What is stress? How do our bodies respond to it?
Stress is an emotion we all experience from time to time; it can be the brains response to many intense situations; both environmental and psychological. Whether it is a deadline or a big life event like moving house- It is completely normal to feel stressed every now and then. Stress can often manifest itself physically depending on how intense your brain perceives a situation to be- You may notice that when you experience stress that your heart rate will rise, your muscles may tighten, you may experience a higher blood pressure, your breathing might speed up and your senses may become sharper.
Our reactions to stress are centuries worth of refined ‘fight or flight’ response- a psychological survival technique, which enables people and other mammals to react quickly in response to life threatening situations- this sequence of emotional response allows someone to have the autonomy to fight the situation or flee it- however in the twenty first century, our bodies have evolved to often react to stressors that are not life threatening such as family difficulties or work pressures.
How hydration is linked to mental health
Substantial levels of hydration help keep a healthy blood circulation, helps to sustain a healthy body temperature, and it allows you to properly absorb the nutrients in your food- just to name a miniscule amount of benefits hydration has on our physical health, but what about mental health?
A small 2014 study explored how increased/ decreased water intake affects the general mood of those with different water drinking behaviours; their research found that people who usually have good hydration levels felt less calm, more tense and generally more anxious when their water intake decreased- when they increased the water intake of all participants regardless of their hydration habits- every participant reported a better overall mood.
Furthermore, it is useful to remember when talking about mental health and hydration that about 75 percent of brain tissue is made up of water, so it is possible to be so dehydrated that it affects your brain tissue- water is a nutrient your brain needs- and when in deficit can affect your brains function sometimes to the extent where it delays serotonin production and obstructs energy production in the brain- when dehydration is a substantial reoccurring issue it can actually cause serious mood disorders that can be categorised with depression.
Direct links between Dehydration and stress
Ultimately- when we experience stress it can lead to dehydration. One of the main hormones that is released when we are stressed is one called Cortisol, which is known to cause water retention. Furthermore, because of the body's natural physical responses to stress related strain (such as a high pulse, sweating and heavy breathing) we may experience dehydration much quicker than usual when stressed- so it is always a good idea to remember to stay hydrated during tense periods- especially as when we are stressed, we are more likely to forget to eat and drink properly- by staying hydrated during pressuring periods will help keep us at our best.
Additionally, when we are dehydrated- we are less likely to deal with stress as effectively as when we are hydrated- Stress will cause dehydration and dehydration will cause stress, they are completely interlinked, and hydration is potentially one of the most accessible ways to reduce stress.
Other ways of reducing stress
By no means is hydration the only way you can reduce stress levels; although it is a good start, here is a list that we have compiled of other healthy ways of controlling the stress you experience;
- Exercise Regularly.
Aerobic exercise and non-competitive sport are known to release positive endorphins that - making us feel accomplished and help maintain a positive mindset.
- Set realistic Goals and Expectations
Many of us experience stress because we expect too much out of our ability- recognise that it is okay to not be always 100 percent successful all the time and celebrate the successes you can make without inducing stress and anxiety.
If you feel as though you experience lots of stress and quite intensely you may benefit from speaking to a professional and discovering how to deal with it with a bit more support.
- Adopt a healthy diet
By adapting your diet to involve the vitamins and minerals your body and brain needs to function at its best will reduce the intensity of the stress you feel.
- Stop/ Do not use tobacco or other nicotine products
Nicotine is often referred to as a stress reliever however it actually places more stress on our bodies than we think by restricting breathing and blood flow.