Everywhere you turn, the headlines grab your attention.
Whether you live in a hot climate or have traveled to one – you’ve most likely sweltered in triple digit temperatures this summer for days on end. In today’s headline we turn to one of the side effects of this extreme heat as your heart rate increases: you may be feeling more angry and frustrated, getting less sleep and having trouble making decisions. The power of cooling off is an insight I discovered and have been sharing with my clients to refresh their heart, mind and body as they struggle with how the heat is impacting them. And if you’re looking for a tool to manage the discomfort and irritation you’re experiencing, join me in using the 90-second rule, a brilliant exercise from Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor.
The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #11
Extreme heat and its toll on mental health
One of the first things I check after waking up in the morning is the outdoor temperature, so I know how to dress for our early morning dog walk. Since I have family and friends living in Texas, Louisiana and Arizona, I typically follow up and check out their daytime highs and wince, grateful that I live in Colorado.
No doubt this is one of the hottest summers in recent memory. If you’re finding yourself more agitated during the past few months, you are not alone. In addition to the high temperatures, this blistering, continued heat is exacerbating people’s mental health. In an ABC News report, Dr. Joshua Morganstein chair of the American Psychatric Associations committee on the Psychiatric Dimensions of Disaster explains,
“It affects things like cognition — so our ability to think clearly, make decisions, communicate well, take protective actions. It also affects things like our ability to sleep and it’s been associated with increased rates of and risk for violence — violence as individuals, violence in groups — and some studies have found in association with increased risk of suicide.”
A JAMA Psychiatry study published last year found that days with high temperatures during summer months were connected to an 8% increase in emergency visits for mental health-related conditions, including mood disorders.
In a Baylor College of Medicine article, Dr. Asim Shah, professor and executive vice chair in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor, notes that
excessive heat causes changes in emotions and behavior that can result in feelings of anger, irritability, aggression, discomfort, stress and fatigue. Heat alters those behaviors because of its impact on serotonin, the primary neurotransmitter that regulates your mood, leading to decreased levels of happiness or joy and increased levels of stress and fatigue.
Read the full article here.
What cooling off does for your heart, mind and body
So what can you do about the toll on your mental health?
In a Health Shots article on anger and persistent heat, Dr. Rishi Gautam, a mental health expert, who is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the GW School of Medicine & Health Sciences in Washington DC, offers 5 ways to handle your anger and calm your nerves.
1. Identify changes in your mood and be aware of feeling more angry than usual
If someone besides you is noticing a change in your temperament, this may be the moment to pause. Find ways to channel this energy into other more productive domains, like exercising or engaging in a sport (indoors preferably) or art.
2. Understand limitations of what is in your control and influence what is possible
You don’t have any control over weather patterns, so feeling overly frustrated with the heat does little to improve your outlook. You do have influence over when you go outside – don’t go in the hottest part of the day. Consider staying in the shade, wear loose fitting clothes, keep your house cool.
3. Identify your triggers
Is driving for work in the afternoon sun something you absolutely hate? Or is standing in a line while it is 95+ degrees something that ticks you off? Find out what is it that makes you so angry. You may need to make changes in your daily schedule and finish such tasks either in the mornings or late evenings.
Sometimes you may forget to drink water due to busy schedule, but stay hydrated. Use measured water bottles which show how much water you have consumed during the day. Make it a point to fulfill your requirements.
5. Deep breathing and meditation
Breathe deeply when you sense anger overcoming you. Consider spending 15 minutes on meditation and be aware of your thoughts every morning. It goes a long way in controlling sudden mood changes and anger. Who knows? This might become a part of your daily routine.
The 90-second rule
In the book My Stroke of Insight, by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, an American neuroanatomist, author, and public speaker, she shares a practice I’m describing as the 90-second rule. Dr. Bolte Taylor has discovered that while you can’t control the chemical response when you’re frustrated, you can choose what happens next.
When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90-second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.
Dr. Bolte Taylor says when her brain runs loops that feel harshly judgmental, counterproductive or out of control…she waits 90 seconds for the emotional/physiological response to dissipate and then speak to her brain. She is consciously asking her brain to stop hooking into specific thought patterns.
Here’s how I walk through Dr. Bolte Taylor’s brilliant this 90-second rule.
I’ve been noticing my own responses recently during these weeks and weeks of hot days and nights. I find myself more tense and easily triggered. The excessive heat and my moods have been clashing with one another. My heart rate is fluctuating and I’ve had to work to bring it down.
In response, I am using more active breathing, holding my tongue as I observe situations and letting the anger flow through me until the physiological reaction is over. Now I’m ready to decide what to do. Mostly. I have flown off the handle a few times – and I’m blaming the heat.
I’m curious how you are offering yourself ways to cool down in this heat. Please let me know what gives your heart, mind and body relief in this season of extreme heat.