Hot-Headed

Femme activeMany of us feel hot-tempered in hot weather.

The heat is on—and if you are feeling a little more grouchy than usual, you are not alone. In fact, science has shown that hot weather can lead to hot tempers, aggression, and a lower mood in general.

The Effects of Heat

As the temperature rises, you may find that you have a shorter fuse. There can be a number of reasons for this, and the most basic is that heat is uncomfortable— and when we are uncomfortable, we get irritable. On top of that, heat can affect us in a variety of ways that only serve to exacerbate our irritation.

Sleep. Hot temperatures, especially when accompanied by humidity, make it difficult to sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to a variety of problems, including depression, tiredness, and an inability to concentrate. Let’s face it: poor-quality sleep leaves us tired and grouchy.

Dehydration. Heat dehydrates us, which is problematic because adequate hydration is critical for optimal health and brain function. When we are dehydrated, we get tired and cranky.

Activity restriction. Hot, humid weather can sometimes restrict our activities and force us inside into temperature- controlled environments. Being cooped up inside is enough to make anyone crabby.

Lack of control. We cannot control the weather, but a heat wave can leave us feeling like we have no control over our circumstances, which leads to frustration and irritability.

The Link between Heat and Mood Researchers have extensively studied the link between weather and mood; and though the results are sometimes inconsistent, there is a general consensus that there is a link. Some research has shown that heat waves are associated with more violent behavior, aggression, and a higher rate of drug and alcohol abuse.1,2 Furthermore, heat is associated with depression, sleepiness, reduced concentration, and a lack of energy.3

Beat the Heat and a Bad Mood If you live somewhere with prolonged periods of high temperatures, the heat might not bother you so much because you have probably become acclimated to it. If you are faced with the occasional heat wave, however, you might find yourself feeling irritable and short-tempered in the face of the hot temperatures. There are many things you can do to cope with the heat.

Minimize your outdoor time. If you must be outside, avoid the midday heat. Try to schedule your outdoor time during the early morning or late evening, when the temperatures are a little cooler.

Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Use caution with medications. Some medications, such as blood pressure medications, are diuretics. If you are taking medication, discuss the ramifications of heat with your doctor. You may need to drink extra water to stay hydrated.

Use caution with exercise. Depending on the temperature and the humidity level, outdoor exercise is sometimes not advised. Skip your workout or head to the gym. 

Seek air conditioning. If you do not have air conditioning, head for the library, shopping mall, movie theater, or somewhere cool.

Take it easy. The heat can zap your energy, so adjust accordingly. Take your cues from cultures that live near the equator and adopt the habit of the afternoon siesta.

Avoid making any big decisions. Postpone major decisions or lifestyle changes during a heat wave, especially if the issues are emotionally charged. You may not be thinking clearly and might come to regret your decision.

Focus on what you can control. Remember that this too shall pass. Focus on the positive as much as possible. If the heat has forced you indoors, perhaps it is an excellent time to catch up on a project you have been keeping on the back burner.

Relax. There are a variety of mind-body techniques that you can use to relax and shift your mood, including guided imagery, meditation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and music.

References

1. Anderson CA. Temperature and aggression: Effects on quarterly, yearly, and city rates of violent and nonviolent crime. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1987;52(6):1161-73.

2. Rotton J, Cohn EG . Outdoor temperature, climate control, and criminal assault: The spatial and temporal ecology of violence. Environment and Behavior. 2004;36(2):276-306. doi: 10.1177/0013916503259515.

3. Keller MC, Fredrickson BL , Ybarra O, et al. A warm heart and a clear head: The contingent effects of weather on mood and cognition. Psychological Science. 2005;16(9),724-31.