Written by Florie Mwanza
Mood isn’t just affected by internal factors like dehydration, hormonal imbalances or gut health. External factors such as the weather have huge bearings on how we feel. Contrary to popular belief, hot summer weather can be as much of a downer as cold dark winters.
Summer brings with it the promise of happier days ahead, right? You no longer have to rely on a SAD lamp to supplement your lack of vitamin D; there are barbecues and brunches to attend, refreshing cocktail recipes to try out, and so many outdoor spaces to explore.
But, while loads of us are gleefully putting another winter of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) behind us, for a lot of people the living is decidedly not easy in the summertime.
Seasonal mood disorders aren’t limited to the dark, dreary months. On a more serious note, past studies have found discernible links between warmer weather and a rise in violent crimes. That’s an extreme example, but one controlled-temperature study from 2017 found that retail workers on the shop floor were less likely to offer assistance or be sociable when the store temperature was turned up.
While our summer has been poor so far, temperatures are on the rise in July, with expected temperatures of up to 28°C this weekend. And with the prospect of more mini heatwaves heading our way, we’ve asked the experts what the science behind being hot and bothered is, and what can be done to remedy it.
Why does hot weather cause bad moods?
Tess Leigh-Phillips, counsellor at The Mind Map, says, “The physiological symptoms of a panic attack are scarily familiar to those we experience in the blazing sun, such as feeling faint, sweating and being short of breath.”
According to author and chartered psychologist Dr. Audrey Tang, while we may not be under any obvious emotional stress, experiencing the physical symptoms of anxiety such as “an increase in body heat and sweating can trigger our fight or flight response.”
So, being quick to anger or grouchier than usual is actually a show of discomfort rather than one of unpleasantness.
Increased body temperature doesn’t just elicit an emotional response, it also disrupts other bodily functions that assist in regulating mood, such as sleep. Dr. Verena Senn, a sleep expert at Emma – The Sleep Company, explains: “In order to achieve a great sleep, your core body temperature needs to cool down; this is part of the winding down process your body goes through. Failing to cool your body down will often mean failing to get the necessary amount of sleep.”
What does it feel like to be in a bad mood due to hot weather?
The physical discomfort that comes with unbearably hot days is something we’re all familiar with, but what is it like to suffer from an altered mood on top of the sweat and humidity?
Ellen C Scott, 28, lives in London and has gone as far as “doing research into countries with colder climates and considered whether I should move.”
Due to the heat, Scott says: “I’m more irritable, more easily stressed, and have noticed that my depression often worsens in the summer. I hate the feeling of being too hot; the sweating, the discomfort.”
She continues, “I often feel like I put my life on hold in the summer, because there’s no point trying to do big things in the months when I know I’m going to be hot and miserable.”
For Deborah Godji, 30, FOMO is the only thing that forces her out of the house during the summer. When faced with hot weather, she says, “I find I get extremely irritable.” Adding “the slightest inconvenience can lead to me declaring war.”
Despite enjoying holidays to warm climates, Godji says there’s something specific about about the London heat that negatively affects her mood. She elaborates, “I live in inner city London, which is congested with high rise buildings and people, so when temperatures start hitting mid-to-late 20s it can become extremely uncomfortable and unpleasant to feel so surrounded.”
Are women predisposed to bad moods in hot weather?
There’s no scientific correlation tying any one gender to a higher likelihood of experiencing low moods during hot months. However, the pressure of being expected to meet societal beauty standards has historically been heaped on women – and the effects of this tend to be more pronounced during the summer, when we’re wearing less to keep cool.
Ellen C Scott can attest to this: “Having to wear less clothing to stay cool triggers a lot of body image issues.” Adding, “I’ll turn down invites out because I’m so uncomfortable baring my legs or sweating in front of people.” Humidity in particular plays a large role in how she feels about the summer months, saying it “worsens the body image stuff, I’d say, just because it wrecks my hair so makes me even less confident.”
Although Deborah Godji makes an effort to socialise during the summer months, she’s not immune to how the heat exaggerates her self-consciousness, saying she gets “worried about sweat patches, and annoyed because the heat is unrelenting and uncomfortable.”
What can you do to lessen bad moods caused by hot weather?
Although Ellen says she spends most of the summer “counting down the days until it’s cold again”, the journalist finds that tackling the physical aspect of her discomfort helps. “I just try to avoid going outside much and try anything I can to tackle sweat, chub rub, and all the other hot weather discomforts,” she says.
Leigh-Phillips recommends that “being well-slept is a great first step in restoring a heatwave-induced energy slump”.
In preparation for the next heatwave, Dr Senn suggests that two things are crucial to getting your summer sleep just right: “Wear natural cotton pyjamas as these will enable your skin to breathe while also absorbing any sweat you may produce, and keep the blinds or curtains drawn in the bedroom during the day to prevent the room heating up – leaving you with a nice cool space to head to bed in.”
According to Dr. Tang, some relief can come from simple actions. Making “minor tweaks to your routine, such as walking your dog, or going for a run at a different time, can make a difference to not only the action itself, but also to your anticipation of it.”
Image: Getty / Mango Productions
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