Don't Let Your Food Allergies Stress You Out!

Frustrated woman pushing shopping cart in grocery store
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Traffic. Running late. Bills to pay. Forgetting to return a call. A rip in your favorite shirt. The list can go on and on. What is the common thread? Each of these situations is capable of adding stress to your life. While some people can easily let the stress go, others find themselves bogged down with it. If on top of your daily stress, you are diagnosed with food allergies, then life becomes even more hectic.

You might run out the door each day thinking about what you can eat, the limited safe food options where you are going, how to explain your condition and how to manage a reaction. The endless questions can boggle your mind. 

Before you decide that there is no way out, maybe it is time to learn some stress management techniques. This way you will be able to not only manage your food allergies but also help other stresses to subside.

What Exactly Is Stress?  

Stress is a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental state. It is the way your body will respond to any demands, threats or unexpected changes. When your body feels the onset of stress quite often, the nervous system responds by releasing a large amount of hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. This triggers your body to get a sense of a “fight or flight” reaction.

As the hormones are flooding your system, the heart begins to race, blood pressure gets elevated, muscles get tight and often you can become breathless.

As your body physically endures a change, often your mind can become super focused or at other times frozen. More often people gain a sense of strength, speed and focus to respond to this stress. However, this is not always an immediate response.

Stress can save your life when it allows you to speed up and focus.

This can be seen when you step on your brakes in the car to avoid an accident or when you grab a phone immediately to call for help in a scary situation. When the stress is too overwhelming or if it is something you have not learned how to manage, it can cause damage physically and mentally.

When your body is overloaded with stress, you may find that it shows sign of distress. Symptoms of stress might include: increase in blood pressure, a suppressed immune system, increased risk of a heart attack, panic attacks, sleep disturbances and many other mental and emotional issues. 

Causes of Stress

Stress can come from both external and internal sources. External sources might include life-changing situations, financial issues, relationship troubles, family issues, and work/school crisis among other things. Internal causes might include: negative self-talk, worrying continuously, obsessive thoughts, depression, and anxiety among other things. 

A food allergy, can be described as both an external and internal stress.

 Externally we need to learn how to avoid this food in our diet, how to read labels, how to plan ahead and how to adjust our lifestyle to keep us safe. Internally we need to recognize symptoms of a reaction, be sure our body is meeting our nutritional needs and how to react in the case of an allergic response. 

Factors That Affect Our Ability to Tolerate Stress

How one handles stressors will vary from person to person. Some people are easily stressed, while others automatically seem to be able to let things go. Research shows that a number of factors can influence someone’s ability to tolerate stress:

  • Attitude - If you are generally an optimistic person you tend to have a greater ability to handle stressful situations. Being positive and looking for the best outcome helps us to rally during a stressful situation.
  • Less emotional - If you are more practical and less emotional, you tend to be more rational and have an easier time to work through these situations. Keeping yourself somewhat detached from the emotional side, allows you to react more rationally.
  • Knowledge - If the situation is something you have knowledge about, it is often easier to take a step back to process and decide how to proceed. For example, if you have a food allergy and know what to do if you have a reaction you are less likely to panic and can avoid a more stressful situation.
  • Support - If you have a solid support network, whether it is friends, family, co-workers, school mates, peers, etc. it is easier to tolerate unexpected changes. By sharing the situation with others it is easier to diffuse your emotions and make a plan of action to proceed. Knowing that you are not alone can be very helpful in this type of situations. 
  • Diet - There is a saying “you are what you eat” and this is true in terms of one’s ability to be alert, happy and rational. People who eat a balanced diet that includes healthy foods, especially those that are rich in vitamins, minerals, high-quality protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, can often deal better with unforeseen situations. When someone has a poor diet, full of simple sugars and fats, they often suffer more mood swings and decreased energy levels. Both of which are not helpful in times of stress and making the right decisions.
  • Exercise - Research shows that exercising regularly, about 30 minutes, 3-4 days a week, can have a positive effect on your mental and physical status. During exercise, endorphins are increased in the brain, resulting in an uplifted mood, more efficient energy levels and a decrease in stress and anxiety.

How to Manage Stress

So now that one understands what stress is and how it may feel, what can we do to manage it?  Fortunately there are many techniques that have been found to help one manage stress. Managing it can help one avoid it, reduce it, limit its affects and manage their lives in a more healthful way. 

These techniques have been shown to help keep the stress under control.

  • Social network - It is often helpful to join a social support group where there are others who might be facing the same stressful situation. By sharing your concerns, thoughts and stories with each other, you can learn how others may have handled the situations in a more calm manner. Gaining the reassurance and support from others can help take away anxiety and put your mind at ease. It is also a place that often offers a wealth of knowledge from those who might be ahead of you or any moderators who might be part of the group. Joining a celiac support group, for example can help those with celiac to learn great tips on living safely with a gluten-free diet. 
  • Change of environment - To help manage stress it is often helpful to either remove yourself from the current environment or remove the stressors. This might require making small changes, such as adjusting a daily routine, working with different people, trying a different approach or something else that might lead to less stress. For example, if your son has nut allergies, maybe it is decided to remove all nut products from your home in entirety to limit the stress of cross contamination within your living space.  
  • Relaxation - Studies show that learning some form of relaxation technique, such as yoga, meditation or exercise can help to reduce the overwhelming feelings that stress may have on your body. Not only will these activities take your mind off of the current stressors, but the chemical reaction (endorphins) in your body will allow you to decompress and feel revived and relaxed. Many people find yoga is a powerful way to learn to focus on physical and mental balance and a sense of calmness. There are many health benefits that have been linked to practicing yoga.  
  • Healthy living - All research shows that leading a healthy lifestyle, in terms of diet and exercise, allows people to lead a less stressful, more productive and satisfying life. Take a step back and look at the diet choices you are making. Try to take steps to include higher fiber, more complex carbohydrates, along with complete proteins. Combining this with regular exercise will lead you to feeling happier and healthier. When stress comes your way, you will find your ability to focus on managing it will come easier. 

While it would be great to get rid of all of our stress, that may not be a reality. For now the best we can do is to understand what causes it, how it feels and what we can do to manage it. Whether it is finding a new route to work, signing up for yoga, or labeling your gluten free pots to avoid cross contamination, there are definite ways to reduce stress after all.  

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