by Mary Russell, M.S.
It doesn’t take a scientist to see that when it gets hot, people get irritable, angry…even violent. Just look at the recent spikes in crime in NYC, Chicago, and Detroit that have corresponded with the heat wave that crashed down in early July. Indeed, the finding that there is a strong relationship between rising temperatures and increased crime has been demonstrated time and time again.
Explanations for this relationship vary. Some say that because higher temperatures lead people to spend more time outside, people are more likely to run into “sticky situations.” Others say that because people don’t sleep as well when it’s hot, they may not be thinking as clearly as they normally would and may be less likely to exert self-control. Even more complex are theories suggesting that heat stimulates brain areas that in turn make us more likely to see benign stimuli as threatening.
More than likely, the reason people get cranky in the heat is not one thing or another, but a bunch of things. While causes are certainly interesting, and give us insight into our behavior, and often can help generate solutions to problems, insight into “why” is not a prerequisite to taking responsibility for our actions or taking steps to improve our future behavior. While we do not have control over how others react to the heat, we can certainly try our best to control ourselves.
First off, don’t be taken by surprise! We can predict with 99% accuracy that there will be some scorchers this summer (and every summer)! Expect it and plan for it. Stay in the A/C or find your local cooling station, drink plenty of fluids, rest up your body and try not to exhaust yourself.
That being said, the heat is often inevitable so think about whether or not you’re someone who tends to become on edge when it’s hot. If you are, try to become more aware of your body and your emotions, especially on hotter days – are you sweaty? Flushed? Tired? Do you have a headache? Are you snapping at people more than usual? If so, grab a glass of water and look at what you’re telling yourself. Often people think things like, “I can’t stand the heat or being uncomfortable!” Baring serious medical complications, chances are your thoughts are misleading. While few people LOVE the heat, it rarely will kill us – more than likely it simply leaves us sweaty and smelly. Remind yourself of this. While you may not like it, you CAN stand the heat.
People may also think, “I can’t stand [difficult things] on top of the heat and I MUST put a stop to [these difficult things]!” Again, remind yourself that you’re really capable of handling a lot more than you think – you CAN stand difficult things IN SPITE OF the heat. While you may want to put a stop to something or someone, you don’t NEED to in order to control your behavior – your behavior is a choice, not a natural consequence of hot weather. You can choose to act out and fight or you can choose to politely request that people or circumstances change but also accept that they do not have to.
To sum up…
1. Try to stay cool (literally).
2. ….but accept it may get hot.
3. Be aware of your what your body and thoughts are telling you and notice if you’re telling yourself that you’re not strong enough to cope or that you’re behavior is out of your control.
4. Remind yourself you are strong enough to stand the heat and that you have the choice to keep your cool, remain calm and enjoy your summer despite the heat.