How Drinking or Not Drinking Enough Water Impacts Stress & Anxiety

Stressed out? Anxious? If you’re looking for a simple way to unwind from your stress-filled life, try this: drink a glass of water. Sound too easy? Water consumption and anxiety have a relationship. Not enough water can lead to stress and stress can lead to dehydration – setting up a vicious cycle. We are chemical beings and roughly 60% of our body is H2O – that’s life-giving water. Not just our body needs it – our brain does too! It’s composed of 73% water (1). Studies have shown that being just half a liter (2 cups) dehydrated can increase your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone and we want less of that in our lives! So how do we beat stress?

Mild Dehydration & Stress

The link between water and stress reduction is well documented. Dehydration has been linked to a rise in cortisol levels – hormones that increase stress. If being just half a liter dehydrated can increase your cortisol levels, staying in a good hydrated status can keep your stress levels down. When you don’t give your body the fluids it needs, you’re putting stress on it, and it’s going to respond to that.

While it is hard to believe that something as simple as drinking enough water can help manage anxiety, water plays an important role in how our body functions. All of our organs, including our brain, need water to work properly. If we are dehydrated, our body is strained and we can become overly stressed and edgy. Even mild dehydration affects us.

Recent research shows how important staying hydrated is in managing anxiety. A 2009 study found a clear link between hydration and mood. Student-athletes who were just mildly dehydrated reported feeling angry, confused, tense and fatigued. A 2012 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that dehydration can influence mood, energy levels, and the ability to think clearly. The young men in the study experienced fatigue, tension, and anxiety when mildly dehydrated.

So it doesn’t take much for dehydration to contribute to anxiety and nervousness. Nearly every function of the body is monitored and pegged to the efficient flow of water through our system. Water transports hormones, chemical messengers, and nutrients to vital organs of the body. When we don’t keep our bodies well hydrated, they may react with a variety of signals, some of which are symptoms of anxiety.

Breaking the Stress & Dehydration Cycle

One of the problems with dehydration is that it mimics many of the same bodily sensations that anxiety can cause: dizziness, muscle fatigue, headache, feeling faint, increased heart rate, and nausea. These feelings can trick our minds into thinking that we are having a major medical problem, which can trigger panic for many anxiety sufferers.

If that wasn’t bad enough, you’re actually likely to get more dehydrated when you’re under stress – your heart rate is up and you’re breathing more heavily, which means you’re losing fluid. During times of stress, you’re more likely to forget to drink and eat well. So stress can cause dehydration, and dehydration can cause stress. It’s a vicious cycle. You can break it by building more water consumption into your day.

That doesn’t mean that drinking plenty of water throughout the day will magically cause your money problems, your kids’ troubles at school, relationship woes, and your deadlines at work to disappear. But if you’re already stressed by coping with all of these things, you don’t need the additional stress of dehydration to add to your burden. While staying hydrated may not get rid of anxiety entirely, it can help reduce its intensity. Drinking water can be soothing, and often your body will benefit from the added hydration during times of intense stress.

How To Keep Hydrated

The good news is that dehydration is completely preventable. If we drink the appropriate amount of water throughout the day, we can minimize our symptoms of anxiety. But if even mild dehydration can cause problems, how can we tell when we’re dehydrated?

  • First, are you thirsty? If you are, you’re already dehydrated.
  • Second, take a look at the bowl the next time you go to the bathroom. If the urine is dark in color and has a pungent smell, you’re dehydrated. The darker the urine and the stronger the smell, the more dehydrated you are.

How much water should you drink? The daily amount of water you need depends on several factors including the local climate and your age, weight, gender, overall health, and activity level. In general, you should try to drink between half an ounce to an ounce of water for every pound you weigh, every day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, that would be 75 to 150 ounces of water a day. If you’re living in a hot climate and exercising a lot, you’d be on the higher end of that range; if you’re in a cooler climate and mostly sedentary, you’d need less. Children should drink at least six to eight cups of water and eat the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables each day (2).

full drinking glass with slice of lime
Photo by Pixabay on

Tips for Drinking Enough Water

How can you build more water consumption into your day? Try these tips:

  • Carry water bottle with you and fill it up periodically.
  • Keep a glass of water on your desk at work.
  • Keep another glass next to your bed. Many of us wake up dehydrated first thing in the morning.
  • Switch one glass of soda or cup of coffee for a glass of water.
  • Drink small amounts of water throughout the day. Six glasses all at once isn’t good for you!

Hate water? Try these tips:

  • Infuse your water with lemon, lime, 100% juice, fruit or coconut.
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables. They tend to have high water content so go ahead and snack on more grapes or berries. Watermelon says it all with its name.

Additionally, if there are certain places and times in your life when you know you’re under extra stress — at work, at carpool pickup or drop off, during a particular class — be sure to have a bottle of water with you to sip during those high-stress times. Think about times of the day when you can fit it in, and make a conscious effort.

Water Is Life

In our busy lives, we forget that we are chemical beings who run on nutrients and not will power. What we give or don’t give to our body matters and can have out-sized impacts than what we might otherwise expect. Water is a necessity in our lives not just for proper organ, blood, heart and lung health, but for brain health as well. Lack of water will impact our moods and can trigger or worsen stress and anxiety. Who has time for that? Grab your water bottle and top it up. Periodically take a drink. Your body and mind will thank you.

white and brown ceramic vase
Photo by Sohel Patel on

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