Sad? Irritable? Angry? Summer Heat May be to Blame

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Updated: July 18th, 2021 | Read time: 4 minutes

If your inner grumpster comes out in the heat, you are not alone: A 2017 study in the European Journal of Social Psychology confirms that uncomfortably hot environments make us less likely to help others in need. Soaring temperatures put a damper on prosocial behaviors, such as kindness and generosity. The researchers demonstrated that hot and muggy environments increased fatigue and reduced positive mood, which directly led to less helping behavior.

Frustrated Woman With Back Against Window and Eyes Closed to Represent Concept of How Heat Affects Mood |

How heat affects mood

Knowing that a heat wave will or can induce frequent grumpiness may help you better anticipate—and possibly prevent—the summertime discontents.

If you have a recurring, yearly pattern of summer emotional lulls, you might actually be experiencing summer seasonal affective disorder, a less common and much less understood counterpart to seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, the recurring pattern of depression that comes on in fall and winter.

Yes – summer SAD is a thing. It has a slightly different spin than winter SAD, however. Summer heat creates an agitated depression, expressing through insomnia and lowered appetite, whereas winter’s lack of sunlight causes some people to overeat and oversleep. For people with summer seasonal affective disorder, what bothers them most is the heat and humidity.

Summer weather and mood: other mental health effects

Whether or not your heat related moodiness is caused by SAD, heat can wreak havoc on your equilibrium. In a 2008 study published in the journal Emotion, researchers found that climate-related factors like temperature, sunlight, wind and precipitation had no notable impact on positive mood, but that temperature, wind and sunlight did have an effect on negative mood.

Additionally, many studies show that warmer temps increase adverse mental health outcomes—in other words, heat can make you nutty. Warmer weather can also lead to an increase in violent crime.

According to the New York Times, “The relationship between temperature and crime has been discussed for decades. Fewer people are murdered in America during colder months than during warmer ones.” One reason? More people are out and about, for longer time periods, coupled with the fact, as previously mentioned, that that uncomfortably hot temperatures increase irritability. If that irritably goes full throttle, it can lead to aggressive behavior, including violent crime.

By the same token, suicide rates also spike in the heat. One study found that that increasing average monthly temperature by 1°F leads to a 0.48% increase in mental health [emergency department] visits and a 0.35% increase in suicides. A 2018 study in the journal Nature Climate Change found that both suicide rates and social media posts using language signaling lower mood increased as higher temperatures rose in the United States and Mexico. The fear is that as climate change increases, so will summer depression, possibly leading to heightened violence and more suicide deaths.

Coping with the heat may be the ultimate form of self-care and mental health preservation.  Here are 10 ways to keep your cool.

Tips for staying cool in summer heat 

Sleep it off

Heat can make it difficult to sleep, and sleep deprivation, in turn, can exacerbate your mood. Get crisp percale sheets (breathable and wicking), darken your room, and practice good sleep hygiene. If it’s a heat wave, try dampening a sheet at night and laying it over you.

Cold showers/baths

Take brisk, invigorating cold showers or baths to cool down. If you’re at the office, even running your wrists under cold water can help you with thermal regulation by cooling down the blood flowing through your veins.

Limit the light

Intense summer light can be irksome: Decrease exposure with dark glasses or curtains. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, closing curtains and blinds (ideally with sun-deflecting white on the window side) can reduce the amount of heat that passes into your home by as much as 45 percent.

Mist on, mist off

Keep a misting fan at your desk. Or keep a spray bottle in the refrigerator, and when the going gets hot, give yourself a generous spritz. As the water evaporates, it cools you.

Be an early bird or a night owl

Get your movement/outside time done early in the morning, or later in the evening, to avoid exercising in the peak heat.

Accessorize for the sun

If you have to be out in the sun, wear a hat or use an umbrella for extra protection and to block out some of the sun.

Dress accordingly

Wear one of the widely available synthetic fabrics designed to wick away sweat and that sticky feeling. If you prefer cotton, make it thin, light colored, and loose. Loose, billowy clothes allow air movement next to the skin and help with evaporation.

Nix the oven

Give your oven a summer vacation. If you cook, use the stovetop, the microwave, or a barbecue.

Eat cooling foods

There’s a reason we are drawn to fresh fruit and salads during summer. Cooling foods, such as watermelon and mint, keep you hydrated and restore balance and calm to the body’s natural systems. Fun fact: The menthol in mint has also been shown to trigger a cold sensation in the brain, calming the mind.

Hydrate, hydrate hydrate

When you’re hot, you’re more likely to suffer from dehydration. Dehydration definitely impacts your mood. A 2012 study that looked at young women found that after losing about 1.5% of their body’s normal water volume, the study’s participants were tired, tense, anxious and had difficulty concentrating.