Water plays a vital role in regulating our body functions and taking care of any illnesses. Drinking water helps our organs work properly, and that includes our brain. The brain governs our mental health, and water can play a significant role in that as well. However, the question is, ‘Can water help with depression, stress, and anxiety?’
Dehydration can strain the body, leaving us stressed, tired, and edgy. Simply put, dehydration stunts brain functioning, so think of water as a nutrient your brain needs.
Dehydration affects our moods, according to researchers at the University of Connecticut, it shows an increase in “total mood disturbance.”
In quite a few ways, dehydration can create or affect changes in our mental health. Since our mental health links directly with our brain, dehydration is linked to depression, stress, and anxiety.
Read on, and let’s find the answer.
Mental Health: What We Should Know
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), mental health is:
“… a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
Mental health governs our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It helps determine how we think, feel, act, handle stress, and make choices.
Many factors can affect our mental health over time. While there are prominent biological factors, life experiences, and family history are seen as contributors to mental health problems. Given the understanding of mental health and what affects it, it is hard to see dehydration as one contributing factor.
Research has linked dehydration and depression, and now we can learn how important water is for our mental health.
What is Dehydration?
Dehydration means that the body has lost more fluids than the amount taken in. It means that the amount of water in the body is lower than the level needed for body function.
We lose a lot of water and fluids in urine and sweat, and even through respiration. While small drops don’t cause major problems, they go unnoticed. Even a single percent below the optimal level of hydration can affect mood, disturb concentration, and induce a headache.
Since our heart and our brain have more water than the rest of the body, staying hydrated is crucial. It is ideal for us to be our best physically and mentally, is it not?
Dehydration and Depression
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), depression is:
“…a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act.”
It can link to many functions between the brain and the body. While saying that dehydration can directly cause depression would be too simple, it is linked to depression in many ways. As it turns out, depression is one of the resulting symptoms of chronic dehydration.
Let’s look at how dehydration leads to depression.
Dehydration hinders energy production in the brain. The brain requires this energy to function efficiently, and a hindrance can even shut down these functions. What results due to this dysfunction can be depression.
Not consuming enough water can affect the brain’s tissue, which can result in social stresses like anxiety, fear, insecurity, emotional problems, etc.
Depletes Serotonin Levels
Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter. It plays a vital role in determining moods. Serotonin is created from tryptophan, an amino acid. However, the body needs to have sufficient water to transport tryptophan across the brain.
Dehydration also has a negative effect on the level of amino acids in the body, which leaves us feeling sad, anxious, irritable, and inadequate.
Increases Stress Levels
Stress is one of the leading factors that lead to depression, along with exhaustion and the inability to cope.
Dehydration is a major cause of stress in the body. It’s almost a never-ending cycle: dehydration causes stress, and stress causes dehydration. When we are stressed, the adrenal glands produce more cortisol (stress hormone), and under excessive stress, the glands can become exhausted.
When the adrenal glands become exhausted, it also decreases electrolyte levels, which leads to dehydration. So, drinking sufficient water can help you reduce the impacts of stress.
Similarly, with anxiety, dehydration doesn’t cause it directly but leads to an increased risk of symptoms, and the development of higher anxiety levels. In a nutshell, dehydration causes stress, and as a result, stress on the body leads to depression and anxiety.
If you are anxiety-prone, you should ensure you are properly hydrated daily.
Water has natural calming properties, so drinking sufficient amounts is an important step in anxiety management. It remains a good idea to stay hydrated even if you aren’t experiencing anxiety. Grab a glass of water and relax!
Panic attacks are common results of having high anxiety. Among physical triggers, dehydration can most likely be one of them. If you are already prone to panic attacks, dehydration can cause a severe episode.
Dehydration can trigger panic attacks, and you may experience symptoms as such:
- Increased heart rate
- Fatigue and muscle weakness
- Feeling faint or lightheaded
Staying hydrated might not stop panic attacks, but it may make them less frequent, and maybe even diminish a few triggers.
Telling If You’re Dehydrated
Much like any other problem, some signs will be obvious, but not all of them. Here’s how you tell if you’re dehydrated:
- Increased Hunger: The same part of the brain signals hunger and thirst, so confusing the signals might not be a surprise. If you feel hungry, even though you’ve eaten enough, it means that you need to drink some water. Don’t go looking for more food!
- Dryness: Dry skin, itchiness, dry mouth, chapped lips, etc. are signs that you are dehydrated.
- Headache: Lack of water reduces the oxygen supply to the brain, leading to headaches.
- Fatigue and Muscle Cramps: Cramping, muscle weakness, spasms, etc. are also signs of dehydration.
- Shallow Breathing and Rapid Heartbeat: If you experience these, it can be a sign of severe dehydration, and you may need medical attention.
The ideal amount of water intake depends on your gender, age, weight, stress levels, exercise levels, climate, and health conditions.
While there isn’t a hard and fast rule regarding the exact intake, there is an average recommendation from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
- For children (under 8): Approx.1.18 liters or 40 ounces (~5 cups)
- For children (9-13): Approx. 1.6-1.9 liters or 56-64 ounces (~7-8 cups)
- For teenagers: Approx. 1.9-2.6 liters or 64-88 ounces (~8-11 cups)
- For men: Approx. 3.7 liters or 125 ounces (~15.5 cups)
- For women: Approx. 2.7 liters or 91 ounces (~11.5 cups)
- For pregnant or breastfeeding women: Approx. 2.3-3.07 liters or 80-104 ounces (~10-13 cups)
You should increase your fluid intake accordingly in case of the following circumstances:
- Prolonged, intense workout sessions
- Pregnancy or Breastfeeding
- Humid Climate
- Illnesses with fever, diarrhea, vomiting
- Chronic health conditions
You can track how hydrated you are by checking the color of urine. You will have clear/pale yellow urine if you’re adequately hydrated. It will be a dark yellow or tan color if you’re dehydrated. Honestly, drink some water!
Other Health Problems
Dehydration plays its hand in other health issues as well. It goes to show how important drinking water is for the body. Water regulates the different body functions, and in case you are not consuming enough water, here are some health problems you may face:
- Fatigue: It is the most common problem you face due to a lack of water. You will feel tired and drained, which will affect your productivity.
- Premature Aging: Approximately 60% of the body is made up of water. Drink sufficient water to fight the free radicals that can cause premature aging of the skin and internal organs.
- Weight Gain: Water helps in burning fat and losing weight. It doesn’t mean you should stop exercising; it only helps you maintain a healthy weight loss diet. Besides, water removes toxins from the body as well.
- Fluctuates Blood Pressure: Water removes the toxins from the bloodstream and helps in good blood circulation throughout the body.
Dealing With Mental Health Easily
Dehydration affects our moods and how we think and feel. If you’re already prone to and struggle with mental health problems, make it easy on yourself–drink some water. Without much effort, drinking enough water daily is an easy step to stay as mentally healthy as possible.
Start with a glass of water in the morning. Carry a water bottle wherever you go. Drink between meals. Although carrying water around is easy, it is remembering to drink that is difficult. You can easily ignore being dehydrated despite headaches and swift mood changes.
Even when we’re hydrated, we have enough trouble having a clear mind and thinking straight. Why is there a need to have more of that by staying dehydrated? Although medical attention is ideal for extreme mental health conditions, drinking enough water, at least, keeps the brain from struggling.
Staying hydrated is a sign of good emotional, physical, and mental health. We should not have a one-dimensional approach to mental health.
Besides just drinking water, you can try your hand at home remedies to help with depression, anxiety, or stress.
A warm bath can go a long way to alleviate muscle tension and, at the same time, create a sense of calm. Quality sleep is more important than how long you sleep. You can also use herbal-based supplements in your drinking water, which will be effective in calming anxiety or moods.
However, do consult a medical practitioner before taking any supplements, especially if you have other sicknesses. Eat healthy fruits and vegetables, and watch your caffeine intake. Coffee is a diuretic, which means it will make you pee more.
It may not be clear whether it leads to dehydration or not, but it’s safe to maintain a controlled caffeine intake.
Staying hydrated and drinking plenty of fluids doesn’t automatically cure depression or mental health issues. However, drinking water can help you alleviate many of the causes and symptoms associated with mental health.
For severe cases, and in the long run, it is best to seek the assistance of a medical professional.
Table of Contents
- Mental Health: What We Should Know
- What is Dehydration?
- Dehydration and Depression
- Furthering Anxiety
- Panic Attacks
- Telling If You’re Dehydrated
- Determining How Much Water to Drink
- Other Health Problems
- Dealing With Mental Health Easily
- Home Remedies