causing and perpetuating anxiety and depression in a patient with food allergy. Once these measures are assessed, CBT uses techniques to modify thoughts and behaviors to improve mood and anxiety giving the patient more effective tools to address their negative emotions head on.
Finally, managing the psychological effects of food allergies can also involve addressing feelings of reluctance to travel. Individuals with food allergies need to plan when traveling, creating a thorough checklist and packing all necessary items such as epinephrine autoinjectors or special dietary foods. Additionally, researching restaurants or hotels in advance that offer allergy-friendly meals can help reduce stress levels associated with dining out away from home. Being prepared and having a backup plan may help alleviate some of the anxiety associated with food allergies while traveling.
By understanding the psychological impacts of food allergies and implementing strategies for coping, we can better manage our emotions and stay safe. At Bernstein Allergy Group, we understand the psychological effects of food allergies and strive to help those who suffer from them. We provide high-quality personalized medical care for adults and children with allergies, offering comprehensive testing, diagnosis, treatment plans, and ongoing support. Through our services, we can help you cope with allergic anxiety and find ways to manage your condition while living a balanced life. If you’re struggling with food allergies, don’t wait any longer – reach out to us today and get on the path to better health.