How Drinking Water Can Soothe Your Child's Anxiety

boy drinking water

It is hard to believe that something as simple as drinking enough water can help manage anxiety. Water plays such an important role in how our body functions. All of our organs, including our brain, need water to work properly. If we are dehydrated, our body is strained and we can become overly stressed and edgy.

According to Barry Joe McDonagh, creator of the anxiety treatment program Panic Away and author of the book DARE, dehydration can contribute to anxiety and nervousness.

He explains, “Nearly every function of the body is monitored and pegged to the efficient flow of water through our system. Water transports hormones, chemical messengers, and nutrients to vital organs of the body. When we don’t keep our bodies well hydrated, they may react with a variety of signals… some of which are symptoms, of anxiety.” Dehydration has also been linked to a rise in cortisol levels, hormones that increase stress.

One of the problems with dehydration is that it mimics many of the same bodily sensations that anxiety can cause: dizziness, muscle fatigue, headache, feeling faint, increased heart rate, and nausea. These feelings can trick our mind into thinking that we are having a major medical problem, which can trigger panic for many anxiety sufferers.

While staying hydrated may not get rid of anxiety entirely, it can help reduce its intensity. Additionally, according to the Calm Clinic, “Water also appears to have natural calming properties.

Drinking water can be soothing, and often your body will benefit from the added hydration during times of intense stress.”

Recent research shows how important staying hydrated is in managing anxiety. A 2009 study at Tufts University found a clear link between hydration and mood. Scientists found that student athletes who were just mildly dehydrated reported feeling angry, confused, tense and fatigued.

Then a 2012 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that dehydration can influence mood, energy levels, and the ability to think clearly. The young men in the study experienced fatigue, tension, and anxiety when mildly dehydrated.

How to Keep Your Child Hydrated 

The good news is that dehydration is completely preventable. If children drink the appropriate amount of water throughout the day, they can minimize their symptoms of anxiety.

How much water should your child drink? The daily amount of water that a child needs depends on several factors including the local climate and their age, weight, gender, overall health, and activity level. In general, children should drink at least six to eight cups of water and eat the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

This may need to increase when they are more active. Before, during, and after any physical activity, kids should drink plenty of water, especially in hot weather. The goal is to drink a half cup to two cups of water every 15 to 20 minutes while exercising.

This chart provided by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies outlines guidelines for daily water intake for generally healthy children living in temperate climates. Keep in mind that these recommendations are for total water, which includes water from all sources: drinking water, other beverages, and food like fruits and vegetables.

Kids Total Daily Beverage and Drinking Water Requirements

Age Range   

Gender  

Total Water (Cups/Day)

4 to 8 years        

Girls and Boys

5

9 to 13 years    

Girls

7

Boys

8

14 to 18 years

Girls

8

Boys

11

*Data are from Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) Tables. Recommended Daily Allowance and Adequate Intake Values: Total Water and Macronutrients.* 

It is also critical that children avoid sugary and caffeinated drinks, as they are known to cause dehydration and trigger anxiety. As a stimulant, caffeine affects the central nervous system.

Consuming caffeine when already feeling anxious only adds fuel to the fire, making it so much harder for the body to calm down. Avoid serving your children caffeinated beverages like soda, coffee, tea, energy drinks, and caffeinated water. Read labels carefully since some products surprisingly contain caffeine.

How to Recognize Dehydration in Your Child

If your son or daughter tells you that they are thirsty, then they are probably already dehydrated. This is why kids should drink water throughout the day before thirst develops. Look for these important signs of dehydration in your child:

  • Lack of urine or wet diapers for six to eight hours in an infant (or only a very small amount of dark yellow urine)
  • Lack of urine for 12 hours in an older child (or only a very small amount of dark yellow urine)
  • Dark urine that has a pungent smell (the darker the urine and the stronger the smell, the more dehydrated they are)
  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Few or no tears when crying
  • Dry, cool skin
  • Eyes that look sunken into the head
  • Lethargy or irritability
  • Fatigue or dizziness in an older child

Creative Ways to Get Your Child to Drink More Water

It is not always easy to convince your child to drink plain old water. Here are some tips to increase their water intake on a daily basis:

  • Make it accessible. Bring water bottles wherever you go. Pack water in their lunch box and an additional water bottle to have at their school desk to sip throughout the day. For little ones, leave a cup of water in a spot that your child can easily reach when they want a drink.
  • Add flavor and color. Infuse water with flavor by adding berries, watermelon, pineapple, cucumbers, lemons, or limes. Try using frozen fruit in place of ice cubes or freezing ice cube trays with berries in them to add to their cups.
  • Factor in fun. Buy special cups with your child’s favorite characters and try using straws to give them a more enjoyable experience.
  • Try some fizz. Offer carbonated water with no caffeine or sugar to older children.
  • Be a good role model. Carry your own water bottle with you on the go and drink lots of water at home. The more your child sees you drinking water, the more likely they are to ask for it.

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