Thursday, August 11

Why does the heat put us in a bad mood?


The weather has a huge influence on how we feel. Although many people associate summer with feelings of relaxation and as an opportunity to enjoy time outdoors with friends and family, in some cases, hot days increase irritability and make us more sensitive.

when the heat presses

The temperatures in Spain they have risen 1.7ºC since pre-industrial times and 1.3ºC in the last 60 years. According to data from the State Meteorological Agency (AEMET), the number of extremely hot days has been, in the last 30 years, much higher than would be expected in a climate that was not warming.

while we try understand the impact of climate change on the planet, also for several years there has been a growing interest in understanding how it affects humans. The heat can be quite unbearable for many people, especially when we have been enduring excessive temperatures for several weeks.

Sleepless nights, constant sweat and extreme temperatures put us to the test during the -increasingly frequent- heat waves. Several studies show that hot weather can cause Bad mood and irritation.

Because excessively high ambient temperatures can reduce social behavior. In other words, they make us less nice and provide a good excuse to have a bad reaction. When exceeding a certain level of heat, the body has to make an adaptation effort that can lead to discomfort.

Binomial heat and bad mood

Although the climate-mood connection is positive, it is to a certain extent. Positive attitudes seem to weaken in particularly sultry weather, like the one we are experiencing this summer. There are numerous theories that explain why heat makes people angrier.

Some tell us that physiological reactions to heat are responsible because they cause an increase in heart rate, testosterone and other metabolic reactions that activate the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the fight or flight response.

Under the effect of heat, heart rate increases and blood pressure increases, symptoms that the body associates with exposure to anxiety. The result: the secretion of cortisol, the stress hormone, generates this uncomfortable emotion: irritability, which occurs without warning, and for no apparent reason.

The tendency to impulsivity is also linked to the lack of oxygen that the body suffers when it is hot. When our body can no longer regulate its temperature through perspiration, our breathing has to deal with an oxygen deficit, which makes us more irritable.

Though reactions vary from person to person. Those who suffer from a mental illness or are in psychiatric treatment are more affected by heat waves, since antidepressant and anxiolytic drugs already accelerate the heart rate and raise blood pressure.

The effects of heat explained by science

It has been shown that when temperatures do not drop low enough at night, it’s not easy to fall asleep. The risk of nocturnal awakenings increases with heat and lack of sleep has a direct impact on the mood level of the next day.

A study published in plos medicinecarried out in a group of young people who lived in university residences, showed that excessive heat also reduces the intellectual performancenot just the physical.

Along the same lines, another study published in Nature Human Behavior in October 2020, which said that the days that reached temperatures above 26ºC, lower results were obtained in the students’ tests and, therefore, affected cognitive abilities.

Another risk factor in the lack of control of emotions is the risk of dehydration. Asking our bodies, especially our brains, to function with insufficient amounts of water can put us to the test. The lack of water decreases blood flow and the brain is less irrigated.

This mechanism causes dysfunctions of the body that translate into phases of irritability and sadnessas well as concentration and memory disorders.

Other study published in European Journal of Social Psychology showed another trend in 2017: when the temperature rises, low sociability. The experts analyzed data on how people react to hot versus cold temperatures and concluded that they are 50% less likely to engage in social behaviors such as volunteering.

As we have already mentioned, another of the most characteristic effects of heat is irritability. In 2013, a study prepared by the universities of Berkeley and Stanford revealed that a simple 1°C rise was enough to increase physical violence and verbal in 4%.

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