How Heat Impacts Your Mental Health
Summers in Charlotte, NC are hot.
So hot that you can't seem to think straight. You're more irritable than usual, and your patience is wearing thin. Sound familiar?
With the mercury rising, it's important to be mindful of how heat can impact our mental health. Believe it or not, exposure to high temperatures can lead to reduced cognitive performance and even trigger symptoms in those who suffer from mental health conditions.
When the forecast calls for high temperatures and humidity, it's important to prepare yourself for a high chance of stress. To help keep your cool this summer, here are a few things you need to know about the link between heat and mental health.
Stress on the body means stress on the mind
You're likely aware of a few ways the high temperatures and heat waves can impact your physical health. For instance, heat stroke is a serious condition that can occur when your body temperature reaches 106 degrees
Fahrenheit or higher. But you might not know that heat can also lead to mental health problems.
But why does this happen?
It all has to do with heat stress and how it affects the endocrine gland, which regulates hormone production in the body. When exposed to extreme heat, our bodies have to work overtime to stay cool, which disrupts hormone levels. When stress hormones release into the body, they cause mental health side effects, intensifying feelings of anxiety, irritability, and apathy.
Exposure to heat affects cognitive performance
Heat waves can impact everything from our mood to energy levels and even our ability to think clearly.
In one study, participants exposed to high temperatures performed worse on tests that measured processing speed, working memory, and attention span. Students who took a cognitive test in a room with high temperatures were slower and less accurate than those who took the same test in an air-conditioned room.
The research suggests that the heat-induced stress we experience can lead to frustration and affect inhibitory control, or the ability to focus on a task and ignore distractions.
Heightened mental stress aggravates mental symptoms
According to APA President Vivian Pender, M.D., extreme heat waves pose not only a threat to public health but mental health. And people with pre-existing mental health conditions like generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and bipolar disorder are especially vulnerable to heat.
So it's not just your imagination if you believe the heat has triggered you this summer. Exposure to high
temperatures and humidity have been linked to a rise in symptoms for people with these conditions.
In one study, researchers found that people with bipolar disorder were more likely to be hospitalized for mood symptoms in periods of extreme heat. The high heat and long summer days also trigger summer depression, or reverse seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Keep your cool this summer
So, how can you stay cool and avoid the negative effects of heat on your mental health this summer?
If you have a mental health condition, it's important to be extra mindful of how heat can impact your symptoms.
And if you don't have a mental health condition, exposure to extreme heat can still lead to reduced cognitive performance and increased stress levels. So stay cool, stay hydrated and give yourself a break if you start feeling overwhelmed.