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How Heat Affects Your Mental Health

Tuesday, 26 June 2018 14:30  by Taylor B.

Summer is often associated with vacations, cookouts with friends and other fun activities. With summer also comes rising temperatures and many people take for granted the effects that high temperatures can have on our health.

We all know about the risk that high temperatures can have on our physical health — heat exhaustion, heat stroke and the like. You can take precautions to prevent this, such as not working outside during the hottest part of the day or increasing your water intake. But have you ever considered the effects heat has on your mental health?

Heat's Affect on Your Brain

Flaring tempers and cranky attitudes are a common side effect of a muggy summer day. Studies have shown that hot weather can lead to increased instances of aggression or even violence. But why? It may be that the uncomfortable sensations of being hot sets you on edge, but it could also be that your brain is having a difficult time managing the heat.

Our brain and body are effective at cooling us down when things get hot outside. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that regulates body temperature. When things start heating up, it signals the body to start sweating. This releases internal heat out into the environment. The brain also increases our body's blood flow to push out the heat. This is a dynamic combo aimed at cooling down the rest of our body until it reaches its optimal core temperature.

But what happens if your body cannot maintain that core temperature? Maybe it is too humid out. Or maybe your clothes are causing you to overheat. Whatever the reason, when hot temperatures strike, it can prevent nerve fibers in the brain from properly transmitting those cool down messages. This is when people are at risk for heat exhaustion or even heat stroke. Eventually, these extreme temperatures affect the brain and can injure other vital organs. That is why people with heat stroke often experience symptoms like:

  • Throbbing headaches
  • Mental confusion
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • And other physical symptoms

It is essential for anyone experiencing these symptoms to get medical attention right away. In the meantime, if you think you may have heat stroke or heat exhaustion, get cool and stay hydrated, especially by drinking fluids containing electrolytes.

Heat's Affect on Mental Health

Hot and humid weather does more than affect your physical health. It can also seriously impact your mental well-being. As temperatures get higher, studies find it is harder for people to experience positive emotions like joy and happiness. Some of the reasons why mood is influenced by hot weather could be because of it:

  • Exacerbates daily stressors
  • Increases risky behaviors
  • Causes sleeping difficulties
  • Increases risk of dehydration

When the weather is hot, it can also place some restrictions on daily life, as people stay cooped up indoors to escape the heat. This lack of control can cause increased irritation. It is also believed that those already struggling with mental health conditions or taking certain kinds of medication are more susceptible to heat-related mood problems on hot days.

Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder (Reverse SAD)

Although struggling with grouchiness is quite common as the heat rises, there is another way that the hot summer months can affect certain individuals known as reverse SAD. SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, is a mental health condition that causes some individuals to struggle with depression during the cold and dark winter months. Reverse SAD, or summer seasonal depression, does the opposite.

Reverse SAD is believed to be caused by longer days, increased sunlight and, of course, higher temperatures. Because of this, those with reverse SAD may experience insomnia, decreased appetite and even manic behavior. This condition is not fully understood because of its rarity. However, it's more common in the hotter Southern states.

Take care of yourself this summer. Be sure to get plenty of sleep and stay well hydrated, and seek professional help if you experience extreme or extended effects from the heat.

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