If you feel more agitated than usual when the temperatures rise, rest assured, most likely there’s nothing wrong with you. It is normal to feel uncomfortable and cranky when we become overheated. There is a reason the English language is loaded with idioms such as “hot and bothered,” “boiling over,” “hot-tempered” or “crash and burn.” (Read on, this article is loaded with them.) In fact, studies have demonstrated higher temperatures are accompanied by higher rates of aggression, violent crimes and global conflicts.
I live in Arizona, which is in the Sonoran Desert, located in Southwestern United States. Our state, which is only a couple thousand miles (3500 km) from the equator, has always had some of the most extreme summer temperatures in the country. We like to downplay it as a “dry heat,” preferable to muggy, humid climates. All joking aside, most recently, we have had some of the highest temperatures recorded on Earth. During those heatwaves, simply walking outdoors can feel like the blast of an open oven door. When the heat is on, we usually go to great lengths just to find shade and stay cool.
One blistering summer day, however, my husband and I nearly crashed and burned.
Our ambitious early morning plans to simply hang kayaks from the ceiling of our garage turned into a lengthy reorganize and purge venture. Our overzealous project spilled into the afternoon heat. Like proverbial frogs in boiling water, we hadn’t noticed the temperature rising, until we both grew increasingly agitated by the hot mess.
Thankfully, in the heat of the moment, we recognized the rising temperature, and not the other spouse, was the culprit. At that point, we took a quick break, cooled off in the air conditioned house, rehydrated ourselves and agreed to a revised plan. We were fired up and committed to finishing it in 30 minutes. We returned to the garage and got it done, without saying much to one another. Project completed. Happy couple. Problem solved.
Not everyone has the luxury to take a break from the heat.
Our planet is experiencing record-breaking temperatures, so it’s getting harder for most of us to escape. Whether it’s due to our job, traffic jams or lack of access to air conditioning, at some point, most of us are feeling the heat.
Research suggests rising global temperatures correlate with increasing aggression and conflict. Studies have shown gun violence rates have also gone up in U.S. cities during the hotter months. Climate change is also fueling cross-border migrations which can give rise to international conflicts and civil wars.
Each of us can do our small part to reduce conflicts, in spite of the heat.
Consider the following options.
Feel the Burn
Students in our courses participate in self-reflection activities that help them understand conflict triggers and our responses to them. As most students discover, it is better to experience the discomfort of conflict in course simulations and self-reflection activities than in real life. That way, when you’re about to hit your boiling point, you can develop strategies for stopping yourself from engaging in ways you may later regret.
Dial it Down
Sometimes it takes an inordinate amount of restraint to go with the flow when we’re agitated with someone, particularly when a conflict is flaring, but that may be what it takes to cool tempers.
According to family mediator, Joy Borum, in addition to courage, respectful engagement in these situations requires ”as much centeredness as one can muster and practice at the moment. Oh, and did I mention as much grace?”
If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen
When you feel agitated at others, particularly in sweltering heat, try to refrain from saying anything. As I mentioned in this article, even if a conflict is brewing, you don’t have to participate. There’s a good chance neither of you is at fault.
Instead of adding fuel to the fire, keep those angry thoughts to yourself when temperatures and emotions are high. Hold onto them for later, and if confrontation is warranted, engage respectfully the other person when cooler heads prevail.
Don’t Burn Bridges
In addition to going easy on others when we’re in the heat of a conflict, Borum, who has practiced for decades as a family lawyer and mediator reminds us not to beat-up ourselves if we don’t get it just right or say something we later regret.
If that happens, to avoid burning bridges, she suggests, “Taking a moment, or an overnight, sometimes to confer with a trusted third party, and get back to the person to say, ‘I think I didn't say what I meant either as clearly and/or as respectfully as I'd meant; and might I give it another try?’”
Keep Your Cool
Take care of yourself physically. Try to stay hydrated and rested as much as possible to minimize heat exhaustion.
Pour Cold Water on It
It may seem overwhelming, but we can also each take simple steps to reduce our carbon footprint and combat global warming. Many of these actions can also save us money, help us become more connected to one another and make the world a little better.
Consider it the glass-half-full approach.
Just as heat can make us more aggressive, our efforts to reduce sweltering temperatures may also invigorate cool-headed interactions.
Together our efforts to cool down the planet and our tempers may just have a snowball effect!
What has worked for you? What differences can you make?
Share your thoughts and comments below.