How to Cool Down In The Heat

How to Cool Down In The Heat

How to Cool Down in the Heat

During Peace Corps service, you can’t expect the typical amenities that you have in the USA. Air conditioning is a luxury. Some Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) serve in areas without electricity or central air. You have to be creative. Some countries are experiencing record heat waves. How do you cool down in the heat if you don’t have air conditioning? What if you are experiencing a power outage?

You might find solar-powered or battery-powered devices like fans or coolers to take with you to service. Bringing a lot of gadgets to service could create a perception of wealth and entitlement. That could also make you more of a target for theft and robberies. Do you plan to carry everything around with you every day?

It is important to try to live with the capabilities of your Host Country National (HCN) counterparts. It helps to understand and appreciate their lives while sharing yours. Take the opportunity to dispel some of those negative assumptions and perceptions.

Wear Loose Natural Fiber Clothing

Cotton and linen clothing allow your skin to breathe. Avoid synthetic materials which trap the heat. Loose clothing helps dissipate heat better than tight clothing. Light-color clothing absorbs less heat than dark colors. Pay attention to what the HCNs wear.

And you don’t want to sleep or walk around in the nude or revealing clothing. During service, you have to accept that you are essentially living in a fish bowl where anybody can see you. Expect that some HCNs are more modest than some Americans. Wearing skimpy or little clothing sends the wrong message.

Stay Hydrated to Cool Down from the Heat

5 glasses of water

Staying hydrated throughout the day helps regulate your body temperature. That sluggish hangover feeling means your body is dehydrated. Drinking water regularly also provides a variety of health benefits.

Adjust your expectations during service. You may not find sparkling water or your favorite flavored beverage. Instead, try adding a wedge of fruit to your water. Drink iced tea instead of coffee. If you are serving in an area where drinking water is limited, work with your PCMO to make sure you have adequate access to daily drinking water. Do not try to supplement the lack of water with sodas, sports drinks, or alcohol.

Avoid drinking liquids a few hours before bedtime. Some PCVs have bathrooms inside your home. But some PCVs’ bathrooms are outside the living space. You want to avoid that run in the dark while half-asleep.

Keep The Place Cool and Dark

Try to keep the place as cool and dark as possible during the day to minimize the room temperature. Close the blinds. Block the sunlight. Use light-blocking curtains or honeycomb blinds.

Limit the number of electrical devices that generate heat. Minimize the use of heat-generating lighting. Even those incandescent light bulbs throw out heat. Turn off those laptops and desktops if they are not being used.

Create Cross-Ventilation

Another way to cool down in the heat is to create cross-ventilation. Opening windows at opposite ends of the room or building may create a draft. Open the kitchen or fireplace vents to draw the hot air out.

white opened window stands out against the painted red bricks

Open the top window section on the downwind side of the place and the bottom window section on the upwind side. If the only windows you have are in the same room, then the bottom pane of one window and the upper pane of the other could also create some air flow. Draw the air in from the lower opened window. Give the hotter air space to escape from the highest vent or window.

These “wind tunnels” brings fresh air into a hot room to cool down in the heat. The greater the pressure difference, the stronger the draft. Just be sure there is an open path for the wind to travel from one window to the other.

However, make sure you are in a safe environment before you open those windows  Be sure to secure papers or anything else that could blow around before creating that draft. A window screen keeps some of the bugs and other uninvited guests out.

Spritz Yourself with Water

Fill a spray bottle with cool water or keep it in a cool place. Periodically douse yourself with cool water. Think of it as a mini-shower.

Water evaporates faster on your skin than from your clothes so consider spritzing your clothes too. But wet clothes are more comfortable in a dry environment than a humid one. A good spritzing before (or during) sleep can mean better sleep.

You can also try dousing a sheet or large towel with cold water and lay it loosely on your body. That keeps you cooler through the day or as you drift off to sleep. Just make sure to wring it out. You don’t want a dripping wet sheet or towel. And if you don’t have a waterproof mattress pad, be sure to put a towel or light blanket underneath you to protect the mattress or furniture from getting wet. 

Minimize Physical Movement

The more you move, the more your body heats up. Of course, that does not mean you should just turn into a statue during the day. But minimize movement during the hottest times of the day. Fanning yourself furiously is counterproductive.

However, Peace Corps Volunteers need physical activity to stay healthy and keep those endorphins flowing during service. If you want to fit in a workout or other physical activities, consider doing it early in the morning at the coolest time of day.

Take a Cool Bath

Take a cool bath to cool down in the heat

Take a lukewarm or cool shower or bath during the hottest time of day or before bedtime to reduce your heat stress. If you are in a location where bathing water is a luxury, go for a wet wipedown or just a foot bath. Wet that towel down with cold water. Or leave it in a cool place before you use it. Every little bit can make a difference.

Avoid freezing cold showers or baths. Those shock your system. You want your body to calm down in order to cool down in the heat.

Eat Cold Meals to Cool Down In the Heat

Eating cold food helps keep your internal temperature lower. A nice cold beverage or three hits the spot. And, it generally requires less physical activity to assemble a salad than cooking a meal. Do you really want to stand over a stove or heating source when you are trying to cool down in the heat? And using the oven or stove also makes the kitchen hotter. But if you need to cook the food, consider grilling it outdoors to minimize the heat buildup indoors.

Cool the Furniture

If you have access to a fridge or freezer, fill a hot water bottle and pop it into the freezer. Then slip it onto the back of your chair or on your bed before you go to sleep. But avoid putting ice or frozen items directly on your skin.

You can also try freezing those bed sheets and loosely drape them on you. You can also use those sheets to cool down the bed before you go to sleep. Buckwheat pillows allow more airflow which keeps you cooler. Raising the mattress or sleeping pad off the floor gives more opportunity for air to flow around you.

Get Some Greenery

Indoor house plants improves and helps cool down in the heat

Trees and shrubbery can provide shade from that strong sun. As trees and plants “sweat” to cool themselves, they also cool the air around them. As this sweat evaporates, heat is removed from the air.

The greenery also helps improve the air quality. They provide fresh oxygen. They absorb carbon dioxide in the air. Some plants and trees even remove some pollutants and toxins floating in the air.

Indoor plants can provide an indirect cooling effect when it is absorbing the carbon dioxide. If you are serving in a humid area and cannot use a dehumidifier, look for plants that absorb humidity. When there is a lot of humidity, your body’s evaporation process slows down. Humid air can be harder to breathe for people with certain medical conditions.

Learn the Signs of Medical Distress

Being uncomfortable is different than being in medical distress. During training, ask the Peace Corps trainers to explain the difference. Pay attention to your body. Make sure you know how to recognize the signs of heat distress.

If you have any concerns, immediately contact the PCMO for assistance. Clearly describe your symptoms. Don’t take no for an answer. Ask for help from your counterpart. And immediately find a way to cool your body down. Do not just sit around and wait for help to come. Time is critical in any medical situation.

Any More RPCV Tips to Cool Down In the Heat?

RPCV Health Crusade collected these tips and tricks from various sources including other RPCVs. These are not medical advice or guidance. Always check with your medical personnel first.

When serving in the Peace Corps, you learn a lot about yourself and your ability to problem-solve. We are also quick to share our tips and trick with other Peace Corps Volunteers in country.

Let us know if you have more ways to beat the heat or any tips or stories to navigating your health during Peace Corps service. Let’s share what we know with the next generation of PCVs.

Share your tips and tricks to help PCVs stay healthy and better navigate service.


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