Panic attacks are a symptom of anxiety or fear and can occur unexpectedly with intense physical and emotional stress. It can be tough to ride out, especially while alone, but one TikTok user is claiming that she has a go-to trick that can be distracting enough to calm herself down.
“Taylor Talking” podcast host @taylor.talking went viral on TikTok for posting about how, at the advice of a therapist, she started eating a Warhead sour candy to halt an oncoming panic attack. Warheads are extremely sour hard candies available at drug stores and on Amazon.
“When I say I’ve never had anything rip me out of the throws of a f****** panic attack faster, I f****** mean it,” Taylor says in the video.
What exactly is a panic attack?
Panic attacks are triggered by a specific part of the brain called the amygdala, FOLX Health clinician Melissa Miller told In The Know by Yahoo.
“The amygdala is the center processing center for emotion and aids in basic human survival, as the amygdala largely triggers the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) — aka the fight or flight system,” she explained. “When we need to run from real danger, the SNS tells our bodies to pump our blood faster, stop digestion and increase heart rate.”
Miller noted that while the amygdala is an “amazing part” of the brain that helps keep people safe, it can also have trouble identifying a real versus imagined danger.
So when the brain sees an imagined or perceived threat as a real danger, it can still kick off the flight or fight response — which is when a panic attack can happen.
Panic attack symptoms, Miller added, can be different for everyone but commonly include:
Shortness of breath
Gastrointestinal or stomach stress
Fear of dying
Derealization, or feeling like you’re having an out-of-body experience
But the challenging part about panic attacks, Miller continued, is that the more people focus on the panic attack, the worse the symptoms can get.
“Panic attacks are many times triggered by a thought, a memory or a bodily sensation — there is usually a trigger to panic but is very hard to delineate as the experience of panic feels sudden and abrupt,” she noted. “Many times people go to the ER thinking they are having a heart attack or stroke.”
Does eating sour candy help with a panic attack?
“The use of sour candy during the panic attack acts as a grounding focus to distract from the spiral of fear and helps the brain understand that no real danger is taking place,” Miller explained. “The sour candy sort of throws a different sensation into the mix to distract from the panic attack.”
Because panic attacks are often triggered by an internal thought or emotion rather than an external physical danger, it’s “very easy for individuals to get overwhelmed with additional thoughts and feelings creating a focus on either the past (the traumatic event) or the future (‘I am going to die from this panic attack’),” Miller added.
From a clinician’s standpoint, she noted that the “ultimate place” they hope to guide clients to is the present moment, where they can “de-escalate the physical sensations of the panic attack.”
To do that, clinicians like Miller use self-soothing or grounding techniques to help calm the body and, subsequently, the mind. Common grounding techniques to help bring a person back to the present include deep and mindful breathing, holding and describing a melting ice cube or, as Taylor demonstrated on TikTok, eating a sour candy.
“Overall, the sour candy acts as a brain disruptor to allow the individual to work back to the present moment and out of the fear spiral of the panic attack,” Miller said.
On Taylor’s TikTok, many commenters shared their own disruptors, including Altoids, ice cubes, sour Skittles, Listerine melts and even lemons.
Miller added that using a grounding technique, whether it’s sour candy or something else, is most effective when paired with the knowledge of why panic attacks work (to promote cognitive safety) or mantras such as “I am not in real danger” or “My panic will pass.”
“I’m glad to see that more therapists are encouraging that kind of coping. You can’t calm if you’re blind by panic,” observed @pink_kitten4.
Eating sour candy to stop a panic attack may also come with a bonus.
“And then you get to eat the best tasting hard candy as a treat,” noted @thenukemuffin.
“It’s like a reward!” replied Taylor.
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