When A Food Allergy Diagnosis Triggers Symptoms of Depression

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Let’s say you or your child has recently been diagnosed with a peanut or other food allergy and now you are feeling sad, irritable, anxious, tired, lethargic, and/or unmotivated.

Maybe you are sleeping too much or hardly at all. Your appetite is gone, or you are eating more than usual. Life might seem overwhelming, and everything that was enjoyable has lost its luster.

We all react to stress differently, and learning to live with a food allergy is stressful. It is a situation forced upon people by circumstance, it can alter perceptions of our family or our self, it puts the possibility of danger and loss at the front of our thoughts, requires us to absorb a lot of new information, change some habits, and become wary of something we need daily for survival.

Some people will naturally react to this onslaught of change with symptoms of depression, not because they are weak, but because they are human. While depression is uncomfortable and can make functioning difficult, it may be your body’s way of acclimating to unpleasant news and unwanted lifestyle changes.

Coping With Depression

Depression triggered by the diagnosis of a food allergy is likely temporary. As people gradually assimilate with the changes life has tossed at them, their physical, mental, and emotional self will usually regain its balance. These five tips for coping with depressive symptoms may help.

  1. By fearing, or resisting depressed feelings, we may unwittingly fence them in. It is more helpful to acknowledge and accept them. Emotions and feelings are designed to flow and change. When we observe and accept what our feelings are, they are free to morph and eventually move on.
  2. Depression can occur in the strongest of people. Some Eastern traditions view depression as a profound and transformational experience if we are willing to open ourself to the wisdom that sadness and despair offer. To the Western mind this may seem counterintuitive, since we are taught depression is abnormal. You can combat this by viewing depression as a distressing but normal human experience. This can do away with the guilt and stigma that often accompanies depression.
  3. You will need support. Reach out to people you can share your feelings and concerns with. Seek compassionate and good listeners who are validating and encouraging. Individuals who are not understanding are likely unaware of what having a food allergy entails. For now, do not discuss the situation with them. When you are feeling better you can educate them about food allergies, if you wish.
  4. Unless people have experienced managing a food allergy, they will not know how to help or what you might need. To get help, you will have to ask: whether it is for a listening ear, help watching the kids, a ride to a doctor’s appointment, or help finding safe recipes and snack alternatives. It is a mistake to assume that if people care about you they will know what you need—people care, but most are not mind readers.
  5. Let your doctor, or your child’s doctor, know how you are feeling. They may have information to share or know about helpful resources such as local support groups.

Taking Care

When depressive symptoms are mild to moderate, most people can take care of everyday business, albeit with difficulty. It is important to eat nutritious foods, try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, take time to relax, and continue socializing with friends. If you are struggling, consider seeing a counselor.

If your depression prevents you from functioning normally - you are missing school or work, not getting personal or household business done, are avoiding people, or having trouble controlling your irritability - talk to your doctor or a mental health counselor right away. These symptoms may be temporary but are severe enough that you need extra support to manage them.

Photo credit: Casey Muir-Taylor

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