The next time you’re in a stressful situation and feel a wave of panic wash over you, eat an extremely sour candy.
The intense flavor is distracting. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, a part of the brain that slows down an anxiety attack.
A TikTok trend that has amassed over 23.7 million views is making waves to test this theory.
If you don’t like sweets, something very spicy like sriracha or spicy like salt and vinegar chips will also have the same effect, according to Katie Pankonin, a licensed mental health therapist from Arizona.
With over 23.7 million views on TikTok, a recent trend shows people using sour candies as a way to reduce anxiety and stop panic attacks
Sour candies aren’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) can also shock the brain
“The sharper the taste — sour, spicier everything in between — the more likely your brain is to step outside of that anxious thought and into your body to step more of what you’re tasting,” Ms. Pankonin told DailyMail.com.
This also causes a physiological response. For example, eating something acidic increases saliva production in the mouth, which is “the first step in reactivating that digestive system,” Micheline Maalouf, licensed mental health counselor and owner of Serein Counseling in Orlando, told DailyMail.com.
“When we have a lot of anxiety, or when we’re in panic attack mode, our body is fighting or fleeing.
“Your mind actually thinks there’s a perceived or an actual threat, whereas what happens to people who are anxious in today’s world, usually there’s no actual threat happening,” Ms Maalouf said.
In response to fear, the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, sends an alarm to the hypothalumus, the part of the brain that acts as the command center.
Mental health experts Michele Maalouf (left) and Katie Pankonin (right) both recommend eating a sour candy, salty chip or spoon, or sriracha to quell an impending panic attack
This confuses the body. Heart rate increases, breathing becomes shallow and digestion slows down.
“Fear wants to be felt, and it demands that you feel it when it happens,” Pankonin said.
However, the intense taste of sour candies or a spoonful of sriracha puts an end to that by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, a network of nerves that helps the body relax after periods of high stress.
“If we incorporate the body first, we can help our body slow down. Then we can go ahead and apply these thinking techniques,” Ms. Maalouf said.
The advantage doesn’t just come from a handful of Sour Patch Kids of Warheads, though.
Physically, any food will get the digestive system going again, but foods with an intense flavor tend to make saliva more quickly.
This includes strong mustard, salt and vinegar chips, sriracha sauce, or even peppermint.
“I think more than anything, if it’s not a taste you’re used to having on a daily basis, you’ll be fine,” Ms Pankonin said.
However, if you’re having a panic attack every day, eating sour candy can start to lose its effectiveness.
“If it’s something that we notice on a daily basis, definitely turn it off. If it’s sour candy one day, it might be a very 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.
However, experts warn that this is not a long-term solution. “It’s pretty much a Band-Aid on a problem,” Ms. Maalouf said. “It’s not something you just want to rely on. It’s a tool, but it’s just like any other tool. If we find something that helps us today, it may not help us tomorrow. It doesn’t get to the heart of the problem.’
In addition, eating sour candies probably won’t completely stop a panic attack.
“It could reduce the intensity and duration of it because you reactivate your senses early on and you reactivate the digestive system early on,” Ms Maalouf said. “You may not feel it as intensely, but it probably won’t stop it.”
These foods also run the risk of introducing high amounts of added sugar, which could deter any health goals you’re pursuing or aggravate certain medical conditions, such as diabetes.
‘Know your body. If you have a health condition that could be made worse by the consumption of these foods, then this is definitely not the tool for you,” said Maalouf.
Ms Pankonin said this antidote is more effective for someone with episodic anxiety than for a chronic condition.
“When it comes to coping skills, you never want to have one you lean on, but we can add it to the toolbox as something that can really come in handy in the short term,” she said.
For someone with regular panic attacks or chronic anxiety, it is important to combine temporary treatments with long-term solutions. This includes cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and even exercise.
For example, a 2018 meta-analysis in the journal Depression and Anxiety found that cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness meditation, and exercise are all helpful in reducing anxiety.
Ms. Pankonin emphasized the importance of using all the senses to ground both body and mind during anxious moments. ‘We can make noise, we can do visualizations. We can bring in every sense humanly possible because when it comes to the name of fear, it’s all about that distraction. It’s about separating yourself from that fear and recognizing it for what it is and helping you walk through it,” she said.