The next time you’re in a high-stress situation and feel a wave of panic coming over you, eat an extremely sour candy.
The intense taste acts as a distraction. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, a part of the brain that puts the brakes on an anxiety attack.
A TikTok trend that has amassed more than 23.7 million views is making waves for testing out this theory.
If you don’t like sweets, then something very spicy like sriracha or tangy like salt and vinegar chips will also have the same effect, according to Katie Pankonin, a licensed mental health therapist from Arizona.
Garnering more than 23.7 million views on TikTok, a recent trend shows people using sour candy as a way to lower anxiety and stop panic attacks
Sour candy isn’t the only food that can distract the brain from a panic attack. Certain strong sauces, such as mustard, vinegar, or sriracha (left) have a similar effect. Peppermint (right), in addition, can shock the brain as well
‘The more harsh the taste- sour, spicy anything in between -the more likely your brain is going to step outside of that anxious thought and more so into your body of what you’re tasting,’ Ms Pankonin told DailyMail.com.
This causes a physiological response as well. For example, eating something sour increases saliva production in the mouth, which is ‘the first step in re-engaging that digestive system,’ Micheline Maalouf, licensed mental health counselor and owner of Serein Counseling in Orlando, told DailyMail.com.
‘When we have high levels of anxiety, or when we’re in panic attack mode, our body is in fight or flight.
‘Your mind is basically thinking there’s either a perceived or an actual threat, when what’s happening with people who have anxiety in today’s world, most of the time, there’s not an actual threat happening,’ Ms Maalouf said.
In response to anxiety, the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center, sounds an alarm to the hypothalumus, the part of the brain that acts as its command center.
Mental health experts Michele Maalouf (left) and Katie Pankonin (right) both recommend eating a sour candy, salty chip, or spoonful or sriracha to quell an oncoming panic attack
This sends the body haywire. Heart rate increases, breathing becomes shallow, and digestion slows.
‘Anxiety wants to be felt, and it demands you to feel it when it’s happening,’ Pankonin said.
However, the intense taste from sour candy or a spoonful of sriracha puts a stop to that by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, a network of nerves that helps the body relax after periods of high stress.
‘When we incorporate the body first, then we can help our body slow down. Then we can go on and incorporate these thought techniques,’ Ms Maalouf said.
However, the benefit isn’t just from a handful of Sour Patch Kids or Warheads.
Physically, any food will start the digestive system back up, but foods with intense tastes tend to produce saliva faster.
This includes strong mustards, salt and vinegar chips, sriracha sauce, or even peppermint.
‘I think more than anything, if it’s not a taste that you’re used to having on a day-to-day basis, it’s going to do the trick,’ Ms Pankonin said.
However, if you’re having a panic attack every day, eating sour candy might start to lose its effectiveness.
‘If it’s something that we’re noticing on a daily basis, definitely switch it out. If it’s going to be sour candy one day, maybe it’s a really cold glass of water the next. Maybe it’s hot sauce the next day. But bringing variety, I think, with coping skills is really important,’ Ms Pankonin said.
Experts caution that this isn’t a long-term solution though. ‘It’s pretty much a Band-Aid to an issue,’ Ms Maalouf said. ‘It’s not something that you just want to depend on. It’s a tool, but it’s just like any tool. If we find something that helps us today, it might not help us tomorrow. It doesn’t get to the root of the problem.’
Additionally, eating sour candy likely isn’t going to completely stop a panic attack.
‘It just might reduce the intensity and the duration of it because you’re re-engaging your senses early on and you’re re-engaging the digestive system early on,’ Ms Maalouf said. ‘Maybe you won’t feel it as intensely, but it probably won’t stop it in its tracks.’
These foods also run the risk of introducing high amounts of added sugar, which could deter any health goals you’re pursing or aggravate certain medical conditions, such as diabetes.
‘Know your body. If you have a health condition that may get worse by the consumption of these foods, then definitely this isn’t the tool for you,’ Maalouf said.
Ms Pankonin said this is antidote is more effective for someone with episodic anxiety rather than a chronic condition.
‘When it comes to coping skills, you never want to have just one that you’re leaning on, but we can add it to the toolbox as something that can really come in handy in the short term,’ she said.
In someone with regular panic attacks or chronic anxiety, pairing temporary treatments with long-term solutions is key. This includes cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and even exercise.
A 2018 meta-analysis in the journal Depression and Anxiety, for example, found that cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness meditation, and physical exercise are all helpful in reducing anxiety.
Ms Pankonin emphasized the importance of utilizing all senses to ground both the body and mind during anxious moments. ‘We can do sound, we can do visualizations. We can bring in every single sense that we humanly possibly can, because when it comes to the name of anxiety, it’s all about that distraction. It’s all about separating yourself from that anxiety and recognizing it for what it is and helping you walk through it,’ she said.