If you deal with panic attacks, coping mechanisms are crucial for finding relief. Psychotherapist Fatema Jivanjee-Shakir, LMSW, tells POPSUGAR that oftentimes, feeling like you're not in control makes for even more panic and distress. The body doesn't feel safe, so you'll need ways to bring your body's attention back to the present. One of those techniques? Sour candy.
Sucking on sour candy when you're on the verge of a panic attack is a hack that many mental health professionals post about on TikTok. The first such video that popped up on my personal For You page was this clip from a therapist who goes by @justtherapythings. In the video, the therapist opens up a Warhead candy and shows how the sour taste can "snap your brain out of panic mode." Here's what experts say about the panic-attack hack.
So, How Does Sour Candy Help With Panic Attacks?
Sour candy serves as a distraction to take your mind off of the panic and away from the "fight, flight, or freeze" response. "The beauty of using sour candy is that it instantly wakes up your senses to the moment of what you are eating," licensed clinical psychologist 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 that she has recommended the use of sour candy to clients who don't feel that deep breathing and mindfulness work for them amid escalating panic. She says some find this helpful, while others don't, and it's best utilized at the onset of symptoms as opposed to when distress escalates. Those symptoms, Jivanjee-Shakir notes, may look like increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, and chest pain. She and Dr. Martin agree that sour candy can adjust focus and promote a grounding effect during bouts of anxiety as well.
In a number of TikTok videos, therapists use Warheads or other sour candy, but certain foods can bring about the same response. The therapist who goes by @justtherapythings on TikTok explained online that you could bite into a lemon or a lime, put a bit of hot sauce or salt on your tongue, or try wasabi (her client freezes small balls of wasabi). Super spicy or salty things have a similar effect, distracting your brain from the panic and bringing your attention to your other senses.
What to Keep in Mind When Using Sour Candy For Panic Attacks
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.
What If You Don’t Like Sour Candy? Other Coping Mechanisms For Panic Attacks
Try these grounding tools to anchor you into the present moment.
- 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 or lists: 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.
Are There Any Side Effects of Using Grounding Tools Like Sour Candy to Cope With 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 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.