6 Tips to Beat the Summer Heat When You Have Multiple Sclerosis
The snow melts. Flowers bloom. The winter wardrobe goes into storage and out come the shorts, tank tops, T-shirts, skirts and dresses. Exam seasons are done, people are planning vacations, everyone is more relaxed, happier and people are outside in droves. Except for people like me, who feel like they need to be chained to anything with an air conditioning unit. Without a properly regulated environment, I feel like an overheating computer. That is why as much as I love spring, summer is something I have come to dread.
Heat intolerance, one of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) (but also present in a lot of varying conditions), makes it extremely difficult to be out and about in the summer. I know for myself, summertime excursions involve a lot of planning. How am I getting there, what am I wearing, is there a fan or an air-conditioner? If I’m outside is there a place I can go inside? Do I need to take my light cooling vest with the ice packs or do I need to bring out the “Behemoth” (the affectionate name I have given to my motorized cooling vest)?
These questions do not always have easy answers and it becomes particularly frustrating when you, as a person, want to be spending time enjoying the weather like everyone else. So what to do?
- Tell people what is needed, don’t be shy. I know, redundant right? But sometimes even the best of friends can forget how important it is for you to stay cool and to have alternatives to do so.
- Alternative places to hang out. Maybe instead of going to the park, you choose to go with your friends to a splash pad. Instead of just sunbathing by the beach, you actually go in and spend some time floating in the water. Check out a cooling vest, cooling bandanas, fans and even essential oils to help your body deal with the heat.
- Cooling products. As I mentioned before, I own two types of cooling vests, as well as a few cooling bandanas. I also find being able to drink cool drinks and placing cool cloths on my wrists and neck are ways to help me not overheat. Check out this list of what other people in the Mighty community swear by when trying to cool down.
- Try things out without pushing yourself to the limit. Some days heat intolerance can be worse than others due to other symptoms getting in the way. But on days when your body is not so exhausted, try and see what your boundaries can be. I know, for example, I can last much longer outside on a hot day when I go swimming in a backyard pool than if I am just sitting out in a park.
- Feel your feelings, but do not let them beat you. Just like with cold intolerance, and a lot of other symptoms of many different illnesses, heat intolerance makes it extremely difficult to be social, to have a life outside the home and to “feel” normal (literally). So it is important to acknowledge your feelings because they are valid. But it is also important not to lose sight of yourself…the person underneath the symptoms. Sure, you might not be able to sunbathe as much as you used to, but a walk or drive to the splash pad three streets from your home might work out. Maybe even a sprinkler system in a backyard could be a way to get by, or a drive in a well air-conditioned car.
- Respect what your body is trying to tell you, including warning signs. As I mentioned earlier, heat intolerance makes me feel like an overheating computer. Just like a computer, it is important to recognize the overheating signs before there is a meltdown in the central circuit board. That is why it is important to watch for the signs of overheating, such as dizziness, brain fog and confusion, and any other symptoms that have come up since you have gone out into the heat. Make sure the people around you are aware of it too, so that if they see the signs, they can move you into a climate-controlled area or cool you down as soon as possible.
Remember, not everyone will appreciate how difficult it is to not be able to leave a climate-controlled area. Then again, there are products out there that release us from being tied to an air-conditioner at home. Just put on sunscreen before you head out and grab some ice to go!
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