This week’s blog post is written by a guest blogger! It is written by Jess Carrillo from Nut Free Mentality.
I often make Instagram posts talking about how I didn’t realize that it was okay to be afraid of food allergies when I was younger. I say this, because it is important. I grew up the only allergy person I knew, so I was not around others with a similar experience to my own. In fact, food allergies were so uncommon when I was younger that the local newspaper even wrote a story about me and my allergy management. I was in second grade at the time. So when I had high anxiety moments regarding my food allergies, I thought that there was something wrong with me. People around me (who weren’t my immediate family) told me that I was being “too anxious” or that I “needed to calm down” whenever I was visibly nervous about allergies. Without a friend who knew what it was like, I felt that I was the issue. So in my teens, it became a habit of mine to internally berate myself when I got nervous about allergies. I would feel ashamed and weak for being afraid, when the reality is that the food allergy experience is scary and there is no need to be ashamed of fear towards allergies. In this blog, I will talk about how self compassion has helped me through the high anxiety moments of my life in a way that has helped me be happier in general.
I’ve gone through my share of therapy appointments for years now, and I will always recommend going to therapy. While many are afraid that therapy is a sign of weakness or that it will change you, I am here to tell you that therapy helps give you the tools to learn how to support yourself and your needs emotionally. Only you can take the steps to adjust, but therapy can guide you through it. I have two different anxiety disorders – generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder – so while my anxiety is often focused towards food allergies, sometimes it is focused on other things as well. You don’t need a therapist to learn self compassion, but I wanted to mention that I have seen several throughout my life so far, because it can take time to get to the point where this process becomes natural. On my worst days, I still have to pull back a bit and remember that I need to be compassionate to myself. But practice makes perfect, and if you follow these steps I have for myself, you might learn a great coping method for your allergy anxiety. I recommend practicing during the times you know you aren’t having a reaction first while you get the hang of it!
My first step is always observation, of both myself and others. If I am doing something and I suddenly start feeling really anxious or showing physical signs of anxiety, I try to stop what I am doing and figure out why. I look inward and try to name to myself how my body feels physically and emotionally in that moment. Some people might have a difficult time even understanding when they are anxious; this too took time for me to understand myself. Feeling a sinking feeling in your chest, shortness of breath, dizziness, shakiness, blurred vision, frequently needing to use the restroom, upset stomach, irritability, and derealization/ depersonalization are among the many ways that anxiety can show up in our bodies. If you struggle to determine the difference between anxiety symptoms and anaphylaxis – you might have noticed a bit of an overlap with symptoms – I suggest getting a pulse oximeter. It’s a small little device that you put your finger in and it reads your oxygen levels and heart rate. If you are experiencing shortness of breath and the oxygen levels look good (in mid to high 90s), you are probably experiencing anxiety rather than anaphylaxis (though if you really think you are experiencing anaphylaxis, trust your gut!).
The second part of this is to look at the people around you. If these are people who frequently dismiss your emotions in regards to your allergies, try to understand why. Maybe it’s their own anxiety showing? Though it’s definitely possible that some people are just jerks or they just don’t understand. Instead of giving in to whatever invalidating thing someone might say, try to not internalize it. You can experience and hear the words that people say without actually giving it meaning or letting it get to you. You can also use this strategy for your own negative thoughts that might come up when you get anxious too. Examine the thought, think about the motivation, and name it in your mind without letting it get attached to your experience. Remember that you are worthy, and your feelings are always valid! There’s no need to invalidate yourself by being mean to yourself!
2. Acceptance and Self Compassion
Once you determine what you are feeling, the next step is to accept that feeling, even if you don’t like it. For me, I hated when I was anxious, but learning to literally tell myself in my mind, “Okay, I am anxious right now because of XYZ, and that is okay,” has done wonders for me.
You can’t find acceptance without a little bit of self compassion. Self compassion is really the act of self soothing yourself. When you start feeling really nervous, self compassion is about talking to yourself (I do this in my head) and validating your experience. I say things like, “Hey, I’m feeling really anxious right now about my food allergies. I think my throat might be a bit itchy, but I don’t know if it’s anaphylaxis or environmental allergies. It’s okay to be afraid right now, because food allergies are real and can be scary. I am brave for going through this, and all my feelings are valid. I have my medications, and I know that I will know what to do if things get worse. I am brave.” I try to think of it as if you are talking to a scared little five year old. It takes a lot of practice being able to sort of split the experience of being really scared and also being the one to tell yourself it’s okay, but it’s possible to do. My suggestion is to practice self compassion as frequently as you can, even when you aren’t anxious. If you feel like you did a bad job on a test or something for school, tell yourself that you did your absolute best, and trust that. If you mess something up, tell yourself that you are only human, and you are going to mess up sometimes. Meet this with, “It’s okay to mess up sometimes.” Always validate your own feelings and experiences with kindness and understanding. If you struggle with low self esteem, this might feel more awkward (I know because I had low self esteem as a teen), but this practice will actually help you feel more confident in the long run.
Nobody is perfect, and having anxiety is a very normal part of the food allergy experience. I have dedicated a lot of my time trying to help others like me see that their experiences with anxiety are often not too unique. Some of us are better at hiding the anxiety, but I am here to say that you really don’t need to hide it if you don’t want to. You are a valid, wonderful, miracle of the universe that has so much worth. It’s okay if there are days where your allergies seem to take charge. Remember that there will always be days afterwards where you will feel in charge. Anxiety management does not happen in a straight line. The root of management is having self compassion so that when you have an anxious day, your own self talk won’t make it worse than it has to be.