Can Bananas Soothe the Shakes?
Q. I'm a musician suffering from a slight case of performance anxiety. My hands shake uncontrollably during auditions (but in no other situations). Some of my friends take the beta blocker Inderal to stop the shakes. I've heard that bananas are natural beta blockers. Is this true? If so, how many do I need to eat for a noticeable effect? If bananas won't work, can you suggest an herbal remedy that would reduce my shakiness without making me feel drowsy or medicated?
Bananas are the most popular fruit in the United States, and they pack a powerful nutritional wallop. A single banana gives you 450 mg of potassium plus fiber and vitamin C. However, I'm afraid they won't help curb your anxiety during auditions -- bananas are not natural beta blockers.
Beta blockers, primarily used to treat high blood pressure, are a very effective remedy for the kind of performance anxiety you describe. Aside from lowering blood pressure, beta blockers are sometimes recommended to prevent migraines, treat tremors, and control an irregular heart beat. Many professional musicians and performers use a beta blocker to counteract performance anxiety. I'm not aware of any herbal remedy that works as reliably as beta blockers for your problem, but you could try kava, the dried root of a tropical shrub (Piper methysticum). High-quality kava products are sold in Germany as natural relaxants and sleep aids. In this country, kava is available as a powder for tea, or as dried chips which you can chew (some people find chewing to be relaxing).
You should also try some mind-body techniques, such as hypnotherapy, biofeedback, meditation, guided imagery, and, especially, breathing exercises. Practicing the "relaxing breath" is really the most powerful tool I know for stress and anxiety management.
As for bananas, while they're not beta blockers, they are a delicious and healthful snack. Unlike most fruits, bananas are best ripened off the vine -- and do try to wait until bananas are ripe before eating them. While it won't hurt you to eat green-tipped bananas, they just taste better if you wait until the skin is all yellow with brown speckles. You can speed this process by putting them in a perforated, brown paper bag at room temperature. Once ripe, you can store bananas in the refrigerator for several days. (They won't look too appealing -- the peels get very brown -- but the inside should stay fine.) If you eat a lot of bananas, try to find organically grown fruit. And exercise your sense of adventure by trying some of the dwarf and finger varieties, which are sweeter and taste like apples. You should also try plantains, the starchy "cooking bananas" used in many Caribbean and Latin American cuisines.