How Extreme Heat Affects the Mind

I live in Northern California, which is no stranger to heat during the summertime. It’s a dry heat that bakes you from the outside in. However, I also used to live on the East Coast, where the heat combined with high humidity drains the water out of your body by forcing you to sweat more.

But how does heat affect your mind? A few hot days in the summer won’t really affect your brain’s ability to function. Yet continuous exposure to high temperatures with little to no relief can really start doing crazy things to your brain.

Heat Hallucinations

Have you ever watched a movie where people are walking through a desert and they are hallucinating about an oasis of water? That movie device is based on truth. When your body is dehydrated or you are experiencing heat stroke, your brain’s lack of fluids can cause hallucinations and confusion.Hallucinations can actually get you killed in otherwise touchy situations like going through high speed traffic. One way to avoid dehydration is to hydrate BEFORE you expose yourself to the heat if you can help it. For example, if you know you will be outside in high temperatures, drink plenty of fluids the night before and not just when the sun hits its peak.

Mood Altering Heat

Another mental side effect of long heat exposure is mood alteration. This doesn’t just happen with individuals; entire groups that normally get along can get testy. Part of the blame is the general uncomfortableness of heat. If you notice, this isn’t as much of a problem on a beach or water park because the source of relief, i.e. cold water, is all around you. Prolonged exposure to heat can feel unbearable, no matter how much fluid you take in to combat the temperatures. Human interaction now involves a high temperature body communicating with another high temperature body. Every human being has their limit, and when groups of human beings are exposed to the same extreme, conflict can happen.

The best way to combat heat-induced moodiness is to first recognize it and try to remove yourself from situations involving groups unless you’ve found a source of cooling. You should also have grace and patience with those experiencing the same heat problems. There’s no sense in raising your body temperature even higher by getting involved with unnecessary conflict.


Depression is no stranger to heat, either. Some clinically depressed patients actually experienceSeasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the summer months and not the winter months. Under extreme heat conditions, it can be tough to have a regular sleep schedule. Depressed patients often rely on a regular sleep schedule to stave off symptoms like insomnia. If depressed people don’t like heat, they can be forced to say inside, which reduces socialization. Summer months can play on a person’s self-esteem and body issues because they are wearing less clothing during the summer. Summer months can also be expensive, which can add to the financial aspect of depression.

Written by  Paul Bright

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