I’m a Psychologist Who Gets Panic Attacks. Here’s the One Thing That Calms Me Down Instantly

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If you’ve ever suffered through one, you know that a panic attack can make it seem like your world is spinning out of control. All of a sudden, it’s as if your heart is pounding out of your chest. You may become lightheaded and shaky, and no matter how hard you try to take deep breaths, it can still feel like you’re suffocating.

Anyone can experience these intense waves of fear (also known as anxiety attacks)—even mental health experts like Katelyn Baker, PsyD, a psychologist specializing in anxiety at Appalachian Life Enrichment Counseling Center in Fairmont, West Virginia. “I’ve been having panic attacks since I was four years old,” Dr. Baker tells SELF. “But with years of therapy, the right med combo, and support from my loved ones, they’ve become much less frequent in my life—only a few times a year now, which is a huge difference.”

The most common symptoms of a panic attack include a racing heart, sweating, trembling, and shortness of breath, but some people also report feeling like they’re dying or having a heart attack. And it can be pretty damn hard to calm yourself down when you’re hit with a cascade of daunting feelings at once. So when a panic attack strikes, Dr. Baker swears by one trick to help her stay grounded—and it’s surprisingly simple.

“Chew on a piece of sour candy,” she says—like Warheads (her personal favorite) or Barnett’s Mega Sour Fruits. “The panic symptoms should slow down once your tastebuds process the shock of the sour.” According to Dr. Baker, a powerful burst of tartness can momentarily interrupt the spiral of fear and anxiety by shifting your attention toward the intense sensation on your tongue.

While there isn’t much research on this specific coping strategy, Dr. Baker says that sensory distractions—like candy that makes your mouth pucker or splashing cold water on your face—are known to temporarily quiet the amygdala (the area of your brain responsible for activating the fight-or-flight response that can trigger the panic attack symptoms above). Plus, there’s a lot of anecdotal support for this hack: Dr. Baker says many of her patients swear by it, for example. And in one viral TikTok video with more than 3M views, a user claims that she’s “never had anything rip me out of the throes of a fucking panic attack faster” than a sour candy.

Before you stock up on Warheads, though, keep in mind that this trick isn’t a permanent solution. If you have recurring panic attacks, the Mayo Clinic recommends talking to your primary care doctor. They can help determine if your episodes meet the criteria for panic disorder and rule out other health issues that may be causing your symptoms (like heart problems or thyroid diseases). They can also refer you to a therapist for long-term treatment options, like cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help you understand your specific triggers, Dr. Baker adds.

That said, it certainly doesn’t hurt to keep a pack of Sour Patch Kids Extreme handy in your desk or purse as a backup plan. You know, just in case.


Originally Appeared on SELF