Can Dehydration Cause Anxiety?

July 15, 2023   •  Posted in: 

Have you ever felt more worried or restless when you haven’t drank enough water in the day? It turns out there may be a scientific explanation for this.

You may have heard the saying that 75% of the human body is made up of water. While that percentage varies depending on any number of different factors like age, sex, body weight, and activity level, the fact remains that water is crucial to our bodies’ structure and function.

Water makes up a significant amount of our organs, helps regulate body temperature, and flushes waste from the body. It lubricates joints, helps cells reproduce and transport important nutrients; it even cushions the brain and spinal cord from sudden impact and injury[1].

Without water, or enough water, it’s easy to see how different functions within the body might be negatively impacted. Dehydration can even impact mood and has been linked to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

While dehydration alone may not cause anxiety, it can certainly worsen anxiety symptoms. In this article, we’ll talk about how dehydration and anxiety are connected, and what you can do if you’re feeling the effects.


What is dehydration?

To put it simply, dehydration happens when the body loses more water than it takes in[2]. Our bodies use and lose water in many different ways, some of which we may not even be aware of. In addition to urination and defecation, sweating and exhaling are ways the body loses water that happens without our conscious control. If we don’t replace the water being lost during those processes, we could become dehydrated.

Signs of dehydration include:

  • Thirst
  • Headache or confusion
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, or weakness
  • Fainting
  • Tiredness
  • Increased heart rate but low blood pressure
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dry mouth
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Constipation

Dehydration can range from mild to severe. When someone is mildly dehydrated, they can simply take in more fluid by drinking water or an electrolyte drink (if fluid loss is due to strenuous activity or vomiting and diarrhea). Moderate and severe dehydration require the use of intravenous (IV) fluids and are administered in a hospital, emergency room, or urgent care facility[3].

What are the consequences of dehydration?

Dehydration is fairly common, and yet there are some serious consequences that come with not consuming adequate amounts of water.

When the body does not have enough water to carry out its necessary functions, there is risk of urinary tract infections (UTI), kidney stones, seizures, and decreased blood volume.


The connection between anxiety and dehydration

Adequate hydration is crucial to the proper functioning of the body’s organs, and the brain is no exception. In fact, research has found some surprising connections between fluid intake and anxiety. Let’s take a look at the research here.

Dehydration and low mood

In one 2009 study, researchers found a correlation between hydration status and mood.

Men and women from college athletic teams were observed before, during, and after team practice. The athletes were divided into two groups – euhydration and dehydration.

The euhydration group was provided fluids during practice; the dehydration group was not provided any fluids during practice. The researchers had participants complete cognitive tests after practice, and found that participants in the dehydration group rated feelings of depression, tension, and confusion significantly higher than those in the euhydration group. The dehydration group also reported significantly lower ratings for vigor, or energy and stamina[4].

Similarly, another 2012 study by researchers at the University of Connecticut found that mild dehydration had a significant impact on mood.

Twenty-five healthy female participants were divided into three groups (dehydrated with no diuretic pill, dehydrated with a diuretic pill, and adequately hydrated) and asked to complete a 40-minute treadmill walk. The participants in the dehydrated groups reported increased anger, hostility, and feelings of sluggishness, as well as decreased feelings of strength and stamina[5].

Increased water intake and improved mood

One study looked at the effect water intake had on people’s moods. The researchers decreased the water intake of those considered high water drinkers and increased the water intake of low water drinkers and found a significant improvement in mood for low drinkers after their intake was increased. They also found a noticeable decline in the mood state of high water drinkers who had their intake restricted. The high water group reported feeling more tense and less calm[6].

These studies, among others, show a definite link between dehydration and both mood and anxiety. If you’re feeling more anxious when you’re dehydrated, then it’s certainly not “just in your head.”


How much water should I drink?

So this begs the question: how much water do you need to drink in order to avoid getting dehydrated?

Experts say that daily fluid needs are influenced by many factors and can vary from person to person. General recommendations and guidelines apply for healthy adults. Women should consume about 9 cups (2.1-2.7L), and men should consume about 15 cups (2.5-3.7L) of water per day[7]. These amounts do not include the average amount of water most adults get from the foods they eat, but is a good baseline for people to strive for.


What is anxiety, and how else can you manage it?

Anxiety is an emotion that’s often marked by feelings of nervousness, worry, uneasiness, or thoughts that something bad might happen. At some point in our lives, most of us will experience anxiety over things like health, money, and relationship problems.

But persistent or prolonged feelings of fear or worry might be an indication of a more serious condition like an anxiety disorder. In an anxiety disorder, the feelings of fear or worry do not go away with time, and may worsen without help. They may negatively impact a person’s ability to carry out everyday activities.

It’s important to note that if you think you may have an anxiety disorder, you should consider talking to a doctor or mental health professional. They can provide help like therapeutic tools, psychotherapeutic interventions, or other resources that you can’t access on your own.

Other causes of anxiety

Dehydration isn’t the only thing that can lead to anxiety. On top of stressful life events, anxiety can also be brought on by other conditions like:

  • Heart disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Chronic pain
  • Certain medications
  • Withdrawal from drugs, alcohol, or anti-anxiety medication

A doctor or other medical professional can help to determine if anxiety is related to an underlying medical condition.

Treatment options for anxiety

If you’re dealing with anxiety, there are things that you can do to manage it. Some strategies include:

  • Learning more about your anxiety triggers – Understanding your personal anxiety triggers can be a helpful first step in creating a coping plan or having coping ideas available/ready/top of mind.
  • Engaging in relaxation techniques – Activities such as deep breathing, coloring, or finding a quiet place to lie down are just a few ways to calm the heightened sense of emotion that often accompanies anxiety.
  • Practicing mindfulness – Mindfulness activities like meditation, focused breathing, and body scans can help you feel calmer and more centered by shifting your attention away from whatever might be making you anxious.
  • Getting enough sleep – A lack of quality sleep alone may not be the sole cause of anxiety, but sleep deprivation has been associated with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol production has been positively correlated with anxiety[8].
  • Reducing or limiting caffeine intake – Excessive caffeine intake can not only mimic symptoms of anxiety like increased heart rate, irritability, and feeling jittery, nervous, or restless; caffeine intake may also worsen symptoms of anxiety.
  • Getting regular physical activity – Regular exercise can reduce the stress associated with anxiety and trigger the release of endorphins. Physical activity has also been known to promote relaxation and improve sleep. Additionally, feeling in shape can help boost self-confidence.
  • Eating a balanced diet – Processed foods high in fat, sugar, and salt have been associated with higher levels of anxiety and inflammation within the body[9]. Eating a well-balanced diet gives your body and brain the nutrients they need and can promote greater well-being.
  • Seeking social support – Having family, friends, or a support group can create a sense of community. Feeling like you have people you can talk to who understand can prevent you from bottling up any anxious feelings, which can make anxiety worse.
  • Counseling and therapy – There are many evidence-based therapeutic modalities counselors and therapists use to help clients manage anxiety. For example, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can help you recognize and challenge unhelpful thinking patterns that make you feel more anxious.
  • Medication – In some cases, medication might be a good option in addition to the above mentioned strategies. Talk to your doctor or therapist about medication options that might be right for you.


Anxiety treatment at The Center • A Place of HOPE

At The Center, we understand every aspect of your health is intertwined. That’s why we use a unique Whole Person Care approach to anxiety treatment. We don’t simply give you an anti-anxiety pill – we help you address every factor that could be contributing to your anxiety symptoms, including dehydration.

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Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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