Keeping your cool when it’s hot

woman fanning herself under the hot sun, high heart rate, reactions to heat, irritable when it's hot, hyperthermia, mitchell radin

Heat waves can be tough for us Minnesotans — but we’re not alone, and we’re pretty resourceful when it comes to dealing with extreme temperatures. Thankfully, there are ways to maintain a comfortable internal temperature AND keep calm, cool, and collected during hot weather.

But when those thermometers rise it’s not uncommon for even the hardiest folks to lose their cool, and there’s actually a physical reason why we get more irritable or are quicker to anger when we’re hot.

“What most people don’t consider is that our bodies, not our brains, are primarily responsible for how calm or stressed we are,” explains clinical psychologist Dr. Mitchell Radin. “Our heart is the regulator of our whole nervous system or that part of our bodies that keeps us calm in some circumstances, or throws us into a ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ mode when stressed.”

young couple arguing on the sidewalk, high heart rate, reactions to heat, irritable when it's hot, hyperthermia, mitchell radinDr. Radin shares that a low heart rate is typical when we’re calm and thinking clearly, but a high heart rate signals the brain to respond to stress or threat, so the brain takes that signal and starts to look for things in the environment to explain why the threat signal is happening.

“Being hot increases our heart rate so naturally when we’re sweating and uncomfortable, we adaptively start to react to things around us as though they’re more threatening than they really are – and we more easily take offense at things that might feel silly when we’re calm.”

Staying cool

Have you heard of someone telling another to “go cool off” when they’re really upset?

“What that really means is, ‘Go regulate your body and slow down that heart rate – you’ll feel less angry/irritable if you do,’” said Dr. Radin.

There’s no arguing that staying cool and hydrated are the best ways to cope with the hot weather. In addition to lowering your risk for stress, taking care of yourself can help you avoid hyperthermia, which can be life-threatening.

Hennepin Healthcare professionals want to remind everyone that the best way to avoid heat-related medical problems is to:

  1. Stay cool – if you don’t have air conditioning in your home, go to a shopping mall, restaurant, library, or movie theater to stay cool. Seek out shade and green spaces if going indoors is not an option. Research has shown that trees and vegetation can help mitigate the urban heat island effect and can offer spaces that are several degrees cooler than places without vegetation.
  2. Drink plenty of water (even if you’re not thirsty!).  Avoid drinking alcohol!
  3. Check on elderly friends and family members or those who have health concerns to make sure they are adequately hydrated and cared for.
  4. Avoid heavy exercise – especially during the hottest times of the day.
  5. Seek medical attention if you have these signs of hyperthermia:  confusion, inability to perspire, combativeness, fainting, rapid pulse, flushed skin, and delirium.
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