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Broiling? Why we get cranky when it's hot out

Eric Thayer /Reuters

A man wipes his forehead while sitting in Central Park in New York July 5, 2012. Six days after violent storms hit the eastern United States, parts of the east coast and midwest sweltered in the fourth day of a heat wave.

By Rachael Rettner
MyHealthNewsDaily

Hot days certainly take a toll on our bodies, but they can also test our tempers, experts say.

Many people feel a little hotheaded when the mercury rises, said Nancy Molitor, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral science at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

In fact, hot and especially humid weather is known to be associated with increases in aggression and violence, as well as a lower general mood, Molitor said.

That's because trouble sleeping, dehydration and restrictions on our daily actives — such as being cooped up inside all day to avoid the sweltering heat — may all contribute to a worsening mood in warm weather, Molitor said. And a lack of control over the situation may further irritate some people, she said.

If the summer heat has you feeling snappish, Molitor advised avoiding making any important life decisions, because you might make a choice you later regret.

And whether you're at the office or on the road, recognize that people you deal with may also be a bit testy.

"Everyone's fuse is going to be a little bit shorter," Molitor said.

Summer SAD

While it's common to feel a little depressed or grouchy in the summer heat, a small percentage (about 1 or 2 percent) of people experience a summer version of seasonal affect disorder (SAD).

On top of feeling uncomfortable and depressed, people with this condition feel enormously anxious in the summertime, and can even become suicidal, Molitor said. For them, the heat and sunshine are "almost impossible to endure," she said.

Molitor said she suspects that prolonged periods of heat and humidity, as many regions have experienced this summer, may lead to an increase in cases of summer SAD seen by doctors.

Coping with the heat

Molitor urged that people practice common sense in the heat: stay hydrated, and listen to your body. If you're healthy and want to exercise, try to get in your workout in the morning or evening, rather than the middle of the day.

If you take mediations that are diuretics, such as blood pressure medications, you will need to drink even more that usual to stay hydrated, Molitor said.

In addition, focus on aspects of your life you can control, Molitor said, and realize that eventually, it will cool down.

"The average person can withstand this, if they listen to their body," Molitor said.

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