In Dean Burnett's article, Cruel Summer: how hot weather makes people angrier, he looks at the psychology behind why people are more angry when it's hot. He says that one reason might be because when it's hot, higher temperatures increase heart rate, testosterone, and stimulate the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for our fight-flight response. Another reason he suggests is due to discomfort. When people have no control over their discomfort this tends to make them angry, and usually they then displace this anger onto something else, like the person driving the car in front. It might also be due to something called cognitive neoassociation theory, which says that when people experience something negative, like being hot and uncomfortable, they tend to have a similar predisposition to anything they associate with it. So a person might also associate traffic jams, crowded beaches and shopping centres with being hot, and so have a similar negative feeling about them. Dean also notes that there are 'numerous theories' which also handily creates room for me to look at this from a counselling perspective, using some of the principles of formative psychology developed by Stanley Keleman.
Keleman's idea is that as we grow and develop we 'form' different shapes with our bodies in response to our environment. It is these shapes that lead to emotion. You can demonstrate this idea by deliberately tensing yourself into an 'angry', 'scared', 'happy' or 'sad' shape. For instance my default angry shape is to tense the back of my shoulders and along my neck - and if I copy this I will start to feel a rising sense of irritation, even though I was completely relaxed and calm. Others working in the field, notably Gerhard Zimmerman have developed the idea of seeing this as a dialogue. So rather than the usual idea that the mind controls and decides what the body does, formative psychology sees it as more like an endless conversation, with the mind responding to the body, and the body responding to the mind.
When someone gets angry, apart from the change in expression, increase in muscle tension, and rise in loudness of voice, the other obvious change is colour. People when they are angry often go very red. This is caused by the blood vessels in the skin opening up to allow more blood flow, and the person may also start to feel hot. Also when looking at language around anger, we very often use this metaphor of heat to describe anger. Angry people are 'hot tempered', an angry confrontation becomes 'it got pretty heated in there', and calming down is often called 'cooling off'. This metaphor of heat is often translated into internal descriptions, so people might liken their anger to being a volcano, or a pressure cooker, and often the emotion itself is depicted as red, which is a 'hot' colour.
So as summer comes the temperature starts rising; our bodies start getting hot; and the continual dialogue between body and mind becomes something like,
Body, "I'm hot,"
The value in understanding anger this way, as a conversation between body and mind, is that enables us to control our anger by working directly with our bodies. So, by allowing shoulders to relax, deliberately changing breathing to a slower pace can help us stay calm and in control.
A few years back I went to Morrocco, and was greeted by a wall of heat when I left the air-conditioned confines of the aircraft. I was definitely uncomfortable, and a bit irritable, and I wondered how Morrocan's dealt with this heat. On a guided tour of Marrakesh, I noticed how the tour guide walked carefully, slowly and calmly, and he seemed completely unbothered by the heat. So I copied him. I stopped rushing round trying to see everything, and instead began to move my body in tune with the temperature, which was slowly, deliberately and calmly. I felt less bothered by the heat, and instead started to enjoy it.
And yes, from a counselling viewpoint, I could talk about 'clever' techniques, however I think that the conversation between body and mind can also be quite a simple one. Maybe when we are hot and bothered, what our bodies are really telling us, is to cool off - like literally cool off just like the child in the title photo.
Title image by kakisky