Working in a Heatwave – How to Cope in Hot Weather

Working in a Heatwave – How to Cope in Hot Weather

Most of us look forward to Summer and hot weather all year, but it can prove to be too much when hot weather with soaring temperatures outstays its welcome. In the UK, we have seen a record-breaking heatwave peaking over 40C impact our wellbeing, and we need to be prepared if temperatures soar once again. Working during heatwaves, like the one this week, can be uncomfortable, dangerous but it also takes a toll on our mental health.

As an Employment Assistance Programme, should you have an employee with health concerns impacted by heat, or your workers are exposed to heat as part of their working role you can speak to us about referring an employee to an EAP to best help the business. Contact our sales team for more details on 0808 164 3941 or service@lifeandprogress.co.uk

Heatwaves and Mental Health

Heatwaves have a tremendous impact on our physical health, with hospitals filling up with patients suffering from dehydration, cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Prolonged hot weather can also have a recorded impact on our mental health. Heatwaves, and other natural events, have been linked to spikes in symptoms for people suffering from depression and anxiety. Those with bipolar disorder may also suffer from manic episodes because of high humidity and temperature. There is also a measured link between heatwaves and suicide. Researchers have found that for every 1C increase in temperature, there is an increase in mental health related deaths by 2.2%.

The connection between heatwaves and mental health is only exemplified by how hot temperatures affect prescribed drugs for psychiatric illness. One such example can be antipsychotics, which increase the risk of hypertension, making people taking it more vulnerable to heat-related injury, but it also suppresses thirst resulting in dehydration too. Other drug’s effectiveness is also dependent on body temperature and hydration levels, such as lithium, used as a mood-stabiliser for people with bipolar disorder.

Hot Temperature and Behavior

High temperatures impact everyone, affecting our mental health and ability to think, even for people without a mental health disorder. Researchers have found that the areas of the brain responsible for solving complex cognitive tasks are compromised by acute heat. Research has also determined that staff in rooms without air conditioning, during periods of prolonged heat perform 13% worse than their peers in cognitive tasks and had a 13% slower reaction time. When it becomes evident that we’re not working at our best, we can get into an even worse mindset, becoming confused, disorientated, frustrated and possibly aggressive. Levels of aggression are only increased during heatwaves, when we become frustrated at our situation or the people around us. These spikes are a result of complex internal factors for example serotonin, the chemical in our brains affecting our mood and keeping aggression in check, is impaired by hot temperatures.

Coping with Eco-Anxiety

During the UK heatwave, it’s natural to contemplate about the state of the planet, as scientists have determined the prolonged hot weather as a precursor for what’s to come. Eco-anxiety categorises the fear, distress and other negative emotions brought on by thinking on climate change and human inaction. Recent surveys have found that eco-anxiety is negatively impacting 45% of young people’s daily functioning. If your employees are struggling with eco-anxiety, the following methods might help:

  • Use your EAP to find the right professional help.
  • Mindfulness-based techniques, not to downplay the effects of climate change, but to manage the distress it causes you.
  • Get active. Get involved politically or volunteer in local efforts to tackle climate change.
  • Connect with others who appreciate your concerns.
  • Get out into nature, Studies have found going on walks and meditating in nature directly eases eco-anxiety.

Heatwaves and Our Sleep

With temperatures soaring in the UK, many of us are struggling at night and waking up the next day feeling worse for wear. Sleep targets the same regions in our brain which are susceptible to anxiety and stress, meaning when we sleep, we hit a reset button in our brains, waking up feeling refreshed. Studies in 2019 have found that after just 24 hours of sleep deprivation, non-typically anxious test subjects saw a 30% increase in anxiety levels. They found out that emotionally reactive parts of the brain were hyperactive and the regulatory parts of the brain inactive, resulting in more emotions with less control.

Despite the heatwaves, it is critical that we get a good night’s sleep, but this is easier said than done. If your employees are struggling to sleep, encourage them to try the following methods:

  • Set an alarm for you to stop working. Turn off the lights and encourage the mind to relax. Doing this every night will set a routine and make it easier to sleep going forward.
  • Switch off 30 minutes before going to bed. Turn off your gadgets, your phone, and your computer to transition into a calming state.
  • Block out all sound and light. Although the temperature might be keeping us awake, creating a better sleep environment will certainly help.
  • Only sleep in for a couple of hours on the weekend, so that your body isn’t used to those extra hours of sleep come Sunday night.
  • Try relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises to help drift off. You can do this yourself or you can use online tools to help you.

Prevention in High Temperatures

Hot weather affects more than just our mental health and has a toll on our physical health. With heatwaves across the UK, it’s best for us to step out of the sun and into the shade, preferably into an air-conditioned environment. If this is not possible however, you and your staff must take precautionary steps to avoid heat injury:

  • Wear loose-fitting and lightweight clothing.
  • Use sun cream or a wide brimmed hat to protect against sunburn.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Drink 8 glasses of water per day. In cases of extreme heat when salt depletion is common, water can be substituted for electrolyte-rich sports drink. Drink even if you don’t feel like you need to.
  • Never leave anyone or any pets in a parked car.
  • Avoid strenuous activity during the hottest parts of the day.
  • Get acclimated to the hot weather before undertaking strenuous activity.
  • Be cautious if you’re at increased risk.

 

Contact our team for more information on 0808 164 3941 or service@lifeandprogress.co.uk

Leave a comment