When the weather turns hot and humid, do your kids seem unusually cranky? Do you, yourself, want to scream, “This heat is driving me nuts!!”?
Well, it’s not your imagination—and it’s not all due to being bored with school vacations and work slowdowns. Medical research confirms that hot, humid weather does affect mental stability. Dehydration takes effect faster, decreasing thirsty brains’ ability to concentrate. Discomfort-generated insomnia increases, adding sleep deprivation to the mix. Violence becomes more widespread. In extreme situations, heatstroke can induce hallucinations and brain damage.
Take extra precautions to keep your family sane in summer.
The first order of business is to guard against heat and dehydration. Keep your air conditioning on, or go soak in a pool or even a bathtub. And however cool your surroundings, drink a glass of water every hour. (You might nurture family togetherness by scheduling “water breaks” as shared events.)
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has had at least one positive effect: most people got plenty of practice in slowing down and thinking about what really mattered. Those are good principles in any season, but especially when under stress of any sort. When the heat of summer strikes full force, forget about “regular” to-do lists (no one will be up to peak performance anyway), let home upkeep slide a bit, and spend more time reading, listening to podcasts, and just lounging around daydreaming.
Doing the lounging-around with your family—everyone sprawled in a group just letting everyone else be themselves—will also help curb urges to snap at each other. And invite your pets to the lounge session: cats are naturals at it, but if you’re a dog-owning family, remember that animals are affected by the heat too. The old saying “dogs go mad in summer” has some basis in fact, especially when their desire to please you collides with their need for a break. Don’t stress a dog out—or risk making him physically ill—by demanding he play actively when he’s hot and tired.
If crankiness is still a problem, remember the basic pause-and-relax rules of stress management: stop where you are (yes, even if you have half an hour before a deadline); inhale deeply and exhale slowly 3–10 times; and let yourself really experience whatever’s around and inside you right now. This does wonders for relieving anxiety and bringing things into perspective. Teach your kids the technique, and make it a household rule that everyone must take such a re-centering moment before running to Mom or Dad to get a problem “fixed.”
Avoiding heat-wave “insanity” is doubly challenging when “thinking straight” already requires extra effort. If anyone in your family has a psychiatric illness, or a “neurological difference” such as autism, plan on taking special precautions according to individual needs. Do this planning before the heat sets in, preferably with help from a therapist.
And remember this basic mental-health rule: keep things in perspective. Eventually, the weather will cool down again, and so will everybody’s tempers.