Allergies and Mental Health


Having an allergy may mean that you find that your mental health is also affected. Allergies may cause you to feel anxious and overwhelmed, and you may be finding it tricky to navigate the challenges of living with them daily. We understand that sometimes you may need some support to manage your physical and mental health when you get a difficult health diagnosis. 

Your face starts to swell. You feel breathless. Sick. Dizzy. Your skin is itchy and you have a rash that is spreading across it. It’s uncomfortable, but most of all it’s terrifying to witness how your body reacts to eating food that most people can consume without difficulty. Two million people in the UK have experienced these symptoms as a result of an allergic reaction to food. 

As well as food, which is one of the most common allergens, you can have a reaction to a number of things, like animals, medication, dust, fragrances, cosmetics and pollen. Allergy UK estimates that up  to 41 million people will be affected by at least one of these. It can cause a range of symptoms including, in addition to the ones mentioned above, sneezing, red or watery eyes, coughing and making asthma or eczema harder to manage if you are managing those conditions as well. You don’t have to experience all of these symptoms when you are having a reaction, but you will experience some of them and it can feel scary to manage.

For anyone who has an allergy, you may find that it can feel overwhelming at times, especially if it significantly disrupts your day to day life. Your mental health may be affected, and it is completely understandable if you are managing emotional challenges in addition to the challenges of the condition itself.

Allergy anxiety

It is not uncommon that if you have allergies, you may also experience anxiety. It is perfectly normal to feel anxious as an allergy can be life threatening. However, it is important to recognise that any risks can be managed and that often our anxiety comes from our brains catastrophising or getting stuck in worst case scenarios.

Trying to prevent a reaction where possible is a very important part of managing your allergies, but you may feel overwhelmed or anxious trying to do so on a daily basis. Making sure that a trigger is not present in any situation can feel stressful or can make you feel like you are being limited by your condition. You may feel upset about how much this affects aspects of your normal everyday life. 

It is possible that you may be allergic to multiple things and this can make you feel even more restricted. You may be worried about how much having multiple allergies will impact your life and how much you will have to adapt to make sure you don’t have reactions to any of them. You might be concerned that you can’t manage them all and this could result in developing depression or anxiety if you feel overwhelmed.

It is important to look after your general wellbeing in order to help manage any mental health difficulties. A few ways you can do that are by eating well, keeping active and socialising with others. These should be in addition to having a good understanding of your condition in order to manage it well.

There are also many resources available that may help with difficult emotions you are managing. The Smile app is home to lots of content that may be able to support your wellbeing. For example, one of our Smile therapists, Charlie O’Brien, offers content on how to use EFT for overwhelm. During a tapping exercise, she advises you to, “take a really nice deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. And that’s just sending a lovely signal to your parasympathetic nervous system that you are safe, that you are not in danger, and that your body can relax.” 

Severe allergic reactions and anaphylaxis

An allergic reaction, though scary or uncomfortable, is usually able to be managed or treated efficiently with the right medication. However, a severe allergic reaction can be much worse and significantly more worrying. It can also be life threatening and may be traumatic for you, or anyone who witnesses the reaction.

The symptoms of anaphylaxis happen very quickly. You may experience swelling in the throat, difficulty breathing or feeling faint, amongst other symptoms. If you are experiencing a severe reaction it is vital that you are taken to the hospital immediately for treatment. It may be very overwhelming for anyone who is assisting you in getting you to the hospital, because it is a traumatising experience for anyone to witness and then they might feel anxious having to remember what to do in an emergency.

As a severe allergic reaction is a traumatic experience, it means that you will need to practise self-care afterwards. If you are finding it difficult to manage the emotional difficulties of your trauma, you may find it beneficial to seek help.

How allergies affect your daily life

Performing daily tasks can sometimes be a challenge for those with allergies. For example, doing activities that most people don’t have to think about, like going out for meals, can be difficult. Eating out at restaurants if you have a food allergy is a big concern, with 97% of those with this allergy saying that they worry when they are not in control of food management. In order to avoid triggering your food allergy, you may have to carefully choose restaurants, or may decide to avoid going out altogether, which can make you feel restricted.

Allergies may also impact other aspects of your life, like travelling. For a lot of people, travelling is an exciting prospect, but for anyone with an allergy, you may think this is something you won’t get to experience. This is not the case at all, as with careful planning, it is possible. For a real life example of this, Kyle Dine has written a blog which you can view on the Smile website, where he talks about his own experience of travelling with allergies. Although you don’t need to restrict yourself, it may cause you to feel upset knowing that you have to plan things out differently to others. 

Some allergies can be persistent which means it can feel draining and tiring to manage. Something like a dust allergy, may cause symptoms like a runny nose or a cough, which are likely to also disrupt your sleep pattern, as it is uncomfortable, especially when it is constant. Not having enough sleep and feeling tired can then make your daily tasks tricky, as you may feel unmotivated and have a lack of energy. It may also make you feel irritable or moody and can even lead to mental health conditions developing.

How allergies can affect you socially

You may find that your allergies affect your social interactions. This may be because you are worried that others will judge you. You may be concerned that you will be viewed as ‘difficult’ if you can’t eat certain foods when going to someone else’s house for a meal. Or you may be anxious that people won’t take your allergy seriously. This is not an uncommon reaction when you have allergies, as 52% of people are ashamed of their symptoms and fear judgement whilst 53% of those with allergies avoid social interaction. Feeling ashamed of your symptoms can make you feel insecure and very low. 

You may be fearful of having a reaction around others, and you may remove yourself from social situations because of this. This can make you feel more in control of situations and reassure you that you will be less likely to have a reaction. It is important that you try not to limit social interaction as it may make any emotional challenges you are managing worse. Being around people and talking through any other worries you may have, can help alleviate anxiety or stress you feel alongside your condition. 

A lot of people feel that there isn’t enough information about allergies to help others understand the severity of a reaction, or what having an allergy actually means. If there was more awareness, it may help people to worry less about judgement, and as a result, you may feel less socially restricted by your condition. 

Allergy management and medication

Allergies can sometimes feel difficult to manage, and as they are long term and never go away at any point in your life, it is important to have good management. It is also vital that you completely understand your condition, knowing what triggers it, how to avoid it where possible, and how to treat it if you need to. This knowledge can be applied through your whole life and help avoid reactions where possible. However, it may feel stressful having to remember a lot of important information that could save your life. 

You may also have to take medication. You might even need to carry something like an epipen with you, in the event of a severe reaction happening or anaphylaxis. This might cause feelings of anxiety as you have to ensure you remember it, and the consequences if you don’t have it with you can be severe. It can be a lot of pressure to ensure you have a piece of equipment with you at all times. 

How parents of children with allergies are affected

Allergic reactions can be traumatising for children and in turn this can also be traumatising for the whole family. It is hard to witness your child experiencing extreme discomfort or potentially life threatening symptoms. You will likely be very worried about your child’s health and want to prevent reactions where possible. You may feel overwhelmed knowing that you have to constantly look out for anything that may trigger their allergies on their behalf. It can be a big pressure knowing their health is your responsibility.

Your child will be reliant on you to manage their allergies well, as they may be too young to do it themselves. If you are helping your child with their condition, it is important that you talk to your child about it. This is to ensure they have a good understanding so that they can continue to manage it themselves when they are adults. This will hopefully minimise complications with their allergies in the future.

You may feel like you have to restrict your child because of their condition. You may feel protective and worried about them when they are with others, like spending time with their friends or away at school, but their allergies shouldn’t cause them to feel isolated or different. They need to have the same experiences all children do, whilst also being able to navigate their condition well in their daily life. Have conversations with your child so they know all about their allergy, and make sure they know how to manage it effectively when you are not with them. If there is someone else who will be looking out for your child, ensure that they are aware of your child’s condition, so that there shouldn’t be any confusion or issues when they are not in your care. 

Allergies may make your child upset and they may feel like they are different from other children. They may even experience bullying from others. As a result, you may feel like you aren’t doing enough to protect your child or that you are letting your child down. This is not the case, and it is important that you reassure yourself that you are doing everything you can to look after your child.

It is not at all uncommon to feel concern about your child’s condition, as more than 80% of parents of children with food allergies feel worried and 39% of those have said that they have mild or severe anxiety. Although allergies may not be directly affecting you, it is understandable that you may feel emotional repercussions from your child’s diagnosis. There is support available if you are finding it difficult to manage any tricky feelings. 

How to get mental health support when managing allergies

Allergies may sometimes feel stressful to manage, and this is why it can commonly lead to feelings of anxiety or depression. Many people will experience challenging emotions because it can be difficult to adapt to a life with the condition. Talking to people and having social support can be a great tool for managing changes in your mental health. 

For some, more support may be necessary however and Smile has lots of resources that may help you navigate the emotional effects of an allergy diagnosis. Our expert-led workshops and content include EFT for overwhelm, EFT for sleep, which may be beneficial if you are having difficulty sleeping with your allergies, discussing your child’s health and connecting with your values so you don’t lose sight of what is important to you despite how challenging your condition can feel. 

It is understandable if you sometimes find it difficult to manage the emotional challenges of your diagnosis, but there are lots of great resources that can help. Your physical and mental health can be both managed simultaneously, despite how overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or upset you feel. It is important to realise that it is very possible for you to live well when you have an allergy. 

Smile is a mental health app for people managing chronic physical health conditions. To access the resources mentioned above, download the app now from Google Play or ​Apple App store.