HEAT WAVE — The Relationship between Mother Nature and Mental Health
‘Heat Wave’ is a more modern term and considered slang for abnormally hot weather that only lasts no more than a couple of days.
Being that it is summertime as I write this and the last few days have broken all kinds of heat records where I live in the Pacific Northwest, I decided I want to talk about this heat. It reached 115 degrees and for those of you who live in generally hotter climates might say, “That is nothing. It gets hotter and for longer where I live.”
Remember, we aren’t equipped for this humid heat as a lot of people don’t have AC units in their homes, and often these units are smaller and not built for huge temperature differences from outside to inside. AC units are not created equal unfortunately. Compassion goes a long way and I hope that people in my area are able to find some relief from this heat because our Pacific Northwestern bodies are not accustomed to this. This kind of heatwave is RARE! They have opened centers in downtown Portland, Oregon (the biggest city I’m closest too) just to provide a place for people to get some relief from this weather.
The rain might never stop us, but I tell you what — if you want to take down Oregon, turning up the heat is the fastest way to do it. Tell you what though, those 90-degree days seem like a cake walk to me now.
Okay, with the heatwave rant over… Let me get to some other thoughts I’ve had while preventing heat stroke.
I’ve talked about my complicated relationship with the sun in the past. As a red head, I get sun sick easily, and having inherited a very fair, Scandinavian complexion, I burn faster than you can say tan. As a kid, I’ve had a couple of bouts of heat exhaustion. It always seemed to be me to overheat first and have to sit out of the summer fun because my breathing would shallow and my head was spinning, preparing for an imminent fainting spell. I thought it embarrassing and often, people didn’t take my pleads to stay inside seriously when the sun was out in full force. Then eventually, if they did get me outside, I would be the first one back inside because I could feel the sun sickness starting to sink in.
Another common side effect of feeling sick from sun exposure and feeling the heat exhaustion setting in would be headaches and a potential flare up of depression. I don’t know about you, but when I start to feel sick or uncomfortable, it usually acts as an invitation for depression to come to the party throwing all kinds of negative confetti everywhere.
Now, I know that A LOT of people suffer from depression or some form of mental illness during the wintertime, because it is dark, cold, and sometimes feels like it will never end. A hopeless pit of despair. However, I feel I am the opposite (hence one of the biggest reasons why I love living in the Pacific Northwest). But I’ve felt like I am one of those people who would rather live in the wintertime instead of summertime. Funny enough, summertime is when depression hits me the hardest usually. The heat and the threat of the sun making me sick gets to me quick, much faster than it would seem people are willing to believe me it seems.
I am always the one under the hat and sunglasses and putting on sunscreen every 30 minutes. I am the one who doesn’t relish in the idea of an island vacation. (There is an internal groan when I think of such things.)
Mental illness can be poked and prodded by your physical environment. I believe that our bodies, depending on our ancestry and adaptations, are more equipped for handling different climates. For me, I am personally not built to spend hours in the sun, but hours in the snow handling dragons or reindeer like my Viking ancestors. My living in Oregon makes it easier (most of the time- except during this record breaking heatwave) for my body to cope with Mother Nature’s forces and helps me take care of my mental state. I’ve always thought it interesting how much the climate in which we live can have such a strong impact on how we feel mentally.
Therefore, with that in mind. It you are having a “hard weather” day wherever you live and you are feeling it stir in your mind and it begins to plummet into the despairing grips of darkness of depression or kick starting panic attacks. Just remember, that it isn’t you or your fault that you feel that way. It is literally outside forces beyond your control. It is important to realize that it isn’t you or something that you have done wrong. It is something that your body physically has a hard time with and there is nothing to be ashamed of.
Learn how to defend yourself from the weather that pulls you down whether that is a dark, cold snowy day or a bright, hot, sunny day. Do what you need to do to keep your body healthy and comfortable so that your mind can also stay healthy and comfortable.
Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go nap in my freezer.