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Water and Stress Reduction: Sipping Stress Away

What's the link between water and stress reduction?
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WebMD Feature

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? The link between water and stress reduction is well documented. All of our organs, including our brains, need water to function properly. If you’re dehydrated, your body isn’t running well -- and that can lead to stress.

“Studies have shown that being just half a liter dehydrated can increase your cortisol levels,” says Amanda Carlson, RD, director of performance nutrition at Athletes’ Performance, a trainer of world-class athletes.

“Cortisol is one of those stress hormones. 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,” Carlson tells WebMD.

That doesn’t mean that drinking plenty of water throughout the day will magically cause your money problems, your kids’ troubles at school, 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.

“You’re actually likely to get more dehydrated when you’re under stress, because your heart rate is up and you’re breathing more heavily, so you’re losing fluid,” says Renee Melton, MS, RD, LD, director of nutrition for Sensei, a developer of online and mobile weight loss and nutrition programs. “And during times of stress, you’re more likely to forget to drink and eat well. Just getting enough fluids helps to keep you at your best during times like these.”

Stress and Dehydration: Breaking the Cycle

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. “Stress can result in many of the same responses as dehydration -- increased heart rate, nausea, fatigue, headache -- so if you can remain hydrated you can reduce the magnitude of the physiological responses we have to stress,” says Trent Nessler, PT, DPT, MPT, managing director of Baptist Sports Medicine in Nashville.

How do you know if you’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.

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.

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