The recent heatwave is causing many to be jumpy and irritable. Experts tell Audrey Vijaindren and Beatrice Nita Jay that those with anger management issues must take extra precaution not to blow a fuse in these extreme weather conditions
STUDIES have shown that an increase in body temperature can cause an increase in physical arousal; your heart rate goes up and your blood pressure rises as your body tries to cool off.
“It’s not all in the mind. Hyperarousal is when the body is all keyed up and readied for the fight or flight response,” says Professor Dr Philip George, consultant psychiatrist at the International Medical University.
“The sympathetic nervous system is activated during this period and adrenaline levels increase. This can lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure, and emotional changes.
“This reaction can also be influenced by environmental factors, such as being stuck in a traffic jam, work stress, family disputes, financial woes and a host of other issues.”
Dr Philip says, in a study of healthy participants, after losing just 1.5 per cent of the body’s normal water volume, participants were fatigued, had difficulty concentrating and suffered headaches. They also reported feeling more tense and anxious.
“Physical influences can also play a role, such as being on diuretics that may worsen dehydration during hot weather or an upper respiratory tract infection.
“Of course, psychologically, people with poor stress management skills and mental health issues can find themselves more prone as well. Those who usually react to stress with anger may be more keyed up during hot spells.
“When it gets hot, some people resort to remedies that may worsen their physical condition, such as coffee and other beverages that contain caffeine.
“Some studies show an increase in aggression and violence in the evenings during a hot spell. This is thought to be due to alcohol consumption, which can worsen dehydration and lead to expression of emotions that is usually be under control. So sometimes the remedies we choose when we feel hot can make things worse.”
Dr Philip says another common problem is people tend to exercise less during a heat wave.
“Exercise is an important mode of stress relief and when this is cut down, stress levels rise. It may be important to change the timing of exercise rather than omitting it when temperatures rise.
“Also staying cooped up at home trying to avoid the heat can raise anger levels.”
One sign of anger management problems, he says, is when people react to certain circumstances with much more anger than other people would in similar situations.
“Getting extremely angry about past events or people from your past can be a sign of anger management difficulties. If the past can continue to have a strong hold, it suggests that the person is having a hard time letting go of their anger, which suggests that the person has deeper anger management issues.
“If people are cautious and guarded when they interact with you, this could be a warning sign of anger management problems. Other people could be trying not to anger you by making every possible effort not to provoke or confront you. People with anger problems often have trouble maintaining friends.”
If the current heat wave is causing you to be easily angered, take action immediately, says Dr Philip.
“Anger is a destructive emotion. It can lead to destructive behaviour towards oneself and others. Some short- and long-term health problems that have been linked to unmanaged anger include headaches, digestion problems such as gastritis, insomnia, increased anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, skin problems such as eczema, heart attack and stroke. Anger can have a damaging impact on relationships and quality of work as well.”
Penang-based consultant psychiatrist Dr Ong Beng Keat concurred.
“Heat is an example of environmental stress, much like noise and air pollution, extreme cold and lack of sunlight. This heat stress can potentially overwhelm the body’s ability to deal with heat, leading to physical, physiological and emotional changes.
“Some research suggests that suicides are more common in the late spring and early summer months, a phenomenon which was first observed in the early 19th century.”
A hot environment predisposes a person to heat stress, fatigue and poor sleep that is associated with negative mood changes, such as agitation, irritability and aggression, says Dr Ong.
“Hormonal changes, like cortisol elevation and psychological maladaptation, could be underlying reasons. Warning signs of anger management issues include poor sleep quality, increased anxiety, increased irritability and depression, increased dehydration, delirium or confusion, reduced impulse control, impaired judgment and rage.”
For those who are easily angered, there is hope in this heat, says clinical psychologist Low Mi Yen, who is executive council member of the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology.
“A person under the influence of anger cannot rationalise, comprehend or make good decisions because anger distorts logical reasoning and thought into distorted emotions.
“It is hard for anyone to control something that makes him angry. However, he can learn to control the way he reacts to the anger. Learn to check your aggression and find ways to express your anger appropriately.”
Universiti Sains Malaysia psychologist and criminologist Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat says the temperature can affect one’s state of mind.
“As little as a two-degree change may affect a person’s psychological well-being. Some people may become more irritable and lash out, while others may become sluggish and tire easier.”
She explains that these reactions depend on the individual’s personality type — whether he is an extrovert or introvert.
“Extroverts, or Type A personalities, are more likely to manifest aggressive tendencies, while introverts, or Type B personalities, may manifest more through traits such as dependency and sluggishness.”
Charis Wong, a marriage and family therapist, and director of the KIN & KiDS Marriage, Family and Child Therapy Centre, advises those who have anger management issues to do an online inventory.
“Complete an anger inventory for an overall objective feedback. There are various online sites that offer free services. Novaco Provocation Inventory and the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory are good online sources for a quick self-assessment.
“There are also books, such as The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner for women and Beyond Anger by Thomas J. Harbin for men.”