Sour Candy for Anxiety Isn't Just a TikTok Trend, Experts Explain How It Really Works

  • A popular trend claims sour candy as a means of avoiding anxiety and panic attacks.
  • This is because the brain is momentarily distracted by an intense taste, elevating that sense in the body and taking the mind off the anxiety or panic at hand.
  • Experts agree that while this technique may be helpful in some situations, more sustainable coping habits are recommended for long-term success.

Could the antidote for anxiety attacks lie in something as simple as sour candy? According to TikTokers and other online sources, the answer is yes—and, intriguingly, many mental health experts agree.

The theory behind the online-famous trend goes that, when a panic attack or bout of anxiety hits, sucking on tart candies distracts the brain from negative emotions, zeroing attention in on the sour, tingling sensation in the mouth. TikTok videos galore extol the virtues of keeping sour candies on hand for when a bout of anxiety hits, such as on an airplane or prior to public speaking. Searches for “sour candy for anxiety” currently have 22.5 million views on the platform.

But does the TikTok trend hold up scientifically? Here’s what experts have to say about the effectiveness of popping a Warhead or Jolly Rancher for panic, and whether it’s a sustainable technique.

Does Eating Sour Candy Really Relieve Anxiety?

Just like the age-old sensory zap of snapping a rubber band on the wrist to deter anxiety, chewing sour candies is a distraction technique. It shifts the brain’s attention from sensations of fear, anxiety, and overwhelm to the vivid, assertive flavor in the mouth.

“Panic ensues when our amygdala triggers the flight or fight response. One way to dampen our amygdala’s response and mitigate panic is by turning our attention to the present moment through our senses: taste, smell, touch, sight, and hearing,” Toya Roberson-Moore, MD, associate medical director and psychiatrist at Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center, told Health.

She continued, “Sour candy shifts our attention quickly to the sense of taste, intensely, which in turn dampens our amygdala (the feeling part of the brain) and gives us better access to our frontal cerebral cortex (the thinking part of our brain).”

The result? The thinking part of our brain sends the message to the feeling part that we are not in actual danger.

Sucking on sour candies harnesses attention in the here and now. “A piece of sour candy may be enough to jerk someone from the mindless looping of anxiety and bring them back to the present,” mental health counselor John Delony, PhD, told Health.

According to Dr. Delony, this technique can be made even more effective by intentionally focusing on the sensations the candy creates in the mouth, or even by adding other physical sensations to the mix.

“Along with any other mild shocks, it is useful for pulling people from their catastrophic, spiraling thoughts and back into the present,” he reiterated. Other physical sensations to ground yourself in the present might include inhaling essential oils, running your fingers over a textured object like a small rock, or listening to music with complex chords.

Sour gummy worm

Getty Images / bhofack2

Is Eating Sour Candy a Sustainable Technique for Combating Anxiety?

As effective as sour candy may be for calming periodic bouts of panic, it’s not a cure for anxiety in general. Many mental health experts consider distraction a short-term fix—or even an unhealthy crutch.

“Primarily using sugary foods like candy to reduce panic symptoms can develop into a maladaptive coping mechanism,” warned Dr. Roberson-Moore.

A 2017 study found that distraction strategies were most helpful when combined with acceptance exercises—and least helpful when combined with avoidance.

“Shifting your attention to one of the five senses is most effective when coupled with learning and practicing skills to identify when danger is not real and when anxiety is not needed,” Dr. Roberson-Moore suggested. “This is the goal of cognitive behavioral therapy, an evidence-based form of treatment for anxiety.”

If you suffer from regular anxiety or panic attacks, rather than relying on a packet of Fun Dip or sour gummies for quick relief, it’s best to seek help from a mental health professional. They may recommend you try talk therapy, medication, mindfulness exercises, or a combination of treatments.

Potential Downsides of Using Sour Candy for Anxiety

Besides its potential for becoming a dysfunctional coping mechanism, regularly eating sour candy has other significant drawbacks. Depending on how often you employ this technique (and how many candies you consume), you could end up taking in a high amount of added sugars, which could deter other health goals you’re pursuing.

As a high-glycemic food, sour candy can also cause a dramatic spike and drop in blood sugar. Ultimately, this anxiety “solution” could actually create symptoms that mimic anxiety, since physical sensations like shakiness, irritability, and rapid heart rate are classic hallmarks of low blood sugar.

There’s another chemical reaction to consider, too, said Dr. Roberson-Moore. “When you consume too much sugar, the amount of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) decreases. BDNF plays a role in reducing anxiety and panic. Thus, a deficiency in BDNF can ultimately exacerbate anxiety in the long-term.”

Additional Methods for Coping with Anxiety

The occasional sour Skittle isn’t likely to cause serious harm. Still, other coping mechanisms are not only more nutrient-minded but likely more effective for reducing anxiety. Research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based meditation, and physical exercise are all helpful strategies for managing or even overcoming anxiety disorders.

When feelings of panic hit, you can also consider anxiety-reduction techniques that don’t require having sugary candy on hand.

“Focusing on relaxation skills training is the first step,” encouraged Dr. Roberson-Moore. “Deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery are all relaxation skills that can be effective prior to engaging in cognitive work to decrease anxiety.”

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