Self-Care: Can Drinking More Water Wash Away Stress?
Making sure you are adequately hydrated is a simple way to hack the mind-body connection to lessen stress, anxiety, and other emotions that keep us from being our most powerful selves.
For me personally, increasing my daily water intake jump-started my own self-care journey. By drinking more water, I reflexively cut back on caffeine and alcohol without trying. My sleep improved, and I experienced better moods throughout the day. Along with this, my mental acuity sharpened; I could sustain focus longer; my complexion cleared up; and I even lost weight, again without consciously trying.
Admittedly, I have not always been an H20 evangelist. Some 20 years ago when I was a middle manager, my daily hydration regimen revolved around coffee, Diet Coke, coffee, beer, coffee, an occasional scotch, and did I mention coffee? I almost never drank water; to me, it was tasteless, boring, and plain. In its liquid form, water usually passed my lips after the ice had melted at the bottom of a glass. And on those rare occasions I drank water for water’s sake, I was at the YMCA, using trips to the drinking fountain as a diversion as I caught my breath.
I ultimately accepted a health coach’s challenge to boost my water intake. She encouraged me to work my way up slowly, starting out with just two additional glasses a day – one in the morning, one at night. After a week of this, she threw down the gauntlet and challenged me to incrementally boost my water intake until I was at the recommended daily level.
At first, I was surprised by the basic calculation of how much water I was supposed to be drinking to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Here’s the math: Divide your body weight by two and the resulting number is how many fluid ounces of water you should be consuming in a 24-hour period. For me, that was about 78 ounces, or 2.3 liters.
In less than two weeks, however, I had worked my way up to the target. Since then, I have never looked back. Yes, initially I found myself visiting the bathroom like an old man with prostrate issues, but that subsided over time as my body got used to being hydrated. Now, I issue the hydration challenge to nearly all my coaching clients – whether they are enrolled in an executive, life, or health coaching program. No matter what they are looking for from a coaching experience, virtually all of them can benefit from better managing stress by simply drinking more water.
Water Wise: A Splash of Science
Clinical studies have shown a direct correlation between dehydration and raised levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. Cortisol fuels the body’s fight-or-flight response in conjunction with the brain’s limbic system to respond to danger and control mood, motivation, and fear.
In times of stress, the body automatically shuts down our digestive system to make glucose available to the exterior muscles. This stress response also raises our blood pressure, makes our hearts go pitter-pat, and speeds our breathing – all those things needed to protect the Roundtable knights of Monty Python when they cry, “Run away! Run away!” This was true 200,000 years ago for the first humans dodging leopards on the African veldt, and it’s true today for us, whether the threats are real or imagined. In fact, it’s so ingrained in our evolutionary DNA that cortisol is the same hormone released by little fish when harassed by big fish. It’s part and parcel of our animal nature.
Because the body and mind are hard-wired to seek safety, it’s easy to see why our biochemistry has linked stress and dehydration. They are so intertwined, there is a two-way corollary: Stress can cause dehydration and dehydration can cause stress.
Some tips to help you start your journey to healthy hydration:
Get a good water bottle. Look for one that’s sturdy, easy to carry, and holds about 16 ounces of water. If you’re not particularly jazzed by plain water, consider an infuser and add slices of citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges) or vegetables (cucumbers) that enhance the taste. You can find a good infuser water bottle online for about $20.
Make water convenient. Try leaving a filled water bottle in your car, one on your desk, and a glass on the kitchen counter or anywhere else you frequently transit. These will serve as anchors to remind you to drink more water and, at the same time, provide ready-made means for doing so.
Proceed incrementally. If, like me, you are not a water enthusiast by birth, do not try to reach your hydration end-state in a day. Begin where you are, take your time, and work your way up to it. Increase your water intake by a glass or two every day, or every other. Remember: Small gears turn big wheels.
Make water a ritual. One thing I like to do in the morning is make a cup of hot water with a lemon wedge in it and take 5-10 minutes to relax with it. Follow that by a glass of room-temperature water to lubricate your body, mind, and spirit.
More Hydration Hacks
Other tips and resources for improving your hydration: