We've almost all been there, us allergy moms. We're going about our day, shopping, caregiving, one of a million things we do in a day, kids in tow, and it begins...hives (or fill in the blank allergic reaction because no two kids react just the same to an allergen), cue the Benadryl and epipen. If you aren't an allergy mom/dad/caregiver, there is a good chance you know one. FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) estimates somewhere around 5.9 million children under age 18 have food allergies. That means there at least 2 kids in every classroom with a food allergy. Many of them with allergies to multiple foods. (Here is a full facts sheet). Each of those 5.9 million children are attached to a caregiver (a mom, dad, or other caregiver) who takes the lead when it comes to keeping their allergic little one "safe". For this primary "gatekeeper" safe is a relative term. Safe might not even be a word they can use when it comes to something as simple as food. Because, for them, the reality is food can kill. Food, what most of us use to nourish our bodies, the focus of so many celebrations and gatherings, the thing we are almost always surrounded by, can kill this little one they care so much for. Now, food allergies aren't always this severe, but for many, even a mild allergy can result in calamity and tragedy. Can you imagine anything else more anxiety provoking?
Being an "allergy mom" comes with wearing a lot of hats and along the way we "earn" certain badges that we wear. Some proudly, and some we wear and wish we could take off. Anxiety and PTSD are some of those badges we wish we could tear off and throw away. Sometimes, that's easier said than done. And, for some, that seems almost impossible. If you're an allergy mom and you have experienced watching your child suffer through an allergic reaction (and all that comes with it), chances are you may have developed some anxiety or posttraumatic stress because of it. This doesn't happen to every allergy mom, but this has happened to a lot of allergy moms. So many, in fact, Pediatric Allergy and Immunology (a peer reviewed journal) conducted a study on it in 2014 (you can buy a copy of the study here). They found, "Mothers of food-allergic children have increased anxiety and stress compared with mothers of children with no chronic illness. Anaphylaxis and poorly controlled asthma are associated with maternal anxiety." Seems obvious right? But, if you aren't a food allergy mom, this might not be so obvious after all. Sometimes, even pediatric allergists are at a loss to help moms and caregivers cope with the anxiety they may face when it comes to managing a child's food allergies and food safety. Sadly, sometimes they can even be dismissive about our fears and concerns.
If you are an allergy mom/caregiver and feel anxious about managing your child's food allergies, there are some things you can do to help yourself:
1. Get connected. Find a local group of allergy moms/caregivers you can relate to and who can relate to you.
2. Find a counselor. Sounds strange, but managing food allergies can be taxing on our emotional and mental well being. Having a professional you can talk to about the cause of your anxiety and how to manage it is helpful for you and for your little one. If you notice your allergic little one has some anxiety about food, look into counseling for them too.
3. Make a plan. Having a plan to act quickly when food allergens enter the picture can do wonders to decrease anxiety. Talk with your child's allergist about a safety plan.
4. Ask questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question (I learned this one the hard way). Ask any question that pops into your head. ANY QUESTION.
5. Don't do it alone. Find one close friend, or a family member, you can trust to care for your little one so you can get a break. Take care of you first so you can take care of your family and act quickly on plans when you need to. When we take a break, refresh, and "fill our tanks", we're better all around in emergencies and non-emergencies alike.
The most important thing is to remember YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Remember, there are 5.9 million kids with families who experience some of the same fears and struggles you do. That means there is at least one other allergy mom/dad/caregiver in your child's classroom. Find them. Talk to them.
Connect, plan, heal.
About the Author: Hi I'm Alexie (Lexie) Belle. I'm a licensed mental health counselor in Florida. I'm also a wife, a mommy to three great kids, a Christ follower, and a food allergy mom. I provide counseling and therapy to women and teenage girls who struggle with depression, anxiety, postpartum depression, and food allergy related anxiety. If you have any questions about what you've read, feel free to send me an email to email@example.com or call 561·600·8764.