Help me keep the heat from ruining my relationship
October 11, 2007 7:19 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with high heat and humidity? Are there tricks for getting used to it?

I have recently found myself in Dakar in what I am told is the hottest month of the year, and it is killing me. Temperatures are in the mid to high 90s with humidity ranging from 70% up. I have no access to air conditioning at all. I am grumpy all the time. I get upset at my girlfriend because she gets to go to an air conditioned office. I can't sleep well. I'm never hungry. I don't want to move at all during the day, and as little as possible at night. I take frequent "cold" showers, and there is the ocean nearby, but both are so warm that they provide little relief, and I need to work, I can't be swimming all the time (not to mention that I cannot take so much direct sunlight without burning to a crisp).

I feel like I am doing something wrong. My girlfriend is managing just fine, even on the weekends when we are both home. I, meanwhile, am miserable, and I feel like a spoiled child for complaining about it all the time.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (41 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'm like you -- I can't stand high heat and humidity. Can you sleep/work with a fan blowing on you? That seems to help me. Also, drinking a lot of ice water seems to help.
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:29 AM on October 11, 2007

You have to learn to love the stickiness. Let yourself feel overwhelmed by the heat. Invite the heat. Don't fight it off. The more you fight it the worse it will get.
posted by milarepa at 7:33 AM on October 11, 2007

In many hot climates, people often nap during the hottest part of the day.
posted by box at 7:36 AM on October 11, 2007

Let yourself feel overwhelmed by the heat. Invite the heat. Don't fight it off. The more you fight it the worse it will get.

Exactly. I tend to walk around thinking to myself, "I am languorous" (often with a silly accent, because it's a silly phrase). I think of just physically surrendering to the heat, of melting into the air (because, really, the temps and humidity you're describing are pretty close to body temperature and water composition). You just have to give in.
posted by occhiblu at 7:37 AM on October 11, 2007

Loose, lightweight, light-colored, cotton clothing.
posted by flabdablet at 7:40 AM on October 11, 2007

Shorts. Not trousers.
posted by flabdablet at 7:41 AM on October 11, 2007

fans are great!
posted by footnote at 7:43 AM on October 11, 2007

God, that sounds awful.

I find the only thing that helps me is making sure one part of me is cool. I usually pick the roof of my mouth (which is also a good choice because keeping it cool means you're staying hydrated).

Then sit very still with your eyes closed and focus on that one spot that's the temperature you'd like to be. Breathe deeply and try to let it radiate out.

OR see if your girlfriend's company has some a little space in the basement where you can work.
posted by tempest in a teapot at 7:44 AM on October 11, 2007

Drink lots and lots of cool water. Have a glass with you at all times. Move slowly. Thirding don't fight it. (From my experience with summers in my grandmother's unairconditioned house in the deep south, with similar weather.)
posted by frobozz at 7:49 AM on October 11, 2007

You have to learn to love the stickiness.

So true. How about opening the windows at night and closing the windows/blinds when it's hotter out?
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:55 AM on October 11, 2007

Dark curtains are your friend. Shower in the coldest water possible right before bed and sleep naked.
posted by qz at 7:58 AM on October 11, 2007

Seconding cotton clothing. It breathes and it allows the moisture on your skin to evaporate.
posted by amyms at 8:16 AM on October 11, 2007

Really, if you can find a fan, I think it's the only thing that's going to work. Sit with it blasting in your face as much as possible. Take a shower and then just sit naked in front of the fan til you feel human, work in front of it, sleep with it at the foot of your bed....god I hope you can find a fan.

I'm exactly like you, and I'm reading these comments with utter disbelief - "learn to love it"? That's like asking me to learn to love a migraine. Nuts.
posted by tristeza at 8:17 AM on October 11, 2007

Are there tricks for getting used to it?

From the way you phrased your question, I'm going to assume that you are not a local.

Why don't you ask the locals? I'm sure that, over time, they've figured out a whole bunch of ways to deal with the heat. They have much more experience with this than you do and I'm sure they'd love to help.

Also, don't try to do anything during the middle of the day. Just write it off. Make it a siesta time or something.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:21 AM on October 11, 2007

I'm not a good person to answer this because I'm an absolute monster in the kind of conditions you're talking about, and will do anything in my power to avoid them. The only things I've found remotely helpful are to wear as little as possible (if you're home, wearing nothing is best) and fill a hot water bottle or any bottle with ice water and hold it against your stomach. Fans do help. Also, nthing suggestions not to move much. Even slight activity makes you sweat in that kind of weather. My sympathies.
posted by walla at 8:21 AM on October 11, 2007

Ah, the irony is that when you live near the ocean in a hot climate, the humidity keeps it from getting that much cooler at night.

Oh dude, I feel your pain - the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia is a lot like this, and it's not like you even get relaxing cool nights, because it just drops to 100 degrees with like, 98% humidity.

My very first priority of all things would be trying to beg, borrow, or steal an air conditioner. I can not even imagine life with out A/C in that kind of weather. But, when ours would break, the number one priority is keep the light out. Close your blinds, close doors, run fans, keep it as dark as possible.

Linen and 100% cotton in white are your friends, all of which should be weaves. Stay away from knits, and go with wovens. Wear hats, and this might sound insane, but I'd start shaving. Leg hair, armpit hair, that can all contribute to you feeling hotter.

Peppermint soaps/lotions will give you the illusion of feeling cool. Cut your hair, if it's long.

Learn how to scuba dive on your leisure time. Yes, the ocean is warm at the surface, but 20' down it's magnificent and like, 80 degrees. Plus, scuba diving!

Try to find an expat group where you are - I bet those guys totally know all the hookups and where to go to cool off.
posted by mckenney at 8:23 AM on October 11, 2007

Open-toed shoes (without socks!) make the biggest difference out of any lifestyle adjustment you can make to cope with the heat (much more than shorts).

Otherwise, yeah, you have to get used to it. Don't run for the AC and the cold shower every chance you get; you're wasting time and energy that way, and the contrast just makes it seem even hotter after they wear off. I'm also extremely sensitive to heat and humidity, and broke myself in by going for walks on the beach at midday. There's a zen-like quality to getting to the point where you feel like you're roasting alive and you stop being bothered by it - just make sure you don't pass out.

Siestas are essential (I live in the Gulf, and the entire country shuts down from 1 to 4 in the afternoon). Spend lots of time outdoors after dark - on the seaside, especially - to remind yourself that it can be pleasant out there.
posted by xanthippe at 8:29 AM on October 11, 2007

How long have you been there? It's not unusual to feel like that for the first couple of days, but you get used to it. Members of your species have survived in even warmer, more humid climates.

Drink touareg mint tea as hot as you can. Wear the type of clothes locals wear – kaftans, djellabas and djashikis, probably. Have your hair cut. Get yourself a water spray, use it as artificial sweat.

Since you're in a muslim country, you could try following the local recommendations on removing some body hair.

If you're sitting at a desk, get a small basin of water to put your feet in. Re-fill with cold water or ice during the day.
posted by stereo at 8:31 AM on October 11, 2007

How long have you been there? Some research (e.g. this paper) shows that acclimatization via the heat shock protein response takes approximately 5-7 days. However, there are certainly individual differences in response to hot and humid environments, as you have witnessed with your girlfriend.

I think the people who have "learned to love it" really have - perhaps because of the adaptions via physiological mechanisms and might, physically, find it more tolerable/less noxious. By that I mean their body adjusts rather than their attitudes. (Of course a change in one influences the other).
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 8:34 AM on October 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

I used to take reusable gel ice packs and put them under my head while laying down in bed with a fan on me.
posted by Melsky at 8:35 AM on October 11, 2007

I moved to NYC from Arizona and I discovered that I LOVE the miserable humidity. I love that it is an undeniable physical force that changes the way we look and the way we do everything. We are so used to static, controlled interior environments that change very little from season to season, but until the last century, this was more or less unheard of.

I think that a lot of people's distaste for it is purely cosmetic. Trying to maintain your normal appearance is time-consuming, uncomfortable, and frustrating, and most people hate to be seen sweating. The people who succumb, whose clothes and hair and makeup reflect total submission to the weather, the women with their lank or frizzy hair and lack of runny makeup and shapeless barely-there clothes who look like they totally don't give a shit are my heroes.

Being hot in one's own home makes it difficult to do what you usually do in the same way you usually do. People who force the issue are usually just miserable. But if you can simply acknowledge that in the summer your house functions differently and resolve to function differently IN it, then you can spend the summer doing things you wouldn't ever get to do otherwise. Simpler pleasures, less mentally taxing reading and games, getting up earlier, shedding clothing whenever possible, napping midday, taking long walks at night to escape the heat of the house, sleeping naked with no covers, preparing foods that don't require using the oven or stove. Spending less time on your appearance. Playing cards in the shade outside with a cold beer can resting between your thighs.

If these things can become what you just naturally do when it gets hot instead of what you are driven to do when you just can't bear it anymore, you'll look begin to look forward to the heat. Well, you'll look forward to it a little more than you do now.
posted by hermitosis at 8:48 AM on October 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Get yourself a chillow. It sounds stupid. It works. If the outside temp is too close to body temp, you can put it in the refrigerator. It may not be practical during the day, but at least you'll be able to sleep.
posted by Caviar at 8:55 AM on October 11, 2007

Cold water or ice on the wrists helps. Fans are absolutely essential. Avoid going outside during the day when possible, keep the house dark when the sun is out.

But as someone who can acclimate to humid and hot weather, I have to say that a lot of it is attitude. I'm a naturally fast-walking, high-energy person, but in the hottest part of the summer, I enter a sort of zen. You're upset and anxious and frustrated and that's using a lot of energy. Calm down. Breathe deeply. Eat light meals. Move more slowly, and if you can stay still, stay still.

Is this advice annoying? Sure it is, when you're cranky and hungry and heat-sick. But I swear to you, I can feel my body temperature drop when I calm myself during miserably hot and humid weather.
posted by desuetude at 8:57 AM on October 11, 2007

Just questioning, slightly, the no access to air conditioning at all thing. Are there no restaurants, hotel bars, movie theaters, or such that have air conditioning? I realize you probably can't just run down to the local mall and hang out, but there must be some publicly accessible places you could go for respite from the heat on occasion.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:07 AM on October 11, 2007

I'm with tristeza with regard to learning to love the stickiness. I really can't think of anything worse.

Get at least 2 or 3 of those mini misting fans and always have one on you. Keep a backup in case it suddenly breaks, which apparently they do quite often. I second if you're a guy, shaving your head (and preferably everything-- it makes a big differenc) wearing flip flops, shorts, and the lightest cotton clothing possible, or none at all if you're home while sitting in front of a big fan.

I tend to sweat an obnoxious amount when I get overheated and the only thing that really works is Certain Dri. It stops you from sweating entirely. Put in on your pits, your feet (means you wont get any blisters, either) etc.
posted by buka at 9:10 AM on October 11, 2007

Can you figure out what exactly bothers you the most, and tackle that? If it's the feeling of being hot, ice packs and cold showers... The sweat - carry around a cloth to wipe your face, wear cotton or wicking clothing. Etc. If you just can't breathe well in humidity, and some people can't - you'll have to take it easier and not exert yourself, which, admittedly, sucks.

And no, you're not being a baby - a lot of people simply don't deal with humidity well. The "learn to love it" advice boggles my mind.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 9:22 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

The first two weeks are the worst. Don't worry about your appetite -- it will come back sooner or later; ditto the sleeping.

I disagree about the shorts suggestion -- shorts just make my legs get sunburned; light cotton or linen pants (with sandals, if possible) feel far nicer to me in the heat. And if there are mosquitoes around, shorts are a great way to end up with scabby and bleeding shins from all the bites. Hats with brims help in keeping your ears and nose from blistering; woven shirts (the kind that have buttons up the front) are often cooler than a knit t-shirt in the sticky heat.

One of the nicest ways to deal with that kind of wet heat is by getting out in the open on a moving vehicle. Can you borrow or rent a moped? (But be safe!) Does anyone in your neighborhood have a cousin who drives a cargo truck back and forth to another city and wouldn't mind a foreigner riding along? What about expat sailing clubs? Basically, if you can get out of your oven of a house, and get out of the hot city and into the (slightly less hot) countryside and have the air blowing over your face at 50 mph, you will feel a lot better. And as a bonus you will have cool stories to beat your girlfriend's stories of "today the AC was great!"

Sleeping is a lot easier with a fan blowing over you (and with a net to keep the mosquitoes off) -- if you have electricity all night, go and buy a couple of fans if the house didn't come with them. The cheap round ones on stands work great, and can usually be set to sweep back and forth which is nice at night.

The mint tea idea is great, and is a chance to chat with the people who will be hanging out at the tea stand. A lot of what you are describing is less a problem with the heat, and more of a problem of going somewhere where you have not enough friends and social connections -- chatting and sipping tea can make a brutally hot afternoon pass quite pleasantly.
posted by Forktine at 9:28 AM on October 11, 2007

Baby powder. Put it on your delicate parts.

Walk on the shady side of the street.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:43 AM on October 11, 2007

get a fan, and a spray bottle- the kind you'd use to mist plants.
point the fan so it blows on you.
spray a mist from the spray bottle, not on yourself, but into the air between your skin and the fan. the fanny (!) air will cause the droplets to begin evaporating, which cools them quickly, while also pushing those nice cooled drops onto you. this system has saved my life in many a hot humid toronto summer in my roastery of an apartment.

also, before bedtime, liberally sprinkle baby powder all over your sheets. this absorbs the clamminess that humidity creates in bedding, and makes sleeping much more comfortable.

how about a cool wet towel on your bare back while you sit at your desk? flip it over periodically to keep finding the cool side.

and you know how dogs pant? this actually works for humans, too. open your mouth wide to the sides, like a doggy grin, and breathe in such a way as to move the maximum volume of air over the SIDES of your tongue and the back of your throat, especially on each inhale. you don't have to breathe fast & shallow like a dog (in fact that will make you lightheaded). just breathe slow and normal, while making sure the air flows over your whole tongue. the idea is to keep evaporating the spit off the sides of your tounge, which has rich blood circulation- so you're cooling all the blood that passes through your hot little head. looks ridiculous, but works.
posted by twistofrhyme at 10:01 AM on October 11, 2007

I live in a hot/humid climate (although with the convenience of air conditioning). I couldn't survive without baby powder (or talc or whatever they call it abroad). I pat it all over. Keeps my skin cooler and I don't chafe.
posted by radioamy at 10:24 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Cut your hair. If you can buzz it, do that. I get cold all the time in places where others are warm or hot, if my head is shaved.
posted by sociolibrarian at 10:32 AM on October 11, 2007

A lot depends on what kind of climate you grew up in. If you lived in colder areas, you are gonna have a tougher time no matter what you do. (My hubby is from Colorado, we live in NC-i'm a native here-and he is miserable when I am perfectly fine.

Drink a lot of liquids. If you have access to spicy food eat it. Loose clothing, light colored.

Really, not much else you can do.
posted by konolia at 10:48 AM on October 11, 2007

Always have a bottle of water in your hand, you should be continuously drinking water all day. Also, I know nothing about Dakar but I've lived in the tropics, and I would always go to the air conditioned mall or coffee shop when it got really bad. Also, you should never walk around in the sun in the middle of the day and always wear sunglasses. I think after 6 weeks or so you should acclimate and then you'll be freezing when you are in 70 degree weather, but it does get better.
posted by whoaali at 11:07 AM on October 11, 2007

I live in Austin Texas for a year, and it would get very very hot and humid. I was very poor and could not afford air conditioning. My job involved hard manual labor in the sun so I dealt with the heat a lot. Here is how I managed.

First off, your body is going to have to adjust to the new situation. I drank about 2 gallons of water a day. No joke. This means that I had to eat some salty foods to keep from getting low on electrolytes.

I also rode my bike everywhere so I was out in it a lot (no car) this helped me get acclimated to it.

I lost some water weight, and eventually started to sweat less, but I never got over drinking a lot of water. I simply had to drink water all the time.

You body will adjust, you just have to help it along.
posted by stilgar at 1:15 PM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ice on your wrists. A small amount of ice on your wrists will make you feel cooler than popsicle sitting in front of an air conditioner in Alaskan winter.

Well, maybe not cooler than all that, but trust me; this works.

(Of course, I don't know if you have access to ice. I lived in Guangzhou, China for two years, which is built on a badly drained swamp and hot in the summer, and finding ice was usually an arduous task at best.)
posted by Oudein at 1:24 PM on October 11, 2007

See if you can get a hold of a dehumidifier. They can work wonders making an area feel cooler (because your natural evapourative cooling starts working).

Light cotton/linen/hemp clothing when you go out; naked otherwise. Hair short or off the neck. Bathe your wrists in ice water occasionally. Drink 3L+ of water a day, and also don't forget to make sure you're getting enough salts. Keep the light out; open the blinds when the sun's gone off the windows to allow for breezes (if any). Fan is good, but it will probably dehydrate you faster, so keep that water up! Eat cold foods - chilled melon with yoghurt, for eg. Dampen a washcloth and freeze it, then drape on the back of your neck (not the front - this can be dangerous, so be careful!).

Try to stay away from aircon; it will only slow down your adaption.

I live in Brisbane, Queensland which has 95F+ temps and stupid humidity for about 3 months of the year. I didn't have the luxury of a fan or aircon growing up, but somehow have managed to survive.
posted by ysabet at 5:12 PM on October 11, 2007

I can relate. Two years ago I moved from Chicago to southwest Florida, and I have never learned to "love the heat" (sickos). At first I got super-cranky constantly whenever I was out in the heat (between the door of my office and the car door, and that's about it). Now I've learned to stay inside in the heat of the day, keep lights low and shades drawn, keep air circulating at all times (thank you GOD for ceiling fans), freeze half-filled water bottles and fill with water for very icy water whenever you like, and drink a lot lot lot of water. Eventually my blood has thinned and the heat doesn't bother me as much, but I doubt I will ever escape the heat-crankies. I just hate being hot and I always will.

And no, you are not a spoiled child for hating the heat. You don't need shame on top of the physical misery. Keep the fans blowing on you, cut your to-do list down to about 10% of what you think you should be able to do, and drink a lot of water. Maybe get a job at a library? Movie theater?
posted by orangemiles at 5:13 PM on October 11, 2007

Living in New Orleans, my climate is much like yours, except the humidity is usually 98%, yet it is not raining!

Most important is to wear only natural fibers. Silks, cottons and linen.

Make sure your bedsheets and pillow cases are 100% cotton, just a hint of polyester will feel like you are laying on plastic bags.

Heat rises. If your windows are double hung, meaning both upper and lower section can slide up and down, lower the top window a few inches to allow the hot air collected at the ceiling to escape. Open the lower window enough to stick a fan in there at night to suck in the cooler outside air.

If you can, move the mattress to the floor to sleep, the cooler air will be near the floor.

Eat plenty of light cool foods, you can look forward to losing a few pounds. I average 15 lbs during the summer.

Try to do most of your work early in the morning or late in the evening. At the hottest part of the day, just kick back and relax.

Try to think of how much money you are saving by not going to a sauna. Believe it or not, you skin will start looking better.

I never blow dry my hair in the summer. I leave the house with it wet from the shower, pulled up. Being a man you can wet your hair, add some gel and finger comb.
posted by JujuB at 10:15 PM on October 11, 2007

Put ice packs near your largest arteries: groin, armpits, front of neck. That's standard first aid for people with heat-related injuries.
posted by kamikazegopher at 10:55 AM on October 12, 2007

try jogging in the late afternoons (not at the height of the heat). if jogging isn't practical engage in any outdoor activity which makes you sweat profusely. make sure you drink plenty of water. do this every other day or so for two weeks, adjusted for your level of fitness.

this will accelerate your body's adaptation to the heat and essentially overheating your body and sweating a lot you will gradually start to feel cooler when you aren't exercising. start out slowly but try to stick with it for at least two weeks if you want results.

it is imperative that you drink at least a couple of liters of water in the hours prior to doing this (and probably more afterward). high heat + high humidity + under-hydration = heat stroke, which can lead to death rather quickly.
posted by jjsonp at 12:47 PM on October 12, 2007

Living in QLD Australia, where our summer with it's 90%+ humidity and 40 degree celcius days are fast approaching, I just recently did a stack of research on this very topic.

One of the *most* important things you should realise is the human body does not cope with humidity very well at all, and you're probably in a mild state of permanent heat stroke at the moment. No more than 60% humidity is recommended for us human beings. So I suggest you invest in a dehumidifier and that way at least you'll be able to sweat and stay cool with fans and the other methods listed above. You shouldn't have to install a dehumidifier like you do an air conditioner, they just sit there and collect water from the air.

Also try getting out of the house during the day and going to an airconditioned library or cafe. If you have to work take a laptop. If you don't have a laptop go to an internet cafe.

Also see:

How to cool yourself without airconditioning
How to sleep comfortably on a hot night
Guide to dehumidifers
posted by katala at 7:48 PM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

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