09.07.2020 Feature Article

Hot temperatures can provoke tempers

Hot temperatures can provoke tempers
09.07.2020 LISTEN

Sizzling sunshine, high humidity, sweltering sweat. The recent heatwave scorches our brain and melts our underwear. Why do soaring temperatures lead to soaring tempers?

Body Reactions

According to WebMD, for a typical adult, body temperature can be anywhere from 97 F to 99 F. Babies and children have a little higher range: 97.9 F to 100.4 F.

Physiological reactions alert us to heat. Heart rate increases, breathing intensifies, blood pressure surges. The sympathetic nervous system is triggered—fight, flight, or freeze. Like a siren, the body’s thermostat sends out “WEE-oww-WEE-oww.”

Overheating can also lead to heatstroke. Symptoms include irritability, headache, nausea, confusion, vomiting, lethargy, and can progress to hallucinations, violent behavior, and delirium.

Psychological Reactions

You’re standing in a long line at an outdoor garden center—with only one cashier. Every skin pore is oozing perspiration. Hair is wilting. Makeup is liquifying. You can’t escape the heat, unless you leave the cart (full of stuff) and trot to your airconditioned vehicle. Discomfort produces stress. It’s about control or lack of control. You can’t change the weather or make the line move quicker. I have no control!

Emotional Reactions

Customers start to grumble about only one cashier. Irritation and frustration spread through the crowd. Testy, crabby, and snappy. Humans turn into moody maniacs. Adults groan or complain. Children whine. Grandma gets cranky. Then the dreaded deed happens—a price check. Argh! Ugh! Oh!

Embarrassment from smelly armpits. Alas, my deodorant has failed me.

Mind Reactions

Your thoughts may race when the brain and body is overwhelmed with extreme heat. Why didn’t I wait until later to buy plants? I’m an idiot for going out in this oven. Only one cashier—I’m never shopping here again. Lousy management. The mind goes into the blame-shame game.

Behavioral Reactions

During my recent visits to garden centers during the boiling weather, I did not witness any overheated person throwing veggie plants, smacking the spouse, or becoming naked and afraid. Social norms prevailed.

Instead of road rage, is there heat rage? One study found that drivers are more likely to honk their car horns at stalled cars if they do not have air-conditioning in their own cars on steamy days. Visit

Does heat promote hostility, aggression, and violence? Many studies have concluded that hot weather does, in fact, make people more aggressive. Researchers agree that there is a link between heat and violent outbursts, but they disagree on how, exactly, the weather affects flare-ups and frenzies.

Manage Meltdowns

Stay home when it’s as hot out as a firecracker. Use common sense. And don’t take toddlers shopping on the muggiest day of summer.

Avoid joining the moaning and groaning party with other consumers. And please do not show rudeness to employees. Be glad you can go home to a frosty beverage and a cold shower.

It’s okay to feel aggravated, frustrated, or mad, but it’s not okay to blast others. Go before you blow. Mind your summer manners.

Use cognitive behavioral therapy. Reframe the lengthy line as a temporary challenge that has an end. Change the subject and stop chatting about the heatwave. Sweat serves a purpose. It cools the body down—so stop whining about sweating.

Remember, pigs do not have functional sweat glands. That’s why Wilbur wallows in the mud. Be grateful you don’t have to wear a mud suit during a heatwave.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in U.S.

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