When it comes to warm weather the British are quite perverse. They complain endlessly about grey skies and drizzle and greet warm sunshine with delight and abandon. They rush to parks and beaches and sunbathe ill-advisedly. Before long, the insomnia induced by hot, sticky nights, as well as the clammy discomfort of buses, trains and tubes and stuffy homes and offices begins to get to them. Red-faced and sweaty, many people become cantankerous in the heat, feel oppressed by claustrophobically high temperatures, and are restless and irritable. The longed-for summer weather has become burdensome and a ‘break’ in the weather is talked about, by some people at least, with wistful longing. This cycle is repeated several times over the course of the summer.
Irritability can be very destructive. It is hard to be around someone who suffers from moodiness and grumpiness and those who suffer from heat-induced huffiness may find their inability to control their own moods and behaviour troubling. It is obviously important to keep your internal barometer strictly to yourself. No one wants to be subjected to your emotional highs and lows: your aim should be to project equanimity at all times, and defaulting to affable good manners is a good way of moderating your moods and concealing your inner turmoil.
• Identify the source
You may well be sitting on the tube or a hot and crowded bus feeling prickly and on a short fuse. It only takes a little introspection to realise that you’re feeling cranky because you’re physically uncomfortable, and possibly over-tired because you haven’t been sleeping well. The mood trigger is simple and explicable, and therefore can be managed.
• Beware caffeine and alcohol
If you’re overcome by lassitude, it’s a common reaction to turn to stimulants. Caffeine is an obvious solution to over-tiredness and many of us turn to alcohol when we seek to change our mood. But too much coffee will make you feel hot and hyper, and alcohol – especially if you’re feeling thirsty in the heat and drink copious amounts – will dehydrate you, which may cause headaches and dizziness. The positive effects of drinking – feeling relaxed, communicative and confident – are short-lived and can mutate into more negative feelings such as anxiety, depression and anger. Stick to water (especially in a heatwave).
• Think about the bigger picture
It’s often small things – passing physical discomfort, fatigue, mild stress – that make us irascible. So, once you’re identified what they are, take a moment to gain perspective and accept that there are probably plenty of more important things (job, health, family, friends) to be grateful for, rather than fixating on niggling minutiae.
Taking yourself out of a stressful situation, going for a walk (even if it just a turn around the garden), sit under a shady tree and listen to music, read a book, take a break. The important thing is just to take some time out and calm down.
If you feel you have succumbed to irritability and snapped or lost your temper, apologise as soon as you possibly can. Explain that you were temporarily deranged by heat discomfort (or hunger, insomnia, stress etc.), and emphasise that your disconcerting behaviour was nothing personal.
It’s hard to be around someone who’s tetchy and short-tempered, but there are ways in which you can improve the situation.
• Alert them
Comment on their behaviour. They might well not realise that their bad mood is manifest, so it is always a good idea to alert them to the fact. You don’t need to have a long heart-to-heart on the subject; sometimes it’s just helpful to say something like “oh dear, you seem to be in a bad mood this morning”. While the short-term impact of this sort of statement might be provocative, ultimately the message will get through.
Sometimes you need to spell out how irritability makes you feel. You could say something like “when you speak to me in that tone, you make me feel I’ve done something wrong/offended you”.
If the irritable person is reasonably self-aware, they will probably be able to explain the reasons for their bad temper. You might think these explanations are inadequate and feel that a hot bus journey is not sufficient explanation for an outburst of grumpiness but remember everyone has different triggers and sensitivities so it is best to give them the benefit of the doubt.
• Move on
Try not to hold on to lingering resentment, especially if the offender has offered a polite apology. Certainly, irritability can effectively pollute the atmosphere and may even prove contagious, but it is transitory and soon forgotten, unlike true anger. We all feel tetchy and short-tempered from time to time, so a little empathy and understanding will go a long way.
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