The typical wisdom for calming down when having a panic attack is to either swallow a Xanax or take some deep breaths. But anti-anxiety meds can come with their own host of problems, aren’t available to everyone and don’t necessarily work immediately. Deep breathing, on the other hand, can feel pointless and impossible when you’re barely able to catch your breath as it is. So what are you supposed to do when you just want to feel normal again?
According to panic-attack-havers on TikTok, you should take a fat bite into a lemon, peel and all:
In a viral TikTok from April that has since been reposted and recirculated several times, @ericbzink holds up a lemon and says, “If you’re at home, here’s how to stop a panic attack. Keep lemons on hand; if you’re having a panic attack, what you do is, you grab one of the lemons…” To demonstrate with actions rather than words, he finishes by proceeding to bite into the whole lemon.
What he’s saying is surprisingly not bullshit. In fact, it’s a part of a commonly used method of managing panic attacks.
Alongside deep breathing, grounding techniques are often touted as a non-medicinal way of halting a panic attack. As the name suggests, grounding techniques are ways of making you feel “grounded” and present with the hopes that doing so will divert your attention away from your panic and ultimately make it go away. One popular grounding technique involves identifying objects around you that pertain to each of your senses. For example, you find an object you can smell, an object you can taste, an object you can touch and so on. In @ericbzink’s video, he cites biting into a lemon as one form of a grounding technique.
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Grounding techniques like this are commonly taught by therapists to people with post-traumatic stress disorder or panic attacks, particularly when flashbacks are a symptom. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration further recommends a knowledge of grounding techniques for people in the medical field in order to help patients in crisis.
On his channel and elsewhere on TikTok, @ericbzink and others who experience panic attacks have shared similar grounding techniques, some of which might be easier to perform in public. In a video from @brianalacuesta, she recommends purchasing a bulk container of sour Airheads candy and keeping them in your car, purse or wherever you might need them. Like lemons, sour candy is intense enough that it might help you refocus your attention away from the sense of panic. Likewise, @ericbzink recommends keeping salt and pepper or hot sauce packets from fast food restaurants, or even just swishing a carbonated beverage in your mouth for several seconds. Basically, doing something sensory might help you begin to feel human again, or at least distract you long enough to help your body calm down.
Grounding techniques won’t cure a panic disorder, and it’s important to seek professional help if you do regularly experience panic attacks. That said, it’s never a bad idea to have little tools like this in your arsenal to help you stop freaking out when panic sets in, and grounding techniques can be an effective part of managing it. Pouring straight pepper into your mouth or chewing on a lemon rind might seem chaotic, but that chaos might be precisely what you need to center yourself.