8 Ways to Stay Cool During a Heatwave

As I write this post, it’s 30 degrees inside my office and 36 degrees outside.

Last night, temperatures didn’t drop much below 25.

I know.

I was awake for most of it!

For my little corner of the world here in temperate England, it’s quite a struggle, unless you’re a high temperature lover.

Which, sadly, I’m not.

That’s why today’s post is full of ideas for how to stay cool during a heatwave.

Extreme heat can cause impaired mental function, irritability, nausea, dizziness and fatigue.

On the other end of the scale, the body can overheat so much that it dehydrates, causing complex symptoms such as brain inflammation, putting a strain on the cardiovascular system and even seizures. You can read more about heat exhaustion and heat stroke here.

So while I don’t buy into the mass hysteria the media like to portray, I think it’s wise to be aware of potential dangers and create strategies to keep you and your loved ones comfortable, healthy and safe.

For July’s Monthly Mindfulness Slot, over on Radio Forest of Dean, I shared a simple and fun breathing technique that can help cool you down. And I’ve got other ideas too, for keeping your cool when the mercury rises.

You probably know to keep windows, doors and curtains shut if the outside temperature is hotter than inside. And to reverse that when the temperature drops. You know to keep out of the intense sun when it’s at its hottest (usually between 11am and 3pm). And you’ll know the importance of drinking plenty of fluids. But what about other ideas? Here are some of the things I incorporate at home, and you can try them too.

Before you read on and discover how to stay cool during a heatwave, be aware of two things: these ideas are for PREVENTING the body overheating. If you are suffering from heat stroke, then you’ll need to get appropriate medical attention. And when I talk about cooling the body, using water, we’re talking COOL water, not ice. Tempting as it may be to grab ice packs, it can be shocking to the system to immerse in ice water or wrap ice cubes around yourself! (Although ice bath immersion is a thing – but for another time perhaps!)

So let’s dig in…

how to stay cool during a heatwave

 

It’s all about the wrists and feet

And neck, and temples and elbows!

Have you ever wondered why we’re told to put perfume on pulse points? It’s because these are the areas of the body where blood vessels are closer to the surface. This means more heat is produced here, to warm and diffuse your fragrance.

We can use this information to our advantage during hot weather! By cooling these areas of your body, you can help keep yourself to feel cool.

Pulse points on the body include, but are not limited to:

  • Sides of the neck
  • Insides of elbows
  • Wrists
  • Backs of the knees
  • Temples
  • Inside of the ankles, just below the bone
  • Armpits

If you’re at home, or somewhere where you can sit still, you can soak the feet in a bowl of cool water (try adding a drop of diluted peppermint essential oil to for an extra cooling effect). Or you could take a cool (not cold – unless you’re used to cold water / ice immersion) shower.

If you’re on the move, or in some work places, it might be appropriate to cool your neck, wrists and elbows. To do this, soak a long thin scarf or bandana in cold water and either drape around the neck, or tie around the wrists / elbows.

Alternatively, carry a small spray bottle filled with water and spritz your body throughout the day.

You can also just run your wrists under the cold tap – the effect will be almost instant.

If you’re at home – rather than surrounded by work colleagues – you can wring out a t-shirt with cold water and wear it! You’ll be amazed how quickly it dries and needs replenishing; all the while keeping you feeling more comfortable.

 

how to stay cool during a heatwave - run wrists under water

 

Breathe like this

Scientists have shown, that it is possible for core body temperature to be controlled by using certain meditation techniques. Admittedly, most of these studies have been in relation to increasing body temperature, but there is a simple and enjoyable yogic breathing technique called Sitali that can cool you down and calms the nervous system too. Sitali is a Sanskrit word for ‘cooling’

If you can roll your tongue lengthways, turning it into a straw shape, then that is the position you’re going to use. If you can’t, you can purse your lips as if you’re about to whistle or blow out a candle.

For this technique, you breathe in slowly through your rolled tongue (or through pursed lips), for a count of five. Then pull your tongue in and close your mouth to draw the cool air into your body. You’ll hold that for a second or two. Then slowly breathe out through your nose. And then repeat that a few times.

You can do this technique for two or three minutes, or around 20 breaths. As well as cooling you physically, it’s a lovely technique to do when you feel yourself heating up emotionally, such as with frustration, irritability or stress – which often accompany us when we’re hot.

You can watch some other techniques with this video:

 

It’s not just fluids, it’s electrolytes too

Drinking enough fluid is crucial in extreme temperatures, as you need to replace anything lost by sweating. If you don’t drink enough, the body will preserve its resources and stop sweating, which can lead to over heating.

But not all fluids are created equal. And it’s important HOW you drink.

When we sweat, we lose electrolytes. Electrolytes have many functions in the body, including regulating nerve and muscle function, regulating acidity levels and balancing blood pressure.  This study shows we can lose a considerable quantity of sodium, potassium and magnesium when we sweat in high temperatures.  But there are other electrolytes in the body too, such as calcium, bicarbonate and chloride.

An imbalance can affect the way the body works and lead to a range of symptoms such as irregular heartbeat, changes in blood pressure, numbness, confusion, weakness and muscle spasms.

As well as drinking plenty of water, you may need to give attention to electrolytes. When drinking water, however, be mindful of sipping it throughout the day, rather than drinking a lot in one go. If you suddenly flood your body with water, you might flush out too much chloride which can then lead to an imbalance of electrolytes in your body. You can buy hydration drinks, tablets and sachets, which are fine for emergencies, but these often contain ingredients you might not want such as sugar or artificial flavourings and sweeteners. So you might not want to take them long term.

Fortunately, coconut water and tomato juice provide natural sources of electrolytes. Even a glass of milk can be helpful because it contains natural sugars, potassium and naturally occurring salt. And there are many other foods too. Food Babe shares this brilliant graphic for some ideas you can try:

food babe homemade electrolyte drinks

 

The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests a blend for oral rehydration therapy that contains basic electrolytes. You can experiment with your own recipes which you can find here. In the downloadable pdf you’ll find a simplified version of the WHO blend which you can make at home using just water, salt, bicarbonate of soda and sugar.

Another idea is to keep some electrolyte drops on hand. Keep a bottle in your first aid kit and a travel bottle in your bag or car. I use the Elete brand.

how to stay cool during a heatwave - take more naps

It’s ok to sleep more

It’s easy to become more easily fatigued when temperatures soar, so taking a siesta if possible, or going to bed earlier can be useful.

But it can be hard to sleep when it’s hot, right?

I’ve written before about the importance of a good sleep routine, which includes keeping screens out of the bedroom. So what can you do when you’re lying in a sweat with your mind churning?

Personally I love the Morphee (pictured below). If you’ve not come across it, it’s a beautifully designed, unconnected device that combines mindfulness with sophrology ( a combination of relaxation techniques and breathing exercises), to give you hundreds of audio sessions which help you relax, calm down and rest more easily. You can select nature sounds, guided breathing or visualisations and set the time of your session, so there’s no glaring screen to disrupt your sleep cycle. It’s quite something to immerse yourself in the sounds of a Japanese thunderstorm when the sun is glaring outside or go on a guided visualisation to a lake! (though you might want to save the flickering fire or a trip to the Sahara Desert for the winter months!).

The Little Morphee is great for children and introduces them to visualisations, meditations and guided journeys. I’m super excited about this, as I believe all children should be introduced early on to mindfulness, to support their mental health in today’s world. But its hard to find a way to learn these techniques without apps of blue light. You can see, test out and buy a Morphee from Selfridges or purchase online.

 

morphee sleep and relaxation device

 

Shift your thinking

As I mentioned in my radio slot this week, I’m constantly reminding my clients to monitor their thoughts.

Why? because even how we interpret our state of being hot or cold, can contribute to how well we tolerate extreme temperatures

So if you feel as though the summer heat is unbearable, that thinking alone, can affect your physiology: Your heart rate might increase and your metabolism speed up, which then makes you even hotter and makes the situation feel even worse.

Then you’re in a vicious circle of it being hot, getting stressed about it, feeling even hotter and then getting even MORE stressed!

But how do you relax when you’re, well, a bit hot under the collar?

I’m a huge fan of mindfulness and meditation. So you could take yourself on a inner guided journey where you are swimming in a lake, walking in the mountains or under the shade of a canopy of trees in a cool forest. If you can get into the presence of this sort of meditation, you’ll be surprised by how you might feel. Here’s a guided meditation you can try:

If you’re really struggling with the heat, and your thinking around it, EFT is a fantastic practise that can help you down-regulate any fear and anxiety you might be experiencing. Fear of heat is known phobia (Thermophobia) and it’s also known that for some people, their anxiety peaks during the summer months. Some research suggests that stress hormones are higher in the summer. If you’re already experiencing anxiety, then it makes sense that a spike in temperatures might make anxiety and fear worse.

EFT works by calming down the fear response, reducing cortisol levels and sending messages to the body that you’re safe. Contact me if you’d like to book a session via Zoom.

If it’s good enough for Fido, it’s good enough  for you

I bought myself a gel cool mat, and I haven’t looked back!  Originally designed for dogs, humans are now catching on! A gel filled cooling pad works to cool the body when you lie on it. I admit I don’t fully understand the science, but they work well. What’s great about them is they require no electricity, you don’t have to refrigerate or freeze them, and they replenish themselves when you get off them. So they’re ready for you to use again a short while later.

They aren’t the most comfortable surface to lie on; it’s a bit like lying on a pad of papers with a thick plastic cover, but at least it offers a cooling sensation to your skin. And I’ve found the cooling sensation doesn’t last that long – maybe 20 minutes or so, but hey, everything helps, right?

Stop the icy foods – they’re making you hotter!

It’s natural to crave ice in your drinks and to want to eat ice cream or sorbet when its hot. But this might not be the best thing to do. Your body produces a lot of heat to digest food, and if you put cold things into your system, your body needs to produce even more heat to digest it. I first learned this in my twenties when visiting Egypt. I learned early on that water at blood temperature quenched my thirst far better than icy. Who knew!

Feeling yourself drawn to eating more lightly and craving salads and fruit? There’s a reason for that. Many salads and fruits have a high water content. Some of the foods with the highest water content include strawberries, melon, cucumber and lettuce. Counter intuitively, hot, spicy foods can be helpful during high temperatures as they raise your body temperature which makes you sweat, which in turn cools you down more quickly. So go ahead and eat curry or dahl for lunch! You also might find your appetite reduced. Again, there’s a very good reason – your body wants to reduce activities that generate heat, such as the digestion of food. Our bodies are so clever aren’t they?!

Be mindful of how much you eat and WHEN you eat too. Whenever we eat, our digestion has to work hard. And if you eat too late at night, it can keep your core body temperature elevated which can disrupt your sleep (the body naturally cools before we drop off to sleep)

how to stay cool during a heatwave - eat cooling foods

 

The energetics of food

Another approach to food which fascinates me, is Chinese food energetics which comes from the Traditional Chinese Medicine model. I learned about this in the early 1990s from Daverick Legget, who has dedicated his life to educating people about this topic. In the west we focus more on proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals in our foods. Chinese food energetics adds other components such as the thermal nature of food – is is cooling, warming or neutral, for example. And is also concerned with the tastes and their effects on the body – such as bitter, sweet, sour and so on.

When referring to foods which are either hot or cold, this isn’t based on the temperature of foods but represents the effect on our metabolism after initial digestion. In other words, it describes the temperature changes that they cause within the body. So you want a balance of warm and cool foods for good health, but during a short heatwave,  you might err towards the cooler foods for a day or two.

Examples of cooling foods, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine include spinach, bananas, soy sauce, radishes and yogurt. You can read a simple introductory book on the subject called Helping Ourselves. If you want specific recipes, then he’s written another book called Recipes for self healing