If you have a child with a food allergy, you will know how stressful it can be to manage. Daily tasks like cooking dinner or grocery shopping have an additional layer of complexity. There is also the added pressure of needing to be constantly vigilant and prepared for new situations. These feelings of worry and anxiety are felt by most parents of children with food allergies, however it is important to learn how to cope with them. Studies show that stress related to food allergy can negatively affect the emotional health of care givers1,2.
For parents of a child with a food allergy, there are certain times in your child’s life that will cause more stress than others. Many parents worry about the potential seriousness of an anaphylactic or severe allergic reaction3. New situations, like your child starting school or going on their first sleep over, can also cause concern. And as your child grows and gains independence, parents will often worry about their child managing their own allergy. In all of these instances, it is important to remember that these emotions are completely normal and that you are not alone in these feelings.
Stress management techniques can help to deal with these times. Using these techniques to cope with a stressful food allergy situation will not only help you, but also your child. Children are like sponges and modelling positive coping strategies will help reduce the stress and anxiety for all involved4.
Firstly it is important to have a good plan in place to manage the food allergy. Work with your doctor and other health care professionals to educate yourself about the allergy and how to minimise the risk. Your health care team can also help you to develop problem solving techniques to help manage the situations that you can control. One technique is to identify the problem early and define the aspects of the problem4. Then explore the possible solutions and put the best solution into action. Then continue the learning by reflecting on the results.
Having a strong support network is also essential in helping to manage the stress and anxiety that food allergies can cause1. This can mean reaching out to family or friends for assistance or even just for a chat. Having a social outlet can help to give you a break from thinking about the allergy. Connecting with others in the same situation can also be beneficial. Allergy support organisations, like Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia, can link you with other parents of children with food allergy.
Also try not to focus on the ‘what ifs’ and things you can’t change5. Instead focus on how you can change your reaction to the situation. Generally we react to situations with automatic thoughts and behaviours4. In the case of food allergies these responses are often negative. While it might be easier to say than to do, change these negative thoughts to positive ones. For example a negative thought could be ‘my child has a food allergy and I can’t control it’, instead try thinking ‘I can recognise this allergen on a food label and avoid giving this food to my child. I can educate my family and friends about food allergies’.
Practicing relaxation can assist in calming yourself in stressful situations6. Schedule some time to do this into your day. It will help your nervous system settle and re-adjust6. Relaxation could include a formal technique, like yoga or meditation, or it could be as simple as taking time to listen to music.
Finally it is important to take time for yourself4. Busy parents often spend their time worrying about everyone but themselves. Make sure you get in the right nutrition, get some exercise and get enough sleep6. If you can keep yourself healthy, this means you can be the best parent for your child.
Stress management techniques can help to deal with these times. Using these techniques to cope with a stressful food allergy situation will not only help you, but also your child.
- Cummings et al. 2010. The psychosocial impact of food allergy and food hypersensitivity in children, adolescents and their families: a review. Allergy Vol: 65, Issue: 8, Pages: 933-945
- King et al. 2008. Impact of peanut allergy on quality of life, stress and anxiety in the family. Vol: 64, Issue: 3, pages: 461-468
- Primeau MN, Kagan R, Joseph L, Lim H, Dufresne Cet al. The psychological burden of peanut allergy as perceived by adults with peanut allergy and the parents of peanut-allergic children. Clin Ex Allergy Vol: 30 Pages: 1135–1143.
- Herbert, L. 2013. Emotional health for parents of children with food allergies. Food Allergy Research Education. Viewed 9 August 2016. https://blog.foodallergy.org/2013/12/09/emotional-health-for-parents-of-children-with-food-allergies/#_ga=1.201289383.868060.1467687770
- 1998. Living with Anaphylaxis: Handling the Stress. Allergy and Asthma Information Association. Viewed 9 August 2016. http://www.aaia.ca/en/living_with_anaphylaxis_handling_the_stress.htm
- Australian Psychological Society. 2016. Tips for managing everyday stress. Viewed 9 August 2016.