What a scorcher – how does it effect our mental health
The med moves north.
Does the summer sun affect your mental health?
The Summer of 2020 continues to break weather records and there’s apparently more to come. We’re being told to get used to it because this is the way summers are going to be from now on. Certainly, we’ll have to adapt aspects of our lives (air conditioning, ventilation, building techniques, water supply, clothing, holidays etc). But, what about the impact on our psychology? How are long, hot summers going to affect our moods and behaviour? What’s the heat doing to our mental well-being – particularly because in Britain we’re just not used to this sort of thing.?
Quite a number of research studies have been done on the subject. Findings show that heat waves are related to more violent and aggressive behaviour.
We know through our own experience that the heat can make us very short-tempered, particularly in already stressful situations, for example, traffic jams, travel disruptions, in queues, crowded places and so on.
It’s also evident that the heat encourages greater alcohol consumption and abuse. Yes, a boiling day makes us thirsty, but those already enthusiastic about alcohol use the sunshine and high temperatures as another reason or excuse to knock-back lots more.
Pub gardens, pavement cafes and parks are packed until late with people quaffing beers, Proseccos and tropical cocktails. And we all know about the consequences of combining heat and booze – potentially short tempers and aggression (although for many just sleepiness!) And talking of sleep, high temperatures tend to raise humidity. Hot, sultry sweaty nights are very disruptive to sleep patterns. That has serious consequences for concentration during the day, lack of energy, drowsiness, depression and the possible resort to self-medication through drugs and alcohol.
Poor, inadequate and broken sleep is worsened by noise. Modern society now operates 24 hours. The hot weather means people staying up later, being woken earlier and having patchy sleep in the meantime. Windows have to be left open and the sounds of our insomniac neighbours are intrusive. Sales of ear-plugs are soaring.
For those with pre-existing mental health problems, prolonged high temperatures can worsen their symptoms leading to increased hospital admissions. Heat waves produce as much pressure on A&E as a hard winter. This is especially relevant for the increasing proportion of society that is suffering from various forms of dementia. They find it difficult to cope in normal conditions. Hot weather for those with dementia is a real challenge.
Heat waves have also been shown to lead to higher levels of suicide and this record-breaking summer is proving the point. Lack of vigour and energy often produces the interesting psychological state of manana – just simply putting things off till ‘tomorrow’. Heat-induced lethargy can result in procrastination. We’ve all had that thought, ‘Oh, I’ll do that chore when it gets cooler, when I’m in the mood.’ Or ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ll get it done when the time is right.’ But the heat goes on and it doesn’t get done. Tomorrow never comes.
We tend to associate the concept of manana with hotter countries (it is, of course, a Spanish word). In the popular mind, we think of it as a rather charming, laid-back approach to life and we mostly experience it when we’re feeling relaxed on holiday. It’s probably good for the heart and a long life, we think.
But back in (mostly) temperate Britain, a manana approach is just irritating and frustrating when we want to get things done. In a heat wave, how do you square a short-temper, impatience and barely controlled aggression with the concept of manana? There’s potential for friction there.
Will British society and our own attitudes to life have to change along with climate change? Are we going to have to accept the manana mindset, afternoon siestas, late evening eating outside and a very different wardrobe for the office?
If Mediterranean/Caribbean summers are here to stay, then adaptation and acceptance are key to our mental well-being.
To update that old adage (There is no such thing as bad weather…), ‘There is no such thing as hot weather, only inappropriate clothing’. Hawaiian shirts are apparently this season’s must-have. I think I’ll buy a couple – but maybe manana.