Can sour sweets help with anxiety and panic attacks?

Anxiety is a crippling force that stops individuals from leading normal lives without constant worry. But what if there was a quick fix to preventing excessive worry before it develops into a panic?

Qualified Licensed Master Social Worker Katie Pankonin posted a TikTok video that suggests sour sweets are an excellent way to fend off anxiety as it attempts to take hold. The post gained over half a million likes among anxiety sufferers – but what is the thinking behind this coping strategy?

Throughout this blog, we explore whether sour treats can save the day when battling panic attacks and anxious thoughts.

What causes anxiety and panic attacks?

Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of unease experienced through our thoughts and body. We all feel anxiety from time to time, with sweating, distress and heart racing being experienced during certain situations, such as being in crowded spaces.

But, for those with anxiety disorders, it can be a daily occurrence, with affected individuals having routine triggers or perceiving a threat when there isn’t one.

Panic is an extreme form of anxiety created when our amygdala triggers a flight or fight response, usually for no reason.

Panic attacks cause shallowed breathing, leading to hyperventilation, a rapid heartbeat, sweating and a feeling of dread.

So, it’s no surprise those suffering from anxiety and panic disorders need coping mechanisms to halt extreme worry.

What’s the logic behind using sour sweets to combat anxiety?

The idea that sour goodies stop or prevent bursts of panic or anxiety centres around the distraction they create. An individual’s focus diverts from fearful thoughts to the tangy and intense taste sensation.

Mental health professionals have backed the claim that sucking on sour sweets such as sour dummies and fizzy cola bottles is an effective way of pulling those in an anxious state back to the here and now.

In an interview with Health, psychiatrist Toya Roberson-Moore, MD, states that sour sweets “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 rational brain can finally take back the reigns and stop us from feeling under threat.

Does it work?

Whilst the science makes sense, do sour treats work for anxiety sufferers? The responses to the video are mostly positive, with comments expressing how this technique has helped.

‘Alice’ “swears by anything sour when anxiety hits,” and ‘Daisy’ states that sour sweets has been “my go-to stress food.” One user even remarks that her mum used to send her to school with sour sweet boxes for this reason.

However, some users write that the “sour doesn’t last long enough” or that they can’t eat anything due to the nausea experienced when anxious.

So, it’s fair to say it’s down to each individual whether it’s effective or not.

Is this method a long-term fix?

The video creator points out that using sour candies to combat anxiety is “a skill to experiment with and [to] add to your toolbox—definitely not a replacement for mental health therapy.

So, this coping mechanism is a short-term solution. The evidence suggests that sour sweets are an excellent quick fix during the moment but aren’t a sustainable way to manage anxiety in the long run. Only therapy, meditation and medications can help you tackle your thoughts from within and tackle your triggers head-on.

Sugar is also unhealthy for your body and teeth when consumed excessively, meaning you shouldn’t overindulge in sour sweets.