I was talking recently with a friend who, like me, is prone to migraines. "Which is more stressful?," he asked. "Getting migraines or being a celiac?"
I thought about it for a little while. "When I had the chronic daily headaches, and I was up to about six a month, the migraines were definitely worse. But now, it's just different."
"How so?," he said
"With the migraines, I see my doctor all the time, and if things aren't improving as fast as he feels like they should be, we try something else. There are things I have to watch --- I have to watch my diet, and I have to keep my sleep regular --- and there's one trigger I know I can't control but I can at least plan around. And I take the medication everyday, and the other one when I get a headache, and it helps a lot.
"What does your doctor have you do with the celiac disease?"
"Well, that's just it. I get an endoscopy every so often, and so long as they're clear, that's it. And that's a lot more than I had at the very beginning --- I was diagnosed as a teenager, at a university health center, and they pretty much gave me a photocopy of things to avoid and said, 'you're on your own.' I barely knew how to cook and I was, like, your stereotypical college student who lived on convenience foods and spent as little as possible on groceries so that I could afford to go to concerts."
I continued, "Even now, whenever I've changed doctors and I've mentioned that I was a celiac, I've never been asked if I have questions about it, or how I'm doing with it. It's just a given --- that's my responsibility, except as far as my gastroenterologist's concerned, and since my test results come out well, she's always said that it's obvious I'm 'compliant'."
"So being a celiac is more stressful?" he said.
"I truthfully don't know," I said. "Living with celiac is second nature to me by now. It's very, very rare that it causes me problems. I can't say that about migraines. They're painful, and I wish I didn't have them. But it's so nice to be able to offload the responsibility a bit, you know?"
Food allergies and intolerances are somewhat unusual in that patients (or young patients' parents and caregivers) are the people responsible for managing their conditions on a day-to-day basis. For many other health issues, medicine, therapy, or surgery are the primary means of managing the disorder. But people with allergies and intolerances are the ones determining what goes into their bodies, and their skills in reading labels and avoiding cross-contamination --- and for parents, their ability to educate caregivers and advocate for their children --- are all that can prevent a reaction. And for those with true IgE-mediated food allergies, a reaction could be severe or even fatal. Who wouldn't be stressed?
There has been research, however, into behaviors and mindsets that have positive effects on stress for people with food allergies or for parents of kids with food allergies. The best news is, they're not counterproductive to staying safe and they don't mean being cavalier with your allergies (for example, this study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology notes that kids with peanut allergies feel safest when carrying their epinephrine). Read on to learn more about why food allergies can be so stressful and some proven strategies to relieve that stress.