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Navigating Food Allergy Tragedies

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Another food allergy-related tragedy recently populated our social media feeds. This story involved a teenage boy, all set to graduate high school, but suffered an anaphylactic reaction to walnuts days before that led to his death. 

Food allergy parents across the world feel these losses deeply. It can feel as if it's happening to someone in their own family, such as their own child. Inevitably it evokes intense emotions such as fear, panic, anxiety, and uncertainty, which may result in the loss of comfort with their own food allergy routines. 

In short, these tragedies may make parents feel emotions often associated with trauma. These tragedies can potentially set parents back, boldly reminding them that food allergies can be unpredictable, even with evidence-based guidelines in place. It's a place of major discomfort, leaving many uncertain how to cope. It's very easy to fall into the rabbit hole of fear if you let yourself.

Given that these stories will unfortunately inevitably pop up on social media, what can parents, and food allergic individuals in general, do to navigate them and cope?

....Below are three tips to help empower yourself during these moments of raw emotion.....

​1. Set Boundaries ​for Self-Preservation

While we may be drawn to reading these stories, it's important to evaluate whether it's a good idea to do so. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you determine if you should immerse yourself in the details right now or not:
  • ​What is your current emotional mental state? Are you feeling anxious, down or overwhelmed lately, or are you feeling grounded?

  • What are the benefits of reading the story? What are the drawbacks? 

  • What coping skills do you currently have in your emotional toolkit? Do you feel you have adequate tools to cope with the emotions that will arise from learning the details of the tragedy? 
Maybe you feel you need to read the full story for various reason - to offer support to the family experiencing loss, or to glean insights in order to ensure your safety guidelines are strong enough. While those goals may certainly be achieved by understanding all of the details, if your mindset isn't in a good place at the time, or you don't feel you have strong enough coping skills, NOW may *not* be the right time to read beyond the headlines. Set boundaries that work for you. This may even mean taking a momentary break from social media and/or support groups, where the topic is likely being discussed. Another option is temporarily turning off your notification settings from groups/social media outlets that tend to discuss the topic in-depth. You absolutely can offer support and condolences to the family, and the food allergy community in general, without compromising your emotional well-being. 

THIS MAY HELPHow to Set Boundaries - 10 Examples and PDF Worksheets from www.PositivePsychologyProgram.com

2. Reconnect With Evidence-Based Data

Our emotions have the incredible ability to disconnect us from logic. They're that powerful.... IF we let them take control. Sure, even with the best guidelines in place, tragedies can happen, but it's important to keep things in perspective as much as possible. 

In times of tragedy, it is crucial that you reconnect with the established and evidence-based food allergy-related facts. In doing so, it not only helps to balance emotions, but also benefits you by: 
  • Reminding you that you ARE prepared for reactions, with your emergency action plans, epinepherine and safety guidelines in place.

  • Highlighting areas where you may want to revisit and practice more, such as navigating scenarios that you feel less confident about.

  • Encouraging you to connect with your allergist to get an epinephrine autoinjector, revisit areas of concerns, questions you may still have, or data you'd like to learn more about.

THIS MAY HELP: The best sources for evidence-based information are reputable food allergy organizations, such as the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, and the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. (Here is a study posted in JACI on Fatalities Due to Anaphylaxis to Foods)

3. Practice Self-Care

Practicing self-care is important, even when you're not navigating a recent food allergy-related tragedy. 

Think of a car. If you aren't filling the tank with fuel, taking it in for routine checkups, and making sure to use it rather than letting it sit untouched for long periods of time, the car isn't going to run as effectively. 

The same is absolutely true when it comes to our minds and bodies. Both need to be taken care of, which isn't easy to prioritize as a parent or busy adult. But in times of tragedy, self-care becomes crucial, as coping abilities are stronger when you're taking care of yourself. Here are a few questions to ask yourself in order to evaluate your own self-care lately: 
  • Are you able to find time weekly, even if extremely brief, to take your parent or work hat off and reconnect with yourself - as YOU? 

  • Do you have an activity or routine you take part in that helps ground you, make you feel more balanced, or better able to navigate each day?

  • Do you constantly feel overwhelmed, worn out, and like you can't find any sense of peace? 
Based on the answers to these questions, you should begin to get a sense of how you're taking care of yourself and start considering where you may need to make adjustments. Practicing self-care doesn't mean you have to add many more tasks to your already busy day. It's less about quantity and more about quality.

​Think about the things that make you feel a sense of calm, happiness, and connection to yourself, and work them in as often as possible, even if in very brief formats. Maybe it's reading an empowering passage each morning to start your day off right. Perhaps it's taking deep breaths and listening to the water falling while in the shower. Or even simply remembering to regularly eat meals and snacks so your body has enough fuel to get through the day.

Self-care is about quality, consistency, and ultimately prioritizing yourself so you are better able to navigate the daily ups and downs of life. It's never too late to make self-care part of your routine, and the time is never better when you're feeling heartbreak. 

THIS MAY HELP: Check out 15 Grounding Exercises to Manage Stress from Anxiety or Trauma (post via The Mighty); Free Mindfulness Apps Worthy of Your Attention (via Mindful.org)

Feel like you could benefit from additional support from a food allergy-knowledgeable behavioral health or counseling professional?

​Visit the Food Allergy Counselor Directory ​to locate one in your area.