Heatwaves and Mental Health
In many parts of the US, including Texas, the summer weather has been brutal and unforgiving. Our AC’s stop working, electric bills skyrocket, and sweat is everywhere. It’s just plain hot out there! While summer is usually thought of as a time for vacations, barbeques and long, busy days, some people may not feel the same. Record high temperatures aren’t just uncomfortable. They can have a profound effect on our mental health.
Extreme Heat Affects our Mental Health
People who enjoy the summer heat might not get it, but extreme weather of any kind can have negative effects on our health. If you’re someone with a sensitivity to hot weather, below are a few ways the heat can mess with your mental health.
Anxiety and Depression
If the prospect of summer makes you anxious or depressed, you’re not alone. Summer anxiety and depression is a real thing. There are many variables at play during a heatwave that can increase symptoms. For one, warmer weather usually means less clothing, and that can leave us feeling exposed and unsafe. You might also feel a pressure to get outside and socialize more. If you’re someone who struggles with social anxiety, this could be triggering. The higher temperature also causes sweating and increased heart rate, mimicking the feeling of panic attacks.
Anger and Irritability
Excessive heat can be an irritating and uncomfortable experience. If you feel grumpy or angry when the weather gets warmer, this is a normal response to the hot weather. Our clothes are usually sticking to us, it hurts to walk barefoot, and have you ever sat down on hot leather seats? If you’re prone to sensory overload, these summer discomforts can be triggering. Stress hormones also rise with temperature, to make matters worse. Studies even show that violent and aggressive behavior increases during this time of year.
Memory and Attention
Our bodies are working overtime in the warmer months to keep us cool. Heat intolerance and hot weather in general, leaves us mentally and physically exhausted. If you experience brain fog and have a hard time staying motivated, the hot temps could be playing a role. Research has shown that work performance decreases when the temperature rises. Keep this in mind when managing your performance expectations.
Worsens Pre-Existing Mental Health Issues
If you already struggle with your mental health, there’s a good chance that the heat can make it harder to cope. In fact, if you use SSRIs for anxiety or depression, such as Sertraline, Duloxetine, Fluoxetine, etc., you can be more susceptible to the sun and heat. It’s important to stay hydrated during warmer months.
Coping with Extreme Heat
When we might not be able to get away from the heat, there are ways to make it a little easier. The best way to do that is to plan ahead and adjust expectations. Below are a few things you can do to cope during the summer heat.
Dehydration and heat exhaustion are not something to mess with. They can pose many risks to our health and have been linked to depression and anxiety. If you take SSRIs as mentioned above, it’s especially important to stay hydrated and always keep water with you. Prioritizing water with electrolytes is a good tip for maximizing hydration.
Prioritize Cooling Foods
Chili is a beloved meal for many of us, but it’s just too hot and heavy for summer. It’s best to avoid hot meals throughout the summer. Gather a list of cooler, lighter meals that you enjoy and keep them on your grocery list for warm months. Fruits and veggies high in water content, like watermelon and cucumber, are also a good idea to stock up on.
Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule
In the winter months, finding our way to the pillow is usually no problem. The quality of our sleep can often be compromised during the long and hot summer days. You may need to take extra steps to ensure you’re getting the quality of sleep you need. If you can maintain a consistent bedtime, you’ll have an easier time preparing your system for rest. You can also set yourself up for success by developing good sleeping habits, like restricting phone use an hour beforehand, and keeping your room cool.
Understand and Manage Your Emotions
The heat can interfere with our physiological processes that regulate our mood. Most of our energy is being used to regulate our temperature. With less patience and energy, this can cause us to become exhausted, argumentative with loved ones, and prone to negative moods. Keeping that in mind, it’s important to communicate to those around you what you’re struggling with, and to avoid being too hard on yourself for feeling down. Instead, consider the circumstances you’re in and adjust your expectations.
If you’re someone who struggles with mental health during the summer months, it’s important to prioritize your wellbeing. The extreme effects on our mental health due to hot temperatures is not mentioned enough, but here’s your encouragement to reach out for help.
Here at Dr. Messina and Associates, our compassionate team of professionals are qualified to help you at our Flower Mound, Texas, and Southlake, Texas, offices. Our Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and Counselors specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychological testing, and medication management for a variety of emotional and behavioral health needs. All services are available in-person and online (telehealth). If you or a loved one are seeking help with mental health, we are here to help.