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Can dehydration cause anxiety?

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Dehydration and anxietySymptomsPreventionTreatments
Dehydration can have several negative effects on your body, including causing feelings of anxiety. Adequate hydration might help lessen your anxiety.
Medically reviewed by Nicole Washington, DO, MPH
Written by Lily Ferguson
Updated on January 10, 2024

Dehydration happens when you don’t take in enough fluids. Staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water is essential for your body to function as it should.

Dehydration can affect this functioning and lead to a range of negative effects.

In severe cases of dehydration, it can also affect your mental and emotional health, causing feelings of stress and anxiety.

But you can prevent dehydration. If you’re feeling anxious and don’t know why, you can consider whether you’ve been drinking plenty of fluids. This can be a first step to easing your symptoms.

Dehydration and anxiety

A person spraying water out of a drinking fountain because dehydration can cause anxiety.
Laura Herrera/Stocksy United

While you may mainly think of the physical symptoms you might experience when you think of dehydration, it can also affect your mood.

For example, a 2019 study into the effects of dehydration on cognitive performance and mood suggests that dehydration has a negative effect on these factors, but rehydrating can improve them back to baseline again.

A 2018 study notes that drinking water reduces the risk of depression. It also suggests that there is a slight association between anxiety and low levels of water consumption in adults, although this effect was much smaller.

Finally, some 2020 research indicates that the effects of dehydration on the cells in your body can have an effect on mood, including leading to high anxiety levels.

Dehydration stresses the body, lowering blood pressure and making your heart beat faster. It can make you feel dizzy and lightheaded, which may mimic symptoms of anxiety.

If you start to feel anxious or experience other mood changes, try drinking water. If that doesn’t help, you may want to explore other possible causes in order to find a solution.

Other causes

Though dehydration may share a link to anxiety, a number of other potential causes of anxiety include:

  • prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • caffeine
  • crowded spaces
  • conflict or stress
  • health issues

Figuring out what’s making you feel anxious can be challenging, but understanding your triggers can help you cope. If you believe you may have an anxiety disorder, schedule a visit with a doctor or a mental health professional.

Symptoms of dehydration

When you think of dehydration, the first symptom that may come to mind is thirst. But thirst isn’t the best early indicator of your body’s need for fluids. In fact, by the time you start to feel thirsty, you may already be dehydrated.

Dehydration symptoms vary by age. Common symptoms for children include:

  • irritability
  • no tears when crying
  • no wet diapers for 3 hours or more
  • dry mouth
  • sunken eyes and cheeks

Symptoms commonly seen in adults include:

  • fatigue (low energy)
  • lightheadedness
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • extreme thirst
  • less frequent urination
  • dark-colored urine

Prevention

The best way to prevent anxiety caused by dehydration is to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Daily intake recommendations vary from one person to the next, depending on:

  • sex
  • age
  • weight
  • activity level
  • overall health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not list any official water intake recommendations, but the National Institutes of Health states that aiming for around 2–3 litres per day should be beneficial.

You can also get to know your body’s cues for when you’re thirsty or dehydrated to prompt you to drink more water.

If drinking plain water doesn’t appeal to you, consider adding lemon, lime, or another fruit for some natural flavor. Sparkling water, caffeine-free tea, and milk are also good options.

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Anxiety treatments

If you’re noticing anxiety symptoms and drinking water regularly doesn’t help reduce them, you may want to seek alternative treatments from a healthcare professional. These can include talk therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, or they can include medications.

Anxiety medications include:

If you need help covering the cost of medications, the free Optum Perks Discount Card could help you save up to 80% on prescription drugs. Follow the links on drug names for savings on that medication, or search for a specific drug here.

Summary

Adequate hydration is essential for your physical health, but it can also have less obvious effects on your mental health. Dehydration can sometimes cause feelings of anxiety, depression, and fatigue.

To avoid dehydration, be sure to drink plenty of water and other fluids throughout the day.

If you’re feeling anxious and think you might be dehydrated, try drinking some water. If your symptoms worsen, there may be another reason behind your anxiety.

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