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The truth about trying to stop panic attacks with candy

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[Updated Nov. 7, 2023]

Dealing with panic attacks by sucking on sour candy is among the mental health “hacks” that have gone viral recently. The idea is to distract yourself from panic attack symptoms by changing your focus. So, does it work?

The illusion of distraction

Distracting the mind may help in the moment, says Freespira Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bob Cuyler. During a panic attack, people are often hyper aware of their bodily sensations. The feeling that your heart is racing, or your chest feels tight, can be like “fuel on the fire” for panic, Cuyler says. If a super sour taste distracts you enough to drown out those sensations, it is possible that they could keep a panic attack from snowballing.

“No matter what you do, your panic attack is going to end in 10 to 20 minutes,” Cuyler says. “So, when it comes to sour candy, you don’t really know if it helped because the attack would have let up anyway eventually.”

The price of safety behaviors

Even if it seems like it helps for a while, reaching for sour candy can become what experts call a “safety behavior.” With safety behaviors, your brain starts to think, “I can only be okay if I have my sour candy with me.” That may not seem like such a big deal. After all, how hard is it to keep some candy in your bag?

Consider if there are other rules your brain has already set for you. How do those affect your ability to live your life? For example, you might say, “I’ll just drive the long way to avoid the highway.” Or, “I just can’t get in an elevator with more than three people.”

Those “I can only be safe if X” rules limit the things you can and can’t do. They can also set you up for more severe panic if and when you have to break them. What if you run out of sour candy when you need it?

Lasting help for panic attacks

For people whose lives are limited by severe, frequent panic attacks, Cuyler says, candy is not likely to be enough. To help in the long term, you need a way to prevent attacks before they start.

That’s where an FDA-cleared treatment like Freespira is more effective. Freespira helps you build key skills that you can take with you to reduce or prevent panic attacks altogether. In one month, you learn to control your body’s breathing and responses, making panic attacks less frequent and making it easier to control symptoms.

If you’re tired of having your life managed by a growing list of safety behaviors, Freespira may be the ticket to freedom that you’ve been looking for. Don’t settle for less. Schedule a 15-minute call with a member of our team today to find out if Freespira could be right for you.

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