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We haven’t yet experienced the heat waves that have occurred in other parts of the country. But if you look at the weather forecasts over the next few weeks, it does look like hotter weather is right around the corner.

When we talk about our hot summers in Brooklyn, we talk about not getting enough water, or we talk about getting sunburned. Maybe we sometimes talk about the street smell as the trash heats up. But we frequently do not talk about the effects that hot weather can have not only on our physical health and wellness, but our mental health as well.

While sunny weather might encourage outdoor activities, excessive heat can have profound effects on our mental health, sometimes lasting beyond the hot days themselves.

How Hot Weather Creates Mental Health Challenges

High temperatures are challenging for the body and mind. Without proper management, the heat can exacerbate existing mental health issues or create new ones. When we experience extreme heat, we may also experience:

  • Increased Irritability – High temperatures can lead to increased irritability and mood swings. The body’s effort to regulate temperature stresses physiological systems, often resulting in heightened emotional responses. This can make individuals more prone to frustration and anger.
  • Sleep Disruptions – Hot weather can interfere with sleep patterns, leading to poor quality sleep or insomnia. The inability to cool down at night can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep, contributing to fatigue and exacerbating stress and anxiety levels.
  • Dehydration and Reduced Cognitive Function – Dehydration is a common consequence of hot weather and can negatively impact cognitive functions. Even mild dehydration can impair concentration, decision-making abilities, and overall cognitive performance, which in turn can affect mood and productivity.
  • Increased Anxiety – The physical discomfort of being too hot can increase anxiety levels. Individuals with pre-existing anxiety disorders may find their symptoms worsening during heatwaves, as the stress of physical discomfort compounds their mental health challenges.
  • Social Isolation – Hot weather can limit outdoor activities and social interactions, leading to feelings of isolation. Staying indoors to avoid the heat can reduce opportunities for social engagement and physical exercise, both of which are important for maintaining mental health.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – While often associated with winter, Seasonal Affective Disorder can also occur during the summer. This condition, sometimes referred to as “summer SAD,” can cause symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and changes in sleep patterns and appetite, driven by the prolonged exposure to heat and light.

It’s also easy to envision how these issues may lead to secondary mental health problems. For example, if a person is struggling with irritability and anxiety, they may also have friction with a romantic partner, which in turn can cause other psychological challenges.

In addition, our brain chemistry can change when we experienced prolonged mental health challenges. Someone with anxiety caused by weather may experience changes that lead to anxiety even as the weather cools down. Because some people with summer-related mental health challenges may have already had the conditions in a way that hot weather simply made worse, it’s easy to envision why it is so important for people to address these issues.

How Would a Therapist Be Able to Help with Hot Weather?

Taking care of your physical health is going to be the first step towards taking care of your mental health, and many of those are going to be things you can do on your own. For example:

  • Stay Hydrated – Ensure adequate hydration by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Proper hydration helps in maintaining cognitive functions and stabilizing mood.
  • Maintain a Cool Environment – Use fans, air conditioning, and other cooling methods to create a comfortable indoor environment. A cool living space can help improve sleep quality and reduce irritability.
  • Adapt Your Schedule – Schedule outdoor activities during cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening. This can help avoid the peak heat and reduce physical and mental stress.
  • Practice Relaxation Techniques – Incorporate relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga into your daily routine. These practices can help manage stress and improve emotional resilience in hot weather.
  • Spend Time With People – If possible, make sure that you don’t suffer from social isolation even in the extreme heat. Schedule time with people and make sure that you’re still getting social support.

It also can often help to speak to a therapist in NYC, where the two of you can work together to maintain your mental health as you’re addressing the heat, and learning tools and coping techniques to support you in the months and years to come.

Therapists do this by providing:

  • Psychoeducation – Therapists can provide valuable information about how heat affects mental health. Knowing the physiological and psychological impacts of heat can help individuals recognize symptoms and take proactive measures to manage them.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT is effective in addressing anxiety and mood disorders exacerbated by heat. Therapists can help clients identify and challenge negative thought patterns, develop coping strategies, and improve emotional regulation.
  • Stress Management Techniques – Therapists can teach stress management techniques such as mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation. These practices can help reduce stress and anxiety levels, promoting a sense of calm and well-being.
  • Sleep Hygiene Education and Support – Improving sleep hygiene is crucial for those affected by heat-related sleep disruptions. Therapists can provide guidance on creating a conducive sleep environment, establishing a consistent sleep schedule, and incorporating relaxation techniques before bedtime.
  • Encouraging Social Engagement – Therapists can support clients in finding ways to maintain social connections despite the heat. This may include scheduling indoor activities, using virtual communication tools, or planning social interactions during cooler parts of the day.

Therapists may not be able to make the sun cooler, or prevent heat related illness. But a therapist can help make sure that you’re always feeling your best and living your best life, whether it’s hot outside, cold outside, or anywhere in between.

Call Flourish Psychology Today

Flourish Psychology may not be able to affect the heat itself, or the physiological effects of it, but we can help make sure that any anxiety, stress, depression, or other mental health conditions you’re struggling with get the attention they deserve. For more information, or to book a session with one of our therapists, please contact Flourish Psychology today.

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