Got STRESS? Just Add Water.
Got Stress? Just Add Water.
Written by Kelsie Goller, MA, LPC-S, RPT
Clinical Director, KPS
Every year in my house, the six weeks between Spring Break and the end of April are a hectic time. Multiple family birthday and holiday celebrations take place, as well as sports seasons for the kids and end-of-school-year activities. Every individual and family has seasons of busyness when there are activities and responsibilities in multiple realms of life. And even positive events can still be stressful. While stress is a state of emotional, physical, and mental tension, we can perceive stress either as distress (feeling uncomfortable, overwhelmed, or upset by this tension) or as eustress, a lesser-known term that can be defined as “beneficial stress.” Eustress is still a state of emotional, physical, or mental tension, but it tends to be short-lived, exciting, and lead to positive outcomes, such as the stress associated with holidays, parenting a newborn, or playing in a competition. However, both distress and eustress take a lot of energy and mental capacity to handle well.
Stress has both a physical and mental impact on our brains and bodies. Biologically, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine are made on an as-needed basis, and these stress hormones get us through moments of elevated excitement and stress. However, cortisol is a long-term hormone that comes with chronic stress. Chronic stress continually activates the autonomic nervous system rather than allowing the body to return to a state of rest, which causes wear and tear on multiple other bodily systems (Shaw et al, 2023). Stress builds muscle tension, leading to tension headaches or migraines (Shaw et al., 2023). Stress in the body also gives us a prolonged increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and it can make us more alert to sensations in the stomach such as nausea, vomiting, “butterflies in the stomach”, stomach pain, and ulcers (Shaw et al, 2023). Overall, typical responses to stress include anxiety, anger, impatience, mood swings, insomnia, forgetfulness, trouble focusing, and feeling overwhelmed.
One of the simplest things to do in a season of stressfulness? Just add water. It takes only a few minutes at the start of your day to fill a large bottle with water and sip water throughout the day. During times of stress, both our heart rate and our breathing rate are frequently elevated, which causes us to lose more fluids than usual. Losing fluids increases the level of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies, which leads to an unhappy cycle- stress increases risk of dehydration; dehydration elevates cortisol levels in our bodies, which increases our feelings of stress (Shaw, 2009).
Water can be a powerful calming agent in the lives of our children, too. I tell parents in my counseling office that if they are trying to help a child move emotionally out of a bad-mood day, try the “just add water” technique. Get them a drink of water to start with (their small bodies become dehydrated even faster than ours). Let them engage in water play outside with a hose or bucket or water table. If it is not warm enough for outside play, fill a sink partially with water and bubbles and let them pretend to wash dishes or dinosaurs (I would rather clean up a little soapy water than deal with a cranky three-year-old.) If all else fails, let them “reset” in a warm bath. You can also add variations of the water theme with squishy sensory water beads or blowing bubbles. Water tends to have a calming effect that can help to reset the nervous system. Per Wallace Nichols, a marine biologist and research associate at the California Academy of Sciences, the neurochemicals that relay stress signals in the brain “recalibrate” during time spent around water to levels similar to those achieved by meditation (Slobig, 2014).
Though a busy season may not afford you the opportunity to get away on a beach vacation, find ways to “just add water” into your day to reduce your stress!
Shaw, G. (2009, July 7). Water and stress reduction: Sipping stress away. Nourish by WebMD.
Retrieved on March 22, 2023, from https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/water-stress-reduction#2.
Shaw, W., Labott-Smith, S., Burg, M., Hostinar, C., Alen, N., van Tilburg, M.A.L., Bernston,
G.G., Tovian, S.M., & Spirito, M. (2023, March 8). Stress effects on the body. American Psychological Association. Retrieved on March 22, 2023, from https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body.
Slobig, Z. (2014, July 1.) Mind your body: The brain aquatic. Psychology Today. Retrieved on
March 22, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201407/mind-your-body-the-brain-aquatic.