Feeling the heat? Hot weather and mood
Given that we're into a bit of a heatwave, I thought I'd throw a few interesting research findings on hot weather and mood...and it's not all positive...
Drawing on the physiological benefits – if we feel better and are less prone to illness we are likely to be psychologically happier. Similarly if we are sleeping better and digesting better, again we can feel an overall sense of wellness...and indeed, many people report feeling happier in the sunshine.
This makes sense because sunlight naturally stimulates the production of vitamin D which also assists our immune system – and the sun as well as exercise in it can help produce endorphins (our body’s natural pain relievers) as well as serotonin (which helps regulates our sleep and appetite) along with dopamine (the “feel good” neurotransmitter). Not only that but if you’re going out, you might be doing so with friends, and you’re likely to also be producing oxytocin – the bonding hormone giving you the feeling of the warm and fuzzies).
BUT getting too warm (ie rising above the generally accepted “ideal” of 18-20 degrees Celsius), and it can stop being fun AND it is notable that:
- Stress research has long recognised that anxiety (one of our emotional responses to perception of threat) can produce changes in body temperature including an increase in body heat, and sweating as the body prepares to “fight” or flee. In this process vasoconstriction (the narrowing of the blood vessels) may occur which can cause the body to heat up very quickly. The sensation is unpleasant and can also result in feelings of stress when the weather is warm...which then become exacerbated by it!
- Researchers have also noticed that often in the summer violent crime has shown a rise, along with higher levels of irritation – such as drivers honking horns, and one piece of research from 2011 found that baseball players may even “throw more aggressively in summer” (hitting more batsmen). However, as with all research, results may be affected by other variables, for example, in the summer is it simply that more people are out and about and as such, delays and frustrations are more likely, which in turn can have negative effects on behaviour? (…and with baseball – could it be that sweaty hands make balls less controllable?...or perhaps something phrased a little more nicely than that 😉 )
The "grey areas"
"I love cloudy days, when it's cloudy I feel that God's not trying very heard, so I don't have to either" (Shelby, Steel Magnolias) - I love this line, because I'm as much a fan of cloud as "grey areas"- and here are a few thoughts:
If we are to take light without heat, then interventions such as SAD lamps have been found to be very effective in elevating mood in winter thus suggesting that natural light has a very healing and positive effect on us psychologically.
And with British Summer Time, longer hours of daylight also mean greater opportunities to stimulate:
Vitamin D production – which boosts our immune system
Serotonin uptake – which improves our daily bodily functions
…and sunlight can even ease the symptoms of skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema
BUT our circadian rhythm responds very well to light – especially natural light. If it is dark then our brain signals to release melatonin which makes us sleepy – hence why when a flight crosses time zones the aeroplane lights are dimmed or brightened to try and get your body as adjusted as possible to your arrival time. When there is light – especially natural light – the melatonin stops. This means that if you wake with natural daylight outside, it can be difficult to return to sleep because your internal processes are already signalling that it is time to rise…as such longer hours of daylight are likely to keep the body in a more alert state for longer. AND it is notable that if we do not get enough cues to sleep, we struggle to rest, which brings its own problems and so blackout curtains are often recommended as the days get longer, and in countries where there are many hours of daylight...and perhaps in good old BST too!
Tops tips for sun safety
- Go out for walks when the air is cooler and the sun is not so high in the sky (mornings and evenings are often the best)
- Wear sunscreen (this is helpful all year round - and many moisturisers include an SPF)
- Drink plenty of water because the body dehydrates quickly. If you have been exercising, you may benefit from additional electrolytes, BUT follow all dosage instructions as too much can be just as problematic as too few
- Make sure pets have plenty to drink and cool places in the house - be mindful of pet paws - the ground can retain the heat for a while after the sun has gone in. They may also benefit from damp towels, or "cooling mats".
- Do not leave anything nor anyone alone in stationary cars with no means of exit.
- Ventilate your bedroom - consider a "cooling blanket" if you get overly warm, but like having a cover.
- Plan your day where possible so that you are in cooler areas between 11-3(ish)
- If you don't have an air-conditioned environment, consider a desk fan, or a mini air cooler (I bought one 3 years ago, and it's still going strong).
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the practical "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt