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TikTok’s Sweet Anxiety Hack: How Sour Candy May Short-Circuit Panic. Watch the Video.

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TikTok’s Sweet Anxiety Hack: How Sour Candy May Short-Circuit Panic. Watch the Video.
Harlow Calloway
December 05, 2023

If you're having a panic attack, TikTokers say sour candy may help calm your nerves. This advice seems to have some scientific backing, with mental health experts confirming that sour candies like Warheads can serve as an effective distraction during moments of high anxiety.

When anxiety begins to spike and panic sets in, eating an intensely tart candy can offer "faster relief" by giving the brain something else more immediate to focus on, says therapist Catherine Del Toro. This redirects the brain's attention away from the anxiety, providing a brief respite in which symptoms can subside.

The key seems to lie in sour candy's ability to command focus. "The brain can only handle one emergency at a time," explains TikTok user @giveintolove in a video with 1.3 million views. When faced with an overwhelming sensory experience like extreme tartness, the brain prioritizes processing that input, going into a sort of survival mode that supersedes the anxiety response.

"When we are in that (panicked) state of mind, the more we think about it, the more it exacerbates," says psychotherapist Stephanie Sarkis. Consuming sour candy "jolts your brain into focusing on something else," activating different neural pathways that interrupt spiraling negative thoughts.

This effect aligns with the concept of "grounding techniques" used to manage anxiety, says Del Toro. Chewing an intensely tart Warhead, for example, brings the anxious mind into the present moment and centers attention on taste and touch rather than mounting panic.

By steering the brain out of hypothetical worry loops, sensations like sourness communicate that immediate danger isn't present. This allows fight-or-flight responses, driving panic attacks to decrease.

Indeed, the strategy seems scientifically supported. Research shows acute anxiety activates the brain's amygdala and triggers stress responses, while novel sensory experiences engage other neural networks -- likely explaining sour candies' distraction effect.

Still, experts emphasize Warheads aren't a cure-all, only a temporary coping mechanism. "Please do not expect this to...heal trauma that leads to panic attacks," Del Toro notes. Addressing anxiety's root causes through counseling remains vital.

Sour candy itself also has limitations. People can build tolerance to any distraction's impact if overused. And for those sensitive to sugar, excess candy may ultimately exacerbate anxiety.

Trying alternatives like lemon wedges or sniffing vinegar provides tartness without added sugar. Fidget toys, breathing exercises, mindfulness, and other grounding techniques also help get through panic attacks.

Yet for portable, ingestible relief, sour candy holds unique advantages. Del Toro even keeps Warheads in her office so clients can use tartness to self-soothe anxiety after sessions. TikTok testimony further indicates the method resonates.

"There is definitely truth and science behind eating sour or spicy candy to ease anxiety and panic attacks," Del Toro confirms. "It's a wonderful 'therapy hack.'"

The key mechanisms likely include sour candies' ability to:

  • Fully capture attention, interrupting anxiety thought patterns
  • Activate different neural pathways, quieting the brain's panic response
  • Bring awareness into the present moment, calming fight-or-flight reactions
  • Communicate real danger isn't present, allowing anxiety responses to settle

Experts say the technique aligns with established grounding methods using sensation to relieve anxiety. Science indicates introducing novel sensory inputs like tartness can calm elevated stress responses.

Yet effectiveness depends on individual biology. While many report anxiety relief from sour candies, results vary. And ingredients like sugar could aggravate symptoms for some.

Trying alternatives like lemons avoids excess calories while producing tartness that may have the same distraction effect. Slow deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, and therapy remain essential for addressing anxiety issues long-term as well.

In that context, TikTok's sour candy "hack" stands as a helpful supplementary tool ― one backed by multiple mental health professionals ― but not an anxiety cure. Still, keeping Warheads or lemons on hand for panic attacks can provide moments of urgent relief, helping people get through difficult experiences.

For those prone to anxiety, having quick-acting coping options holds value beyond temporary symptom relief. Being able to steer the mind out of paralyzing hypothetical worries using taste, touch or other sensory cues builds confidence in one's ability to handle intrusive thoughts.

Over time, regularly quelling mounting anxiety trains the brain's neural pathways supporting positivity and resilience ─ making panic less likely. That's perhaps this hack's deepest value: not just resolving single episodes, but giving agency over runaway stress responses, bit by bit.


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