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Why Extreme Heat Can Make You Feel Angry, According to Experts

Why Extreme Heat Can Make You Feel Angry, According to Experts

If you’ve heard the weather guy say “It’s a scorcher out there!” this summer, it’s safe to assume he means pretty much…everywhere. At this point, it may be easier to count how many regions across the United States have not experienced major heat waves—and we still have a couple of months of sweating to get through. The National Weather Service is warning of “dangerously hot conditions” for large swaths of the country and has issued widespread heat advisories and excessive heat warnings.

This summer has been one for the books, too. According to the Associated Press, July has likely been “the warmest month human civilization has seen,” meaning the Earth experienced its hottest day on record. Phew!

So it’s safe to say: It’s extremely hot out there. And while we know the severe effects prolonged heat can have on our physical health—excessive sweat, dehydration, and a higher risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, among others—these sweltering temperatures can also significantly affect our mental well-being. Namely, the heat can make many of us exceedingly cranky and, in some cases, downright angry.

“In grad school, they would always talk about how there are higher rates of murder when temperatures go up,” Thea Gallagher, PsyD, clinical assistant professor of psychology at NYU Langone Health and co-host of the Mind in View podcast, tells SELF. (Morbid, we know.)

But it may come as a comfort to know, however, that your desire to throw a little tantrum each day that pushes 100 degrees is not exactly surprising, experts say.

“As temperatures rise, we can become more emotional and angrier,” Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and creator of Mental Drive, tells SELF. “But only as we move from relative comfort to relative discomfort. As we become more physically uncomfortable, our ability to manage our emotions is diminished.”

Dr. Klapow adds that your nervous system releases adrenaline and other “fight or flight” chemicals to try to manage a higher temperature, which your body perceives as a threat. “So the hotter our bodies get, we lose our ability to manage impulses associated with that discomfort,” he explains. “We become more impulsive emotionally because we are focused on regulating our bodies.”

For example, your heart rate tends to increase in super-hot conditions, Dr. Gallagher explains. “When that happens, we have less patience because our bodies are trying to manage our physical symptoms,” she says, “and you have a shorter fuse as a result.”

Some research backs this up. One 2021 meta-analysis and review of research, published in the journal Environment International, found a correlation between higher average temperatures and poor mental health, suggesting that there’s a slight (2.2%) increase in mental health-related mortality per every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit rise in temperature. The authors of the paper note studies have found that mental health-related hospital admissions and emergency department visits for conditions like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and others increased with high temperatures.

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