When you’re new to food allergies, or you’re a teen looking to start thriving with food allergies, risk is the single most important factor to understand and to learn how to manage. Because we can’t control this allergy-filled world. All we can do is manage our allergy.
Learning to accept and manage risk is the biggest step you’re going to take towards learning to thrive with food allergies. While there are several factors to consider, the first one we’re going to look at is simply understanding risk.
Perceived risk often differs from the actual risk. What you perceive may be more or less than what really exists. You may perceive a low risk based on your own experience when it is actually quite higher – in other words, you might downplay when you shouldn’t. This is especially true for those who are new to food allergies.
However, the flip side of that has been the biggest obstacle for me in learning to thrive. Anxiety is a real issue when you’re anaphylactic or have any other serious reaction. And with anxiety comes hypervigilance, causing perceived risk to catapult to the other extreme – believing you’re in immediate danger of a severe reaction when you’re only in a low-risk setting.
Neither of these extremes are good. The first will put you in more danger, while the second will cause isolation and anxiety.
Looking objectively at the situation is the first thing you want to do. Ask yourself some questions. “What proximity will I have to the allergen and how close is too close?” “What can I do to minimize the risk?” And ask others similar questions. Do not be afraid to educate the people around you about your allergy. (I’ll be getting into this more in a later post – don’t miss it.)
Actual risk is, of course, the greatest source of danger. So once you’ve separated perceived risk from actual risk, assessing the situation becomes easier. There are some situations you will inevitably have to avoid. I have a wheat/gluten allergy and I’m anaphylactic. So I wouldn’t walk into a place where they’re baking with flour. However, this past winter I attended a pizza party with my youth group.
On the subject of actual risk, I avoided cross-contamination at the pizza party (I also avoided the gluten-free pizza because it had been cooked in a non-dedicated oven). But I did have a reaction several weeks before that after somebody gave our dog a treat (containing wheat) and shook my hand. I didn’t give it a second thought until I had a reaction. 😉
Now would be the perfect time to dive into managing risk, but that’s for the next post, because I want to go into a lot more detail. There are three stages to working with risk: understanding it, managing it, and planning for it.
How do you manage risk with food allergies? Let’s chat in the comments!