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The sun is shining, the temperature is rising and in your mind you think the best way to spend a stifling hot summer day is by taking the kids to a local splash pad where they can frolic in the cool water.  The heat, for some is the epitome of pleasure. It allows for the carefree feeling of the sun on your skin – a chance for children to run around without the constraints of clothing other than bathing suits. But what happens when your great intentions turn out to be a nightmare for you and your child. You might ask yourself, “Why does my child not want to be outside when it’s so beautiful out here?”

Symptoms of Panic Attacks
If you ask adults and children alike “do you have more panic attacks when it’s really hot outside?” you will most likely hear the word, “absolutely” faster than you can ask the question. For a parent who has little to no trouble in the stifling heat it might be a little bit difficult to understand that there is a very real connection between your child’s body temperature and anxiety (panic attacks) and here’s why.

When you experience a panic attack you can experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Shivering/shaking
  • Sweating (increased body temperature)
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Heart palpitations
  • A feeling of being trapped or boxed in
  • Difficulty breathing

The Affect of Heat
These are the fight or flight responses that our body sends us when we are in a situation of danger. So is it any wonder that for some individuals excessive heat can bring on the exact same symptoms of an anxiety attack?  Heat affects our body in a very physical way.  Think about walking outside from your cool house. You feel that heat and humidity like a sheet wrapping around you. The only trouble is you can’t escape it. You can only take off so many clothes. It is an uncomfortable feeling and when things are uncomfortable it can feel like a dangerous situation.

Another way of looking at the relationship to heat and panic is that the heat is a trigger. Triggers are things that bring us back to a point of trauma or stress almost like replaying a tape. Triggers are also activated through one of these five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.

Help Your Child When it’s Hot Outdoors

  • When the mercury rises and humidity is through the roof understand that it may be a day to take things easy. Finding games to play or a special movie to watch allows for some indoor fun.
  • Remember that for the child the symptoms of a panic attack they are experiencing are very real. At this point your child needs help and reassurance that as physical as the feelings are they are only that, “feelings” and nothing is seriously wrong. The bad feelings will pass. Talk to your child about what he/she is feeling in order to be able to help them through the moment. This will allow time for the child to realize that the feeling of fear is not a real threat. Get them into the cool air and realize just how difficult this kind of weather can be for them.
  •  Slow exposure. Try getting out for short bits of time so that you don’t get to that point where the temperature is completely overbearing.
  • Remember that heat for a lot of children feels like being trapped and this kind of heat feels confining and claustrophobic. Reassure them of the wide expanse of the outdoors.  Saying things like, “the sky is wide open”, “there is plenty of air all around us”, “you are outside where there are no walls”.

Make sure to set everyone up for success by being aware and prepared. Have a great summer!