If you deal with panic attacks, coping mechanisms are crucial for finding relief. As explained by Fatema Jivanjee-Shakir, LMSW, feeling out of control can lead to more panic and distress. To regain a sense of safety and control, it’s important to bring your body’s attention back to the present. You can do this with the help of grounding techniques (like breathwork, body scans, or visualization), but according to TikTok, there’s another unexpected tool that may also help ease panic attacks: sour candy.

According to some mental health professionals on TikTok, sucking on sour candy can help when you’re on the verge of a panic attack (especially if you’re out in public). One viral video shows how the sour taste of Warhead candy can “activate the parasympathetic nervous system that’s responsible for relaxation.” To find out if this panic attack hack is actually backed by science, we spoke with mental health professionals and got their honest thoughts. Read on to see what experts had to say about the viral sour candy trend and how it really works.

Experts Featured in This Article:

Fatema Jivanjee-Shakir, LMSW, is a therapist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.
Raquel Martin, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Tennessee State University.

How Does Sour Candy Help With Panic Attacks?

In essence, sour candy serves as a distraction to take your body out of its “fight, flight, or freeze” stress response. “The beauty of using sour candy is that it instantly wakes up your senses,” Raquel Martin, PhD, tells POPSUGAR. “You can focus on chewing or sucking on the candy, how it makes your cheeks pucker, what that feels like, trying to get through to the sweet part, and so on. All of this instantly adjusts your focal point, which is the goal.”

Jivanjee-Shakir says she has recommended the use of sour candy to clients who feel that deep breathing and mindfulness don’t work for them when a panic attack is coming on. She says some people find sour candy helpful, while others don’t, and it’s best utilized at the onset of symptoms, as opposed to when distress escalates. These symptoms, Jivanjee-Shakir notes, may include increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, and chest pain. She and Dr. Martin agree that sour candy can have a grounding effect for anxiety attacks as well.

What Kind of Sour Candy Works Best?

In a number of TikTok videos, creators use hard candies like Warheads or sour lollipops, but other foods can bring about a similar response. You can also try biting into a lemon or lime, put a bit of hot sauce or salt on your tongue, or go the spicy route with a bit of wasabi. Super spicy or salty things bring the same intensity as sour candy, ultimately working to distract your brain from panic and bring your attention back to the present.

What to Keep in Mind

Jivanjee-Shakir says preparation is important when learning to navigate panic attacks and anxiety. If you decide that sour candy will become one of your coping mechanisms, here are a few things to consider:

  • Stock up on sour candy in easily accessible places: your backpack or purse, your car, your office, and where you live.
  • Let the support systems in your life know this is something you’re practicing, and talk to them about how they can help. “Perhaps they can be aware of where you are stocking the sour candy and can get it for you if you’re unable to amidst a panic attack,” Jivanjee-Shakir says.

Other Coping Mechanisms For Panic Attacks

If you’re not a huge fan of sour candy, you can always try more traditional grounding tools to anchor you in the present moment. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique: This is a tool both Dr. Martin and Jivanjee-Shakir suggest to help you focus on all of your senses. Name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
  • Visualize a Routine: With your eyes closed, visualize walking home or making your favorite meal. Take yourself through each step as if you were teaching someone how to do it, Dr. Martin suggests.
  • Categories: Think of a category like animals, street names, vegetables, or plants; list as many items in one category as you can, then move on to the next. Dr. Martin says another way to do this would be going through the alphabet and naming all of the animals, colors, and/or names that start with each letter.
  • Ice: Shocking your system with ice may help bring you into the present moment. Jivanjee-Shakir says you can hold an ice cube or a frozen orange, wash your face with ice-cold water, or take a cold shower. Dr. Martin suggests focusing on the feeling of ice melting in your hands.

Risks of Using Sour Candy For Panic Attacks

Jivanjee-Shakir says that “repeated distraction can lead to the development of an overlearned response that makes the individual believe they are incapable of sitting with distressing emotions and physical sensations.” While she supports people using coping skills like sour candy or the others described above, she also works with her own clients to identify triggers and “gradually practice tolerating distressing emotions so they are better able to reduce the impact anxiety has on their functioning.” She says she focuses on techniques such as stress management, habituation, and cognitive reframing.

Dr. Martin echoes that a licensed mental health professional can help you identify triggers for panic attacks or anxiety and learn to manage when those triggers occur. The consensus is that you should not adopt a coping mechanism (even sour candy) in place of long-term treatment or support.

If you are feeling anxious or depressed and need assistance finding help or resources, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (helpline number is 1-800-950-6264) have resources available.

— Additional reporting by Chandler Plante

Samantha Brodsky is a former assistant editor at POPSUGAR. She uses her gymnast background to inform her sports and fitness coverage, powering through Peloton videos in her free time.

Chandler Plante is an assistant editor for PS Health & Fitness. Previously, she worked as an editorial assistant for People magazine and contributed to Ladygunn, Millie, and Bustle Digital Group. In her free time, she overshares on the internet, creating content about chronic illness, beauty, and disability.

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