“Chill out, bruh,” * – an anonymous online reply to a Thread about mental health tips. It might mean: “Relax brother” – you are loved, we are one. Yet it may also be helpful taken literally – “Get cooler brother,” you may be overheated and that can literally lead to an increased heart rate which may be interpreted as anxiety, fear, or even anger and lead to emotional explanations for a feeling that was actually caused by a physically too hot summer day, or too many layers of clothing or blankets in a room that got over hot.
*Before getting into more detail, a disclaimer – the phrase chill out or bruh are not things I would typically say, it just caught my attention. Like telling a woman to smile, saying chill out to someone might be more like pouring gasoline on a fire than a bucket of water – it just might make the person more angry because you are interfering. Asking if they would like you to get them a glass of water might be more helpful.
The rate of violence does tend to increase during hot summer months but can also be higher during warmer winter days compared to cooler ones. Violence rates during summer months on average are about 7% higher than in winter months and the rate of disorderly conduct is about 9% higher during summer months. (1)
With the expected increases in average temperatures due to climate change, planning ahead for the cooling needs of communities may help keep people happier, safer, and healthier.
Overheating is bad for the brain and the heart, and may increase insomnia/poor sleep.
Other risks of overheating can be more about personal health than anger and violence – being overheated regularly can result in having a more rapid heart rate regularly, which may increase long term health risks to the cardiovascular system (2) and possibly to the brain. Hot flashes can be a factor in heart palpitations that women may feel during menopause. (3) More hot flashes during menopause may be a risk factor involved in the increased rate of Alzheimer’s dementia for post-menopausal women compared to younger women and men. (4) Symptoms of cardiovascular problems in women may be more subtle than acute chest pain and women may not seek help in time to prevent a heart attack. (Mayoclinic.org/heart disease symptoms in women, 5)
Hot flashes can also occur during more severe autoimmune disease or alcohol withdrawal in more severe alcoholism, (6), but the symptom would typically be called night sweats instead of hot flashes. Night sweats can also be a side effect of some types of medications and may occur with anxiety disorders and other health conditions in addition to autoimmune disease. (Mayoclinic.org/Night sweats causes (7)) People with autoimmune disease, cardiovascular or thyroid problems may be at more risk of overheating than people of more typical health. Younger children, Senior Citizens, and pregnant people would also be at more risk of overheating.
Poor sleep quality might be part of the cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s health risk of being overheated. Our body and brain temperature normally chills, literally cooling down, before we drift off to sleep and the temperature of our brain remains cooler during sleep than during our awake hours. Insomnia tends to involve more active thoughts seemingly disrupting the ability to relax and go to sleep but it also involves, literally, the brain staying at normal body temperature instead of cooling. Gel packs designed for sprained ankles that can be kept in the freezer may be helpful during insomnia or at other times when overheated. Wrap the freezer temperature gel pack in fabric and place it on the forehead while trying to relax before sleep or at other times when feeling overheated.
- More about this topic in previous posts: Sleep and Health.
- While we sleep our brain size shrinks allowing more fluid to flow around it which brings nutrients and removes toxins or breaks them down for reuse by the brain. See the post: Glymphatic system – yes- sleep helps protect against Alzheimer’s dementia
- Another brain cooling strategy that might help with relaxing when insomnia and racing thoughts are a problem: Dimethyl glycine (DMG) is an amino acid that has calming and relaxing effects in the brain. It may be low in vegetarian or vegan diets as meats are a good source. It is available as a powder from weight lifting types of companies online. One quarter to one half teaspoon of the DMG powder mixed in a lower acidity* fruit juice or water taken before bed may also help the body and brain to cool down to a pre-sleep temperature. (*An amino acid is a normal part of protein foods and the pure powder is an acid making plain water seem tart like lemonade, without the lemony flavor, so mixing it with a low acidity juice like blueberry, apple or pear juice makes a milder beverage than adding orange or lemon juice.)
Poor sleep quality can increase risk of dehydration and harm to kidney health because less of a hormone involved in hydration is made (vasopressin). We lose about a liter/quart of water during sleep anyway so a good health habit to start with each morning is a glass or two of water before reaching for a caffeinated beverage like coffee which is a diuretic. (8)
Relaxing can also involve our thoughts, and practicing mindfulness/meditation can help our brain learn more calming habits even when not meditating.
Our thoughts certainly can be part of insomnia, anger, or other emotional over reactions. The practice of mindfulness can help retrain the brain to react more calmly with acceptance of whatever the situation is – overheated? – make a paper fan, get a glass of water, remove a sweater, instead of more proverbially getting hot under the collar – angry at someone or something else. Yes, the office is too hot, or the day is too hot, or the blankets are too hot, getting more angry about it just gets the brain more active and even hotter physically. Thinking uses a large amount of energy and creates heat. We lose about 60% of our body temperature from our heads which is why wearing a hat in cold temperatures can help you stay warm.
Mindfulness or meditation may seem mysterious but it is quite simple – being present, noticing the anger at the overheated feeling and letting it go in the moment rather than focusing it more on the thermostat or fossil fuel companies. Short term reactions can be coped with calmly which frees up more brain energy for planning a constructive response to the concern such as helping to organize the building of a local recycling center. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes seven underlying attitudes to try to include in the practice of mindfulness in his book Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, (9). Whatever you are doing can incorporate a more mindful attitude about it – simply meaning being more in the moment rather than worrying about the past or future or fairness or unfairness.
The attitudes to try to develop for living more mindfully according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, MD, include:
- Non-Judging acceptance of thoughts or feeling, even if judgmental.
- Patience to let time take the time it needs for healing, or for the clock to reach the end of the work day and be present in each moment.
- Beginner’s Mind, a child-like openness to experiences without expectations based on previous experiences or what you may have been told.
- Trust – in yourself and your own understanding of you. Trying to copy someone else’s meditation style is not mindfulness or meditation – so no mysteries – trust what feels right to you – in each moment.
- Non-Striving, let go of goals, especially the goal to relax, or the goal to relax specifically for 15 minutes or 30 minutes or however many minutes – like saying “Chill out, bruh,” you may just get more anxious or angry. Some people may find going for a walk or doing the dishes or sweeping the floor to be meditatively relaxing.
- Acceptance – of your current state of health or other issues can help work through stages of grieving if need be rather than staying angry or in denial about the issues. Appreciating your body and life in the now can help free up energy to work towards changing things rather than being stuck in anger or denial or mired down in depression. Change happens, getting old is not for sissies, to paraphrase Bette Davis.
- Letting Go or non-attachment – we tend to cling to positive experiences and don’t want them to end and resist negative experiences and try to avoid thinking about them or doing them – but the dishes still need to be washed. Mindfulness or meditation works towards accepting both positive and negative without clinging or resisting. “Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be,” to quote Doris Day’s famous song lyric.
- Bonus attitudes that are helpful for living mindfully according to Jon Kabat-Zinn: Non-harming, generosity, gratitude, forbearance, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, empathic joy, and equanimity. (pages 21-31, 9)
Full Catastrophe Living may seem like a negative title for a book about mindfulness however Jon Kabat-Zinn explains his reasoning in the introduction. Life is full of ups and downs and acceptance of the catastrophes and the joys is life. The downs help make the ups that much more joyful and today’s catastrophe is tomorrow’s funny story or important lesson.
In Cognitive regulation treatment patients are taught to modify their thinking in ways that can help modify their emotions. What we think about what we are feeling can make things better or worse for our mood and for our health. Four basic strategies or lessons for patients to learn and practice are described in a research article about an area of the brain that may be involved in helping us control our fear response. (10)
- Changing what we are thinking about an issue can help us modify our emotions and reactions to the issue.
- The experiences that a person has had in the past may help us control our feelings about new experiences.
- Learning new information can help us modify our thoughts and emotions about an issue or event.
- ‘Catastrophizing’ can be a common thought process where irrational thinking about an issue can lead us to believe that things are worse than they really are.
Whether a catastrophe is real or as bad as we think it seems, accepting the situation can help us calm down enough to cope with it better. Overheated bodies may make us feel angry or anxious and pausing to recognize those feelings, ‘Gosh I am sweaty and thirsty, and cranky and maybe I should get a glass of cold water before making this important phone call,’ can help save us some real catastrophes of our own making.
Cooling down and calming down can also help protect our heart and brain health as over stressed and/or overheated can increase flow of calcium and glutamate into our cells through TRP channel membranes that can be opened by high temperatures. (11) Ten deep breaths and one glass of cool water can be helpful for our body, brain, and mood.
- Patrick J. Skerrett, Heat is hard on the heart; simple precautions can ease the strain. July 22, 2011, health.harvard.edu https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/heat-is-hard-on-the-heart-simple-precautions-can-ease-the-strain-201107223180
- Stephanie Watson, Menopause and Heart Palpitations: Is there a link? Nov 18, 2016, healthline.com, https://www.healthline.com/health/menopause/menopause-and-heart-palpitations
- Hamiliton J, Estrogen Might Have a Role in Alzheimer’s Prevention After All, July 23, 2018, npr.org, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/07/23/630688342/might-sex-hormones-help-protect-women-from-alzheimer-s-after-all-maybe
- Heart Disease in Women: Understand Symptoms and Risk Factors, mayoclinic.org, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-disease/art-20046167
- Monico N, Night Sweats and Alcohol: Why Alcohol Makes You Hot, alcohol.org, last updated Nov 22, 2019, https://www.alcohol.org/effects/warm-flushed-skin/
- Night Sweats Causes, Mayoclinic.org, https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/night-sweats/basics/causes/sym-20050768
- The Relationship Between Water And Sleep Is A Two Way Street – How To Avoid Dehydration. Feb 17, 2019, thesleepdoctor.com, https://thesleepdoctor.com/2019/02/17/the-relationship-between-water-and-sleep-is-a-two-way-street-how-to-avoid-dehydration/
- Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, (1990, 2013 revised edition).
- Kroes MCW, Dunsmoor JE, Hakimi M, et al. Patients with dorsolateral prefrontal cortex lesions are capable of discriminatory threat learning but appear impaired in cognitive regulation of subjective fear. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2019;14(6):601–612. doi:10.1093/scan/nsz039 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6688449/
- Yue Z, Xie J, Yu AS, Stock J, Du J, Yue L. Role of TRP channels in the cardiovascular system. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2015;308(3):H157–H182. doi:10.1152/ajpheart.00457.2014 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4312948/