Yo I dig my thumbnail into the top of my right thigh to distract myself, feigning normality on the living room couch. I’m walking a mental tightrope over a staggering canyon of anxiety, which threatens to grab my ankles and drag me down. “Just one cut, please,” I say, breathing raggedly, maintaining a poker face despite the chaos inside. With the medium haircut, I’m about to have a panic attack, until I remember the banana I kept in my bag for when anxiety strikes.
That’s right: For over a year, during one of the worst anxiety attacks I’ve ever experienced, my defense was a tropical fruit. I started carrying a banana everywhere after a desperate Google search in mid-2021 revealed that the fruit could help relieve anxiety. Yes, I’m well aware of how ridiculous that may sound and at the time I was skeptical too. But I was also willing to try anything to stop having panic attacks.
For over a year, during one of the worst anxiety attacks I’ve ever experienced, my defense was a tropical fruit.
For most of my life, anxiety has been like a small child clinging to my leg: sometimes drowsy and meek, asleep; other times, roaring and disrupting, trying to forcefully drag me into the middle of the room for everyone to see. Despite having had more run-ins with anxiety than I care to count, I’ve always been determined to overcome it naturally, even if that means trying weird things like having a banana in my bag 24/7 of the week. It is true that it was not the most convenient to have on hand. But to my surprise, it worked like a charm.
Experts in this article
- Lena Elkhatib, LMFT, CST, sex and relationship therapist and founder of Avid Intimacy, Chicago
- Romane Guerot, RDN, Registered Dietitian, Sports Nutritionist, and Lifestyle Coach at Foodvisor Nutrition App
- Sara Chatfield, MPH, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Nutrition Expert at Healthcanal
- Shari Botwin, LCSW, therapist specializing in trauma, abuse, eating disorders, anxiety and depression.
Minutes after knocking down the aforementioned banana in front of the entire room, I felt my shoulders relax. I reveled in a much-needed deep breath. It was like waking up from a bad dream. Once again safe within my body, I hoped I could hold on to this feeling, a desire I had most days during this period of my life.
The immediate calming effect of the banana was almost unfathomable; so much so that I had the feeling that I couldn’t fair be the result of the biochemistry of the fruit (more on this below). If it were that easy to eliminate a panic attack with a fruit, everyone would throw away their anxiety medications and start making smoothies. It turns out that my relief may have been as much a product of the banana’s nutritional content as the calming power of simply knowing I had one with me, ready to use when needed.
Why eating bananas can help limit anxiety
While it may seem far-fetched, there is some science to back up the fact that bananas can help with anxiety. For starters, you may remember hearing that bananas are rich in potassium, which has given the fruit its reputation as a solution for muscle cramps: Potassium is a star when it comes to facilitating muscle contractions and healthy communication between muscles and nerves. But it can also have a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system that can promote mental health.
“When you’re feeling anxious, you may have too much of a hormone called adrenaline (running through your body), which makes your heart race and your mind feel jittery,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Romane Guerot, RDN. “Potassium can keep adrenaline in check.”
In fact, research shows that potassium can act as a natural beta blocker, lowering blood pressure by relieving tension in blood vessel walls and blocking hormones that increase blood pressure, such as adrenaline. That’s a fancy way of saying, “potassium helps the heart beat steadily and muscles function properly, including those involved in the anxiety response,” Guerot says.
Over time, the supportive connection between potassium and heart health can have a ripple effect on mental health. A 2023 study of more than 500 people in China found that low potassium levels correlated with higher levels of anxiety and depression, suggesting reasons to increase potassium intake. And since bananas are rich in potassium (a medium one contains around 400 mg), eating them more frequently could help keep anxiety levels at bay.
According to registered dietitian nutritionist Sara Chatfield, MPH, RDN, it is not fair Neither does the potassium that could give bananas their anti-anxiety effect. “Bananas are also high in tryptophan, an essential amino acid and precursor to serotonin (meaning it is a building block of the happiness neurotransmitter), which can help relieve stress and anxiety,” he says. .
Discovering this wealth of research made me feel at least 10 percent more normal about carrying a banana as a mental health tool, and yet it’s worth noting that none of these studies point to the immediate effects of eating a banana on a panic attack. . But as psychology would say, even just believing In the power of my emotional support, the banana may have been enough to make it a true anxiety solution.
How the placebo effect can play a role in managing anxiety
During the period of time when a banana accompanied me everywhere (to work, errands, and social plans), I felt calmer knowing I had it within my reach. Sometimes I wouldn’t even eat it (unless I was really hungry). Many times I used my tropical tool to keep calm. But regardless of consumption, I came to believe that I would be fine as long as I could get a banana before a panic attack struck me down.
In medicine, this is called the placebo effect: a phenomenon that occurs when believing in the effectiveness of a remedy makes us feel better, even if that remedy has no physiological impact. According to therapist Shari Botwin, LCSW, the placebo effect can work wonders when it comes to mitigating anxiety. “When we take concrete steps to manage emotions that seem out of our control, our anxiety has less power and becomes less draining,” she says. In my case, the particular step of packing a banana may have had that effect regardless of whether I ate it.
“When we take concrete steps to manage emotions that seem out of our control, our anxiety has less power and becomes less draining.” —Shari Botwin, LCSW, therapist
There is also a certain sense of psychological security that can come with routine and predictability. “Carrying a banana or a ‘good luck charm’ can serve to interrupt the spiral of anxiety and provide a feeling of being protected,” says therapist Lena Elkhatib, LMFT, CST. “That allows anxiety to take a step back and positive outcomes have a chance to be realized.” And the more positive results occur, “the more data our brain has that positive results are a possibilityhelping to protect against future anxiety,” he adds.
That means that every time I ate a banana and got a positive result, my brain strengthened the association between the two, which eventually led me to feel less anxious just by carrying a banana in tow. This shows how impactful the mind-body connection can be, something that can be helpful for all of us to remember when symptoms of a panic attack arise. At the end of the day, we are (and always will be) the ones in control.
Finding an anxiety solution that works for you
Don’t get me wrong: if you’re taking anxiety medication, don’t give it up for a bunch of bananas. (What works for one person is not necessarily what will work for the next.) And if your anxiety is preventing you from doing the things you need and want to do, it’s important to see a licensed mental health professional for support rather than relying on them. on self-soothing techniques.
That said, if you’re looking to explore different ways to support yourself through anxiety, here are a couple more things to consider:
Research has shown that deep breathing can eliminate the physical symptoms of anxiety. It may take a little practice to pace yourself, but I can attest: this can really help. Try an app like Breathe+ to start with 4-7-8 breathing, a technique that involves inhaling for a count of four, holding your breath for a count of seven, and exhaling for a count of eight.
Engage the five senses
If you think you’re slowly approaching a panic attack, try the 5-4-3-2-1 method to turn it off: focus on five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. (Banana, anyone?) In fact, all those times I ate a banana to beat anxiety “may have also served to bring you back to your senses,” Elkhatib says. “The sensory process could have been part of the relaxation of the nervous system.”
Well+Good articles reference reliable, recent and solid scientific studies to support the information we share. You can trust us throughout your wellness journey.
Filippini, Tommaso et al. “Potassium intake and blood pressure: a dose-response meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials”. Journal of the American Heart Association vol. 9.12 (2020): e015719. doi:10.1161/JAHA.119.015719
Wu, Zihao et al. “Lower 24-hour urinary potassium excretion is associated with a higher prevalence of depression and anxiety in the general population.” Brain and behavior vol. 13.4 (2023): e2842. doi:10.1002/brb3.2842
Richard, Dawn M et al. “L-tryptophan: basic metabolic functions, behavioral research and therapeutic indications”. International Journal of Tryptophan Research: IJTR vol. 2 (2009): 45-60. doi:10.4137/ijtr.s2129
Jenkins, Trisha A, et al. “Influence of tryptophan and serotonin on mood and cognition with a possible role of the gut-brain axis”. Nutrients vol. 8.1 56. January 20, 2016, doi:10.3390/nu8010056