My phone vibrates, and I look down to see a notification from my plant care app: “High temperature weather warning: your plants may need extra water.” Sure enough, my basil is drooping, its leaves looking withered and its color faded.
Every time my plant care app dings a notification about a high temperature warning, I immediately look up the weather, because much like my basil, I don’t do well in the heat either. I joke with friends that there are only a few months out of the year that my body really likes — in the winter my bones ache from the cold, and in the summer heat, I wilt as fatigue and deep muscle exhaustion sets in.
While some of the primary triggers for flare-ups of autoimmune conditions are things like stress and lack of sleep, the weather is another trigger for a lot of people, resulting in fatigue, muscle aches, pain, inflammation, and swelling, per Providence Health. In fact, according to one study, as many as two-thirds of those living with arthritis have an increase in symptoms when the weather changes significantly.
In addition to autoimmune conditions impacting heat tolerance, certain medications can also cause the body to not react well during hotter weather. Some of these medications, including several psychiatric medications as well as NSAIDs (which many individuals with autoimmune conditions are on) can cause adverse reactions in the heat and sun. This is largely due to dehydration.
Taking It Extra Easy
For me, once the temperatures rise above about 75 degrees Fahrenheit, I begin to notice my body overheating. I feel as if I can’t cool down, and my muscles feel as if they have been put through a wringer and are left with no energy left in them. My frequency, and the duration of naps increases significantly, and there are times that no matter how hard I try to stay awake, I simply cannot. This is especially true if I spend time outside in the direct sunlight, but happens even if I’m inside and simply hot. I find myself wanting to just lay in front of a fan all day in some attempt to get comfortable. Along with this also comes an increase in my migraine severity, and oftentimes, nausea or issues with my digestion.
I’ve come to realize that for me the summertime means a time of needing extra rest. This is the opposite of what I want to do, and the opposite of what many of my more able-bodied friends are doing. Summer is often thought of as the time for long BBQs, floats down the river, laying on the beach, or picnicking in the park. However, for me these activities will often result in me in bed feeling miserable, with a migraine and a body that feels like it has been beaten up, my eyes fluttering closed in sheer exhaustion. When I wake from these heat-induced naps, I often feel awful — I’m bloated and nauseous, and can’t find any energy for the remainder of the day.
It’s important for me to build in extra “down time” during the summer for resting, and to expect to do things slower than I may in cooler weather so I don’t overheat and deplete my energy more quickly than usual. I’ve also come up with a variety of ways I can keep myself cooler so that I am less impacted by the summer heat.
Tips for Keeping Cool and Reducing Fatigue
I’ve become very reliant on my weather app so I can see what the heat is going to be like on any day, and can plan accordingly.
Know Your Limits
If I’m supposed to meet up with a friend for an outside dinner but the weather is going to be 95 degrees, I’ll reschedule or ask to move to somewhere inside an air-conditioned building. Sometimes this means canceling plans or missing out on things, which is disappointing but far better than spending a few days having to recover from overexertion during the heat.
Move the Fun Indoors
I’ve also gone and watched multiple movies in one day because the theaters are so nicely chilled; asked to go over to friend’s houses with central air (as opposed to my window air conditioner); or taken a trip to a river shaded by trees to sit in the cool water.
Invest in Stay-Cool Supplies
I’ve invested in a number of products to help me stay cool and hydrated so I can do more in the summer than I’d be able to otherwise. This includes:
- A neck fan
- Cooling patches for my face
- A chilled pad for my bed
- A high-quality, extra-large water bottle
Make Healthy Accommodations
I’ve come to accept that during summer, I’ll have lower energy and more fatigue, and so I try to plan accordingly. While I try to eat a lot of homemade meals, and actually quite enjoy cooking, during the summer I stock my freezer with ready-made meals I can throw in the microwave or air fryer without needing to do much prep (or needing to make the house warmer by using the oven!). Some of my favorites are frozen French onion soup that just needs to be microwaved for a few minutes, or chicken chunks that I can put in the air fryer with some frozen fries or some fresh broccoli. Pre-made refrigerated salads are great too. Read how to create an arthritis-friendly kitchen.
So now, when my plant app notifies me of an incoming heat wave, I water my basil plant, and then I fill up my water bottle, get out my neck fan, and cancel a few plans in order to take care of this body so it doesn’t wilt either.
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Managing your autoimmune disease during summer’s hottest days. Providence Health. August 4, 2020. https://www.providence.org/news/uf/624302840#:~:text=For%20many%20people%20with%20an,%2C%20pain%2C%20inflammation%20and%20swelling.
Timmermans EJ, et al. Self-perceived weather sensitivity and joint pain in older people with osteoarthritis in six European countries: results from the European Project on OSteoArthritis (EPOSA). BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2014. doi: https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2474-15-66.
Yasgur B. Do You Take Medications? Watch Out for Summer Heat and Sun. July 2022. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/news/20220720/medications-summer-heat-sun.