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Lessons Learned from Heat

"Hot under the collar"

"Letting off steam"

"Blood boiling mad"

"Sweating it"


There are so many idiomatic phrases in the English language that refer to heat in connection with negative emotions, like anger, rage, and stress.  As human beings we like being warm and cozy, and getting "warm fuzzies," or "warm hugs," so while the word warm carries a generally positive connotation, heat is a whole different story.  Heat actually inclines us toward anger and stress because at a certain point, our bodies experience heat as a biological stressor, and yet it is an abstract sensation so we often look for emotional triggers to blame.

The heat in south Texas can be brutal, especially when the sun is hot and high in a clear sky.  Air conditioning is a major blessing during these times, in fact it's a necessity for life when the temperature sky rockets into triple digits like it did last Friday.  But what happens when the air conditioning is out or you are in a location where there is little escape from the heat?  Emotions run high, and it becomes important to be proactive so that the heat outside our bodies doesn't damage our relationships with self or others. 

Here are 5 tips for keeping your cool this summer:

1. Keep cool... literally

If you find yourself heating up or sweating a lot, make sure you are hydrated and find ways to keep your body temp down. Drink water, not sodas, when you feel hot, and avoid alcohol. If you know you're going to be in the heat ahead of time, be prepared. A squirt bottle of water and a battery operated personal fan can go a long way, as can a damp neck cloth. Keep the sun off your skin with a hat or parasol, and wear light weight, breathable fabrics. 

2. Watch your volume

I don't mean your music!  When you are talking with someone about a potentially upsetting or irritating subject, especially with the people you care about, watch how loud your voice gets. It is easy to get emotionally charged and if your voices start to raise you might find that the conversation becomes an argument and begins to heat up.  So keep cool. 

3. Work hard, but chill out

Ok, what if you are having to work in the heat?  Maybe your office gets hot, or you have to work out-of-doors. There is a reason people take vacations in the summer, but if you are working, how do you keep up your productivity in the heat?  Take periodic breaks to get hydrated and do the opposite of what your work requires. If you have a desk job, walk a bit. If you have a job that requires physical exertion, sit down for a moment. If you find your emotions getting the better of you, call a time out for a bathroom break, cool down for a moment, and then return to the conversation or task. 

4. Teamwork

Relationships are often the victims of the stress brought on by heat, so take a proactive approach. If you find that you react to the head with a shorter temper, have a plan for recognizing the problem. In public, have a word or phrase, or even a gesture, that your spouse or significant other can use to alert you to your increase in irritability without making you more angry or shamed. For my spouse and I, the signal is a flashlight on our phones, or the word flashlight.  If one of us uses that signal, the other one will stop what they are saying or doing, take a deep breath, and do a self system check like this one:

     a) Am I raising my voice?

     b) Do I need a time-out?

     c) Should I rephrase my last statement?

     d) Am I experiencing stress and using this interaction as an outlet?

If the honest answer to any of these is "yes" or even "sort of..." then the next words that come out should be "I'm sorry.  I'm upset and I need to calm down."

5. Take a Cooling Breath

Once your recognize that your emotions have been triggered, the best way to rectify it quickly is to take some deep, slow, diaphragmatic breaths. The more hot we get, physically or emotionally, the more likely it is that we will start breathing shallowly. This triggers/reinforces the stress response in our bodies, so the best way to combat that is a deep belly breath. Try this:

     A) Place one hand about 3 inches in front of your belly button.  Place your other hand on your chest. This step is just for awareness, it is not necessary for the exercise once you have learned it. 

     B) Notice your breathing. How does your belly move when you breathe in?  When you breathe out?

        When you inhale, your belly should expand. It should deflate when you exhale. If you are doing the opposite it is a bad habit that is very common in our culture. Focus on pushing your belly out when you breathe in and pulling your belly button toward your spine when you breathe out. 

     C) Breathe in slowly while counting to 4 in your head. Hold it for the count of 2. 

     D) Breathe out slowly while counting to 4 in your head. Hold it for the count of 2

     E) Repeat C and D 4 times to help your body stop the stress response and start the relaxation response. 

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