The brain on heat

I know I’ve worked it out because I’ve managed to write a blog post.

It’s such a wonderful release. There is this weight. And then it’s gone.

I can happily report I’m not going potty. Not yet anyway.

But there’s always a little niggle: ‘Is this the right answer?’ Sometimes, it can feel so right and turn out so wrong. History is awash with examples, both generally and personally.

So, have I got it right this time?

We’ve just had a stinking hot summer, one of the worst on records, and I achieved very little. It turns out the two are related.

I came to that conclusion when I looked back over the summer months. The first piece of the puzzle was realising that weekends and evenings were a serious disappointment but work days were fine.

Work days were spent in air-conditioning; someone else’s air-conditioning.

I turned to the internet, asked it about the effect of heat on cognitive performance and explanations came spilling out of it’s search results. (PS. Using big words in your search criteria is more likely to get you to helpful scholarly articles rather than other people’s blog posts!)

There are, of course, variations between different people and different locations. Some will experience the effects more than others. However, it’s the sliding scale between complexity and simplicity that interests me. Simple mental tasks are less likely to be affected by the heat than complex ones.

Really, I felt a bit stupid when I read that. I know that heat is a problem. I know that. But when heat has already dumbed down the brain cells, where do we find the cognitive reserves to point the accusational finger at the weather.

Of course, if I’d thought about it at work … under the air-conditioning …

It’s my own silly fault. With the summer heat starting earlier than usual in November, I’ve lost nearly five months of momentum.

But more worrying was spending so much of that time feeling a bit lost. How it must affect people older than me!


This morning, I noticed the first autumn leaves on the sidewalk. It was a surprise as we’ve only just dipped into the low to mid 20s. It’s still very summery, but I took it as encouragement.

It’s time to take advantage of the change in weather and put some of that restored cognitive nous to work.

Not everyone looses the plot during the hot summer months. Why?

I had absolutely no problem with the washing and ironing. They were the most consistent of activities through the worst of the heatwaves. They are simple tasks, well embedded in the muscle memory with nothing to tax the brain cells. Yet I did manage to relocate the ironing board to a breezeway. Perhaps not a particularly complex task but at the very least it did involve a bit of problem solving.

They were also essential tasks to ensure I retained access to that air-conditioning.

And this is where I think women with children learn a valuable lesson early in life. Stuff that has to be done gets done. When external forces impose themselves, there is power in …

The Schedule

How can we maintain momentum over the summer months without resorting to air-conditioning? Women have been doing it long before manufactured air-conditioning was invented. There is the routine, oft-repeated, scheduled set of tasks that keep the family unit functioning, meeting its external demands, staying fed and fueled and safe.

They’ve already worked out which tasks must be completed daily, which can be tackled seasonally, which need the warmth of the summer sun and which can be saved for the cold winter evenings.

Perhaps a reliance on gadgets has robbed many of this survival skill set.

My ever-evolving strategy, now that I live where I live now, will be to identify and schedule productive activities that are simple and straightforward. These need to be activities that support mental well-being at a time when the weather is draining those reserves.

Maybe, during the cooler weather, do the planning and preparation. For example, before November, make all the creative design decisions, pile up the material and patterns, even cut out the pieces ready to assemble.

Then when the heat hits, get the sewing machine out, turn on the fan, turn up the music … make an iced coffee … and just go for it.

I’ve put a note in my phone’s calendar, mid November, to remind myself that that the hot weather will make me feel lost and dumb if I haven’t found a solution yet.

I’ve got seven months.

What are your thoughts?

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