At this year’s AAAAI Annual Meeting, we were encouraged to see so much focus on the parental stress and management of having a child with severe food allergies. More and more, physicians are looking at the consequences of this stress and how to best support families in their day-to-day struggles.
“Family Management of Children’s Food Allergies: Patterns of Food Avoidance and Reaction Response Preparation in Relation to Anxiety” was a featured poster at the conference and also appeared in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Read more here: http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749%2812%2903021-7/fulltext.
Every day, we’re in touch with families who live with FPIES; as resilient as they are, managing the condition can be difficult and stressful. Medical professionals are becoming more aware of the impact that food allergies have on both patients and their families. But even those who live with a condition like FPIES every day need to be reminded of the extra level of stress those allergies can carry and the impact that stress can have.
Food allergies bring with them a variety of emotions: feelings of fear and constant vigilance, a sense of being overwhelmed or always at risk. New anxieties may arise as parents go through the different stages of a child’s development. Adding to the stress, food allergies impact the daily activities that most families take for granted: social and school activities, meal preparation, relationships with families and friends, etc.
Given the emotions and adjustments that families make to live with FPIES, it’s not surprising that caregivers feel the stress or have less time for themselves. It’s not surprising that a family living with FPIES can also be impacted by the financial burden, whether it’s lost work hours, medical expenses, or the cost of special foods.
We all need to take the time to check in with ourselves and our families. Maybe FPIES is causing you significant stress; it can be helpful to discuss these feelings with a trusted family member, friend or medical professional or connect with other FPIES families in your region or online. For others, the stress builds slowly; FPIES is such a part of our day-to-day reality that we can lose track of what a huge impact it has on our lives.
Here are a few more tips to manage the fear and anxiety we often feel as parents:
Teach your child about their food allergies from an early age. The earlier they learn, the more empowered they will become. If you have an older child with FPIES, have them grocery shop and read labels with you, cook with you, or ask questions at a restaurant.
Talk openly with your child about their fears (and yours) and discuss ways to cope with these situations. For example: “I understand you’re a little nervous about starting preschool. I’m a little nervous too, and that’s okay. Let’s talk about how we can both be prepared ahead of time. Then let’s talk about how much fun you’re going to have there!”)
The importance of self-care cannot be overstated. Parents who take good care of themselves take better care of their children. Take the time to do the things that make you feel good: read a magazine, eat well, exercise. You’ll be more relaxed and better able to manage whatever the day brings.
Lastly, pay attention to the present moment. Sometimes we are so distracted by our thoughts of food trials and doctor appointments that we miss out on the present moment. Don’t miss out on the simple joy of reading a book together or hearing your child laugh.