In a TikTok video viewed 2 million times, a woman says her therapist told her to eat a Warhead whenever she feels a panic attack coming on. The woman says nothing has taken her out of the throes of a panic attack faster than eating the notoriously sour candy.
Turns out, therapists say using sour candy to ease anxiety symptoms actually isn't a bad idea.
"There is definitely truth and science behind eating sour or spicy candy to ease anxiety and panic attacks," mental health counselor Catherine Del Toro says. "It's a wonderful 'therapy hack' that is practical because you can carry a sour candy with you anywhere."
How does sour candy help with anxiety?
In a separate video with 1.3 million views, TikTok user @giveintolove explains the reason extremely sour candy like Warheads eases anxiety is because it distracts the brain by giving it something else to focus on. She says the brain can "only handle one emergency at a time," so, in the presence of a Warhead, it will move on from the panic attack.
Del Toro says this is basically correct − and she even keeps a jar of Warheads in her office for clients to take with them for that reason.
"Panic ensues when our amygdala triggers the flight or fight response," she says. "When eating something sour or spicy, you are promoting a grounding technique that encourages you to focus on the present moment, stops the spiral of fear and communicates to your brain that you are not in real danger, thereby allowing the panic attack to slow in intensity and eventually stop altogether."
Psychotherapist Stephanie Sarkis says sour candy isn't the only distraction that can interrupt panic attacks. Deep breathing, crafting, yoga, touching your thumb to each finger and noticing three things you can see, feel and hear, as well as other mindfulness strategies also help, she says.
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However, she notes, distractions become less effective as you become more habituated to them, so it's good to change them up.
"When we are in that (panicked) state of mind, the more we think about it, the more it exacerbates. The more the sympathetic nervous system is activated. But, when we're distracted, our focus goes elsewhere, and we start using other parts of our brain," she says. "Something that's intense like that is more likely to jolt your brain into focusing on something else."
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Sour candy is a temporary anxiety fix, not a solution
Del Toro and Sarkis agree it's important to note sour candy and other distractions cannot cure anxiety or treat the underlying cause of an anxiety or panic attack, though they may help ease symptoms.
"Please do not expect this to cure or heal trauma that leads to panic attacks," Del Toro says. "However, this will certainly help stop panic attacks from intensifying and will give you faster relief."
For people who do suffer from anxiety, it's important to get therapy from a qualified mental health professional.
"The issue is that that's a good temporary treatment, but it's important that the underlying cause of the panic attack is treated, whether that's through therapy or medication or a combination of both," Sarkis says.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: TikTok says Warheads can stop a panic attack. Experts actually agree.