Six Ways to Keep Your Mind & Body CoolJul 24, 2018
By Henry Emmons, MD
Do you notice yourself feeling irritable in the heat of summer? Overly critical? Agitated or impatient? Or just sapped and lethargic?
You may not know that serotonin (that soothing, feel-good brain chemical that is so associated with mood) can get depleted in the summer just as it can in the winter. I think of serotonin as a “brain coolant" because it helps protect the brain under extreme conditions like high heat. This hard work can deplete serotonin. In effect, when air temperatures go up, serotonin levels go down. Some speculate that this may explain the increase in violence seen during the hottest days of summer.
Another way to think about what’s going on in your body during the hot months is through the lens of Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine from India. Ayurveda views the summer months as the pitta season. Pitta is one of the primary mind-body types and is associated with a somewhat fiery personality and a more driven nature. When imbalanced, folks with this type may develop some of the symptoms described above. I call this the “Fire Type,” and people who are built this way can have a lot of trouble with the heat. Even if you aren't a Fire Type, you might benefit from a few simple measures to keep your cool in the summer.
Six Ways to Keep Your Mind and Body Cool
(see below the image for more details on each)
1. Keep a Steady Routine
A steady routine is really helpful. Aim to get up and go to bed at the same time each day and keep regular mealtimes. Eat an early, light dinner and never skip meals or wait to eat until you’re overly hungry. And be sure to keep a healthy balance between work and play.
2. Eat Cooling Foods
Focus on light, summery foods (e.g., lots of fresh fruits and vegetables). Splurge on an occasional BBQ if you like, but generally eat only modest amounts of protein, especially red meat. Also aim to minimize spicy foods and greasy foods.
At NMH, we recommend these cooling foods:
- Dairy: Milk, cream, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, egg whites
- Meats: Smaller servings of chicken, turkey, shrimp
- Beans and Legumes: Tofu, lentils, garbanzo, small black or red beans
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds
- Oils: Olive, walnut or coconut oils; ghee (clarified butter)
- Grains: Barley, oats, wheat, white rice, amaranth
- Vegetables: Tender salad greens, leafy vegetables, asparagus, celery, zucchini, green beans and peas; cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts). Consider avoiding nightshades (e.g., potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) as they can cause joint pain in people prone to inflammation.
- Fruits: Apples, cherries, grapes, mangoes, melons, oranges, pears, peaches, pineapple, coconut, pomegranates, plums, raisins, all types of berries
- Herbs and Spices: Cardamom, coriander (cilantro), parsley, basil, mint, cinnamon, cumin, dill, fennel, lemon and lime, peppermint, saffron, turmeric
3. Move to Cool
More regular exercise is beneficial, but be careful that it doesn’t become overly competitive. Swimming and other water sports are ideal. Head to the pool or exercise in nature (especially near water) and doing so with others is a plus. Consider paddling, walking, and easy biking.
4. Prioritize Sleep
If you have mild agitation, you may find that you often wake and ruminate in the middle of the night (typically between 2-4 AM). Help ease this by heading to bed early even with the longer days. You can set aside 30-45 minutes for a relaxed bedtime routine to help you get ready for bed. Try setting the lights low, turn off the computer or TV, read a story, or take a cool shower or bath.
5. Try Aromatherapy
Better yet, try aromatherapy + self-massage! Use sunflower or coconut oil (both of are cooling oils) and add a few drops of a soothing essential oils like mint, rose, or sandalwood. Try our Soothing Aromatherapy Blend or, if you need a mood booster, the Uplifting Aromatherapy Blend.
6. Balance Your Breath
Try left nostril breathing, a yoga technique. Here's how: Inhale through the left nostril and exhale through the right, covering the other side with your thumb or forefinger. Do this for just a few minutes, or until you feel rebalanced and de-stressed.
Still hot? Do your best to stay cool and dry, particularly during those scorcher/humid days. Stay out of the hot sun when you can and protect yourself with loose-fitting clothing and hats and sunglasses. You may need to reduce your exercise or choose the coolest time of the day for more vigorous activity.
If you have more questions about calming your Fire, head to the Natural Calm and/or Natural Joy categories and take the sub-type quiz. You may find that you're "Agitated" or "Reactive" and can learn some tailored cooling strategies as these sub-types share similarities with the Fire type. If you instead find you're a different sub-type, you'll still learn ways to soothe and calm your system uniquely for your type.
Stay cool, friends!
Nearly everyone feels better when their serotonin levels are optimal. It has such a wide array of functions, involved with everything from sleep to appetite to impulse control to sexual desire. It's the brain chemical that helps soothe you when you feel stressed or threatened, and it offers considerable protection to the brain against the damaging effects of cortisol. Read more.>>>