Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Are you staying hydrated?

Have you ever been dehydrated? I'm sure that you have. It's a horrible feeling- dry mouth, fatigue, headaches, etc. And, drinking water doesn't provide immediate relief. There's a saying that says something like: "By the time you realize that you're dehydrated it's too late." This is so true.

Our mental health is similar. By the time you realize that you are "mentally dehydrated" it is too late. Here are some of the symptoms of mental dehydration:

  • Fatigue, even after getting enough sleep at night
  • Mental cloudy-ness, difficulty "pulling it together"
  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Physical aches
  • An overall feeling of "blah"
Mental dehydration occurs when you do not take proper care of yourself. Basic self care includes eating regularly, drinking water, and sleep- optimal functioning occurs when these are done daily. Additional self care activities include exercise, relaxation, social interactions, vacations and any other activities that "recharge" you- these vary from person to person and are important to do with regularity. 

In my work with clients her in Washington, DC many people believe themselves to be "too busy" to take care of themselves. Some forget to eat meals, stay up too late and get up too early, and neglect working out. And they also forgo time with family or friends for work or other obligations. They end the week mentally dehydrated. I imagine that some of you reading this right now feel mentally dehydrated.

Preventing- or at the least reducing- the incidence of mental dehydration is similar to preventing physical dehydration. I've heard that drinking 8 cups of water daily helps the average person maintain appropriate levels of hydration. Drinking water is not exciting but I do it. I keep water around me at work, and make sure to drink lots of it if I am out at a restaurant or at the gym. It's a mindless activity, but doing so keeps me at a steady level of hydration. Drinking water may feel like a pain- until you are dehydrated and wishing that you had simply had your eight cups of water a day. Mental dehydration similar- you may not think that you have time for basic or additional self care activities, but you'll wish that you had done them when you discover that you are mentally dehydrated.  

Here are some tips for maintaining proper levels of mental hydration:
  • Take some time before your work week to look at your schedule for the week. Do you have any big meetings or obligations? Is there anything that you are worried about? If so, make plans for basic care leading up to those activities.
  • "I'll sleep when I die" is not an appropriate life motto. Sleep is not overrated- it is your body's chance to rest and rejuvenate. And it allows your brain to organize all that it has taken in during the day. If you have trouble sleeping, give yourself 1.5 hours to wind down in the evening without the TV or social media and without caffeine. Take a shower or bath, read a book, and make a list of what needs to be done and/or any worries. 
  • Find a physical activity that you enjoy. I am not the type of person who can go to the gym and walk on a treadmill or use an elliptical machine- I find myself counting down the minutes until it's over! It doesn't matter if I have music or a TV- it's unbearable. I recently joined a gym that has a variety of group exercise classes and I love it. I actually look forward to working out, and I also benefit physically and mentally from the exercise. Find something that works for you.
  • Make sure that you are eating food throughout the day. I enjoy eating so I keep this on my radar, but I do have to make sure that I am planning my meals around meeting and appointments. I get crabby and unfocused if I am hungry- I bet you do too, but you may be too busy to notice. Make sure to have snacks nearby in case you are not able to immediately get food when you get hungry.
  • Don't forget about your friends/family/romantic partners- they can be a great source of support during a busy work week. And they can provide a nice distraction from work stress.
  • There is a point of "diminishing returns" when overworking. Staying an hour later may allow you to be productive, but often your productivity diminishes as time passes by. This likely occurs because you've been at work all day, may not have had lunch, and are now hungry for dinner. If you need to stay late, break it up- go out and grab some food and fresh air, and return to work with a time limit (1.5 to 2 hours). Then go home. You can't do it all- not matter what anyone says.
  • Adults need extracurricular activities too- develop a hobby, nurture a talent, join a club or organization. But don't overdo it. If the extracurricular activity results in mental dehydration then you need to cut back and/or find a new activity.
  • If you're an extrovert, make sure that you are interacting with other people on a regular basis. If you are an introvert, make sure that you are taking proper care of yourself by spending some time alone and/or engaged in activities that recharge you.
Happy Hydrating :)

- Dr. Stanley

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