Most of us are well aware that we can get a bit “h-angry” if we haven’t got enough food energy to sustain our mood… but what about the impact from lack of water? The fact that stress causes dehydration AND dehydration causes stress is not talked about very much.
Being a bit more attentive to regularly drinking water throughout the day could make the difference between feeling mild or more severe stress symptoms, and between performing well or sub-par.
Stress can lead to dehydration
Under stress the water there is in the body is diverted where it is needed most, not to the brain. Part of cortisol’s action in the stress response is raised body temperature and sweating, which means more water is lost. In addition to this, the adrenal glands which regulate our stress response, are also responsible for producing aldosterone, which helps us stay hydrated.
Dehydration can trigger a stress response
The brain is up to 80% water, it needs water to function properly. When the body is dehydrated, it stops functioning properly, poor blood circulation leaves hormones unable to reach the intended destination and serve their correct purpose. Research shows that even half a litre dehydrated could cause increased levels of cortisol.
Water has a calming effect which can be used in two ways to reduce or alleviate acute stress
1) Most obviously, drinking water regularly to ease or prevent a triggering of the stress response in itself.
- Start the day with a glass of water – it will immediately rehydrate the brain after 8 hours or so with no water
- Drink water regularly through the day rather than chugging a bottle in one go at the end of the day can reduce general “ggrrr” feelings that very often don’t seem to have an obvious cause.
2) Water can be used as a really subtle way of gaining valuable thinking space in a moment of pressure. This one is harder to pull off without feeling like a bit of an idiot at first but is great if you are stuck for an answer in a meeting or want time to give an appropriate rather than emotional reaction.
- Focus on sipping water slowly from the glass – it is basically a form of mindfulness… it takes the brains attention off the stressor, creating space for new, more constructive thoughts. Count the sips or seconds of drinking, or focus on how the water feels in your mouth. It can take you out of tongue tied panic mode and in to creative, rational mode.
- Sipping water also has the rather obvious effect of wetting a dry mouth – a common symptom of stress.
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Over the years, as an ambitious employee, team focused manager and supportive friend, I developed a deep understanding of the challenges and pressures that we all face not only day to day but also in our long-term health, happiness and career development.