In my last blog post I discussed the importance of maintaining a healthy nutritious diet to combat the effects of stress and anxiety.
By eating foods rich in nutrients such as calcium, B vitamins, and potassium it’s possible to feel calmer and less stressed.
In this article I will look at why what we drink is just as important as what we eat and discuss the 3 tips to drink your way to a calmer life.
Everyone knows that our bodies need water to function properly. Our organs, such as our brain or kidneys, can be severely affected if we are not consuming enough water. What many people don’t realise is that when we are dehydrated the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in our body increases.
Unfortunately, when we are under stress our heart rate goes up and we start to breath more heavily. Each time we exhale we lose water from our body. A vicious cycle is created where stress causes dehydration; and dehydration causes stress.
Once we are dehydrated we then have to deal with the other symptoms it produces such as feeling more tired, headaches and nausea. This naturally makes dealing with the stress in our life even harder.
The answer, therefore, is to stay hydrated – and this means purposefully drinking more water.
In the UK, the general advice from the NHS is that we should drink 1.2 litres (6-8 glasses) of fluid every day to stay hydrated. However, there has been recent research that questions these amounts and of course we can gain fluid through the food that we eat and a wide range of drinks, some healthier than others.
My advice to clients who see me for hypnotherapy is that 6-8 glasses of water (or fruit/mint tea) is a good rule of thumb. If they recognise that they don’t drink anywhere near that amount then it is a good time to do something about it.
Cut Out Caffeine
Many of us need our fix of caffeine to kick start our day. In fact, caffeine is thought to have several known benefits including:
- Improves feelings of wellbeing
- Increases energy
- Improves memory and cognition
However, caffeine also causes the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline, another stress hormone. Additional adrenaline in your body can increase your heart rate and blood pressure and helps to divert blood to the muscles. As part of the flight or flight mechanism, this would be really helpful for life or death situation, such as a lion walking towards you, but not so helpful while sitting in a morning meeting. The jittery feeling that many people get when they drink too much coffee, or a really strong cupful, is a result of the stress response being triggered.
My advice to clients is therefore to cut out caffeine completely, whether from tea, coffee or other soft drinks. The easiest option is to replace it with a glass of water, but you can also try decaffeinated drinks, fruit teas or mint teas.
Ditch The Drink
We might start the day with a shot of caffeine to perk us up but by the end of the day many of us reach for the booze to bring us back down again after a stressful day. Whether your tipple is a cool chardonnay or a G&T, there are good reasons to cut down or go on the wagon.
Firstly, many people drink alcohol in the belief that it is good stress reducer. Alcohol is a depressant and therefore the chemicals in it slow down the brain and central nervous system, leading to a short term feeling of relaxation. However, alcohol, especially in larger quantities over a long period, can interfere with the neurotransmitters responsible for good mental health. In the long term, too much alcohol can lead to increased feelings of anxiety and depression.
I’ve seen many clients who have found themselves in a vicious circle of having feelings of anxiety during the day and using alcohol to reduce them, but finding it only offers short term relief. Over time they need to increase their consumption to feel more relaxed until they get to the point where they realise their drinking has got out of hand.
Secondly, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it makes you dehydrated. We’ve already looked at the danger of being dehydrated when we are stressed or anxious and obviously there’s no point being virtuous during the day, drinking your 8 glasses of water, to then blow that good work on booze.
When we drink too much it’s common to wake up the following morning hungover. The headache we have is a result of the body trying to restore our fluid levels. Combined with the nausea caused by the alcohol irritating our stomach and intestines, we start the day tired and less able to deal with the challenges ahead. It’s easy to end the day feeling more stressed and reaching for another bottle.
In addition to feeling calmer, by cutting back or quitting you will:
- Save some money
- Have more energy
- Sleep better
- Think more clearly and make better decision
I advise clients to drink in moderation or, if appropriate, to stop drinking while they try to tackle their anxiety. Drinking alcohol can be a coping strategy for many people, and learning more healthy tactics such as self-hypnosis or mindfulness can be a lot more beneficial. There are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and posh soft drinks on the market these days and of course you can always replace your drink with a healthy glass of water.