Is heatwave making you cranky? Impact of extreme heat on moods; how to deal with it | Health

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By Mahtab Ahmad

Feeling angrier and more irritable than usual? Blame it on the ongoing heatwave conditions that are capable to not only negatively impact your body functions but also your peace of mind. As per research extreme heat can have a profound effect on your mental health, leading to increased aggression, suicidal behaviour, depressive tendencies and substance use. Studies have confirmed that exposure to severe heat over a period of time can deplete memory, attention and reaction time. It can make you feel brain-fogged, inefficient and of course emotional instability. One of the reasons behind this could be difficulty in falling and staying asleep. People with no access to air conditioning can suffer from heatwave-induced insomnia, affecting their physical and mental health profusely. (Also read: Can heatwave kill? 4 ways extreme heat can prove to be deadly, experts share preventive tips)

Studies have confirmed that exposure to severe heat over a period of time can deplete memory, attention and reaction time. (Freepik)
Studies have confirmed that exposure to severe heat over a period of time can deplete memory, attention and reaction time. (Freepik)

“Increasing evidence indicates that ambient outdoor temperature could affect mental health, which is especially concerning in the context of climate change,” says a recent meta-analysis published in the journal Lancet. The analysis found that outdoor temperature was associated with attempted and completed suicides, with hospital attendance or admission for mental illness, and with worse outcomes for community mental health and wellbeing.

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Sucheta Gore, Psychologist, Mpower advises people to stay indoors during heatwave conditions and take things slow. Engaging in breathing exercises and sufficient hydration can also keep your moods stabilized.

Impact of heatwave on mental health

1. It can literally make your blood boil

Gore says scorching summer heat can indeed leave one angry and irritable and one shouldn’t take their mental health for granted and take steps to improve it.

“As the mercury climbs and heatwaves grip regions around the globe, a question revolves around how heatwaves impact our physical health as well as mental health. From heightened anxiety to increase in depression, the sweltering heat can transcend the physical realm and delve into the psyche of individuals already grappling with the strains of modern life. Higher temperatures can cause people to feel more angry, frustrated and irritable,” says the psychologist.

2. It is capable of wreaking havoc with your well-being

The expert says extreme heat conditions should be looked at like any other natural disaster with the capability of destroying our well-being.

“Extreme heatwaves are among the most threatening weather events. Millions of people and animals are at risk for heat-related illnesses during heatwaves. For these reasons, just like with any disaster, the risk for emotional distress and other mental health concerns is also present during extreme heat waves,” she says.

3. It leads to fuzzy thinking and aggressive behaviour

Heat can affect the mental health and ability to think for even people without a mental health disorder. Research shows that the areas of the brain responsible for framing and solving complex cognitive tasks are impaired by heat stress.

“When people are not thinking clearly due to heat, it is more than likely that they will become frustrated and this in turn can lead to aggressive behaviour,” says the psychologist.

4. It elevates eco anxiety

Hot days can also elevate eco anxiety. A survey conducted by the World Economic Forum found that 60% of young people are extremely worried about climate change.

5. Heatwave can lead to sleep challenges

There’s still a lot we have to understand about the complex interplay and feedback loops between climate change and mental health.

Heatwave alone can disrupt sleep, learning, cognitive test performance and high school performance.

Symptoms of emotional distress during heatwave can include:

  • Heightened, prolonged feelings of anxiety or isolation.
  • Difficulty concentrating and completing necessary tasks at home, school and work.
  • Noticeable changes in mood; irritability.
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Substance misuse or abuse including alcohol, tobacco and prescription medications.

How to prevent mental health issues amid ongoing heatwave conditions.

Just as we shield ourselves from the sunlight and take care of our physical health, there are steps we can take to protect our mental health amidst the sweltering heat, as suggested by Gore.

Stay hydrated: Everyone knows the importance of drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, dehydration can affect moods, worsen stress, anxiety and irritability and cognitive function.

Make healthy choices: It goes hand in hand. Physical health supports mental health, so eat balanced meals, exercise and get enough sleep.

Limit outdoor activity: Avoid strenuous outdoor activities during the hottest parts of the day. If you must be, take frequent breaks and seek shade.

Dress appropriately: Wear light weight, loose fitting clothing and use sunscreen to protect your skin from sunburn.

Limit caffeine and alcohol: Both can contribute to dehydration, so it’s best to avoid or limit its consumption during hot weather.

Practice self-care: Take time out and invest in self-care activities such as taking a cool shower. Indulge yourself in a favourite treat, activities that help you relax and destress, such as reading, listening to music or practicing mindfulness techniques.

Some mindfulness techniques for coping with hot weather as suggested by the psychologist:

Control your breathing: When the temperature rises, the first thing it affects is our breathing. As our body uses more oxygen in an attempt to cool down, our lungs are forced to work harder which is why we feel more tired. Take a moment to stop and bring your attention to your breath. Make sure that you’re taking in deep breaths without holding them in for too long or try a breathing exercise to keep your breaths regular. This will make you feel soothed and restful.

Slow things down: Everything around is more challenging when it’s hot, so take some time to acknowledge and make an effort to slow down. Slowing down and tuning-in are principles at the heart of mindfulness. It’s important to take the time to understand what both your body and mind need, and you shouldn’t feel guilty if what you need to do is say ‘no’ sometimes.

Practice meditation: Meditation can really help us draw back our focus and ground us in the moment. It can also help us to create a sense of stillness within us – something that can be very helpful when we’re feeling worked up by the heat or struggling to sleep at night.

Engage in indoor activities: Explore indoor hobbies or activities such as reading, crafting or cooking to stay occupied and distracted from the heat.

Stay informed: Stay informed about heatwave warnings or any other advisory in your area and take appropriate precautions to stay safe and healthy.

Monitor your mental health: Last but not the least, pay attention to your mood and emotions during heatwave and reach out for any support needed from mental health professional if required.

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