Mind the heat!

Apart from tormenting us physically, the scorching summer heat also comes with multiple mental complications that need to be taken care of

Mind the heat!

An unprecedented heatwave in South Asia has been causing scorching high temperatures throughout April this year in many countries, including India. With temperatures soaring record high over many decades in history, our country and its people are quite literally feeling the heat. In a recent report, with the heatwave warnings issued for a few major cities, some of the regional educational systems have decided to shut down schools for a small period.

How do we remain cool in the heat?

Human body has an inbuilt thermoregulation mechanism located in a part of the brain called hypothalamus. It tells the skin to activate receptors and lose heat through sweating to help keep a normal core temperature. When heat dissipation isn't adequate, it invariably leads to heat-related conditions like heat rashes, heat cramps and even heat stroke.

But did you know that heat affects our minds too? Yes, rising heat conditions have a direct impact on our mental health.

How does heat affect our minds?

Mood and emotions

Our ambient temperature does impact our mood. Many researches have shown that extremely hot temperatures negatively affect our emotions and wellbeing.

Higher rates of anxiety, acute stress, substance abuse and mood disorders are noted around this time of the year, characterised by hot weather. Many studies in the US have cited that higher suicide rates are reported when temperature goes up by a few degrees.

Psychiatric illness/disorders

Evidence shows that having a pre-existing psychiatric illness can triple the risk of death during a heat wave. Vulnerable populations like those who have comorbid conditions and pre-existing psychiatric illness are more likely to visit the emergency room in the hotter weather. Cases of suicide are higher, as are the admissions of bipolar disorder. This can be attributed to deranged blood levels of medication arising due to heat, and the irritability and the combination of other factors that might exacerbate existing mental health conditions. A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry illuminates that an uptick in emergency department visits for mental health treatment is noted during summer.

Anger and aggression

Does the hot sweaty weather make you angry? Most people feel cranky and irritable when they're hot and uncomfortable, and summer heat can make some of us aggressive, hostile and violent. Temper and temperature do have a mutual association. A lot of evidence links extreme heat and aggression. No wonder the expressions like 'hot-headed' and 'blood-boiling' are derived from the hot weather.

Cognition and clarity

Hot weather leads to feelings of decreased alertness, low energy, and an inability to perform complex cognitive tasks. This includes factors like heat stress, dehydration and insomnia.

Since sleep is an essential function for overall well-being and health, during heat waves, the sleep cycle does get messed up for many. This can further exacerbate mental health problems.

Reasons of mental health impact

✵ Dehydration

✵ Hyponatremia: Due to excessive sweating there can be Hyponatremia. This can result in confusion, irritability and even present as behavioural symptoms.

✵ Sleep issues

✵ Medication changes: Water composition of the body affects the levels of certain psychiatric medications like lithium.

How to beat the summer's wrath mentally?

Other than the obvious advice to drink ample water, hydrate with electrolytes, stay indoors and wear comfortable clothing. Add these for some mental cool:

✵ Calming technique to keep the temper in check: Try to slowly drink a tall cold glass of water and count 10 to 1.

✵ Meditation: Meditate and try to visualise cool mountains.

✵ Yoga: Try effective breathing techniques to help cool down. Sheetkari is one such breathing process. Join your teeth, open your lips and draw in an inhalation. As the air passes through your spit, it cools down and hence as it enters your body it cools it from the inside. Exhale through the nose.

What is eco-anxiety?

One common open dialogue around the world with such extreme temperatures is about the realistic impact of climate change. The American Psychology Association (APA) describes eco-anxiety as "the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one's future and that of next generations".

It is high time we all get together to save our planet and work towards mitigating the impact of climate change. Do your small part each day. Every step counts.

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