Top 5 signs your ancestors were geniuses at beating the heat

We're dealing with the climate now. But it's not the first time...

Before air conditioning in the latter half of the 20th century, humankind didn't just suffer in the heat. We met the heat with creativity and a whole lot of cool.

Let me just say it: I love AC. I even own a T-shirt with an AC unit on it. I love my AC that much. Yes, AC feels good, but the fact is, it isn't all that great for the environment.

That's why I was so impressed to discover that the generation before AC was implementing lifestyle climate hacks and wide-scale architectural and infrastructure changes that truly give me and all of us AC addicts a run for my air-conditioning-loving money.


Our ancestors were smart! Here are my favorite five tricks from the past for dealing with climate, aka...

The top five signs your hot weather ancestors were complete geniuses at beating the heat.

#1: They planted trees!

Image via Ken Lund/Flickr.

There's a strategic way to do it. A 1984 paper from the University of South Florida discusses the Southern tradition of intentional planting when it comes to keeping cool:

"Southerners would always try to plant theirs on the east and west sides of their homes, to protect from the rays of the rising and setting sun."

#2: They built things in special ways.

We're not talking small-scale here — these are huge changes. These are engineering feats to create ventilation, to avoid interior heat buildup, and more.

William Cooper, a professor at Louisiana State University, told the Boston Globe about some architecture techniques, such as building houses specifically for air circulation:

"People with the means to do so used to construct homes that stood several feet above the ground, in order to get air circulating under the floor. ... They had long halls through the middle of the house, so if you opened a door at each end, you got a breeze coming through, and you'd have windows on the sides so you'd get cross-ventilation.'"

Image of the Marcella Plantation in Mileston, Mississippi, via the Library of Congress/Flickr.

And here's a nice equality moment. Fancy folks and non-fancy folks alike benefitted from these feats of engineering. Note how this more humble abode above has both a porch and ventilation underneath!

More architectural feats include huge, wide eaves and awnings for shade, high ceilings for the heat to rise, and huge porches to block out sun and heat. Even in the North, folks would open the basement and top-floor windows of the home to create a vertical airflow that acted like a chimney, but for heat. Hot air comes in the basement and escapes out of the top floor!

These lifestyle climate hacks from past generations weren't just green before it was cool — they were beautiful.

Check out this turret, designed to give airflow to the hotter top floors of this old home (remember, heat rises!)...

Kinda gorgeous, right? But you know there's a nice breeze up there for those hot Kansas summers. Image via the U.S. National Archives/Flickr.

...and this two-story porch!

Beautiful AND functional. Image via the Library of Congress/Flickr.

This generation was creating BEAUTIFUL, reusable things out of necessity. While we walk around complaining about rising temperatures (but not really doing anything to stop it — cough, cough, climate deniers!), a look at our grandparents shows us how smart and environmentally friendly we can be when we put our minds to it. At least, that's what they did.

#3: Windows weren't just for gazing.

They're for airflow — and a scientific understanding of hot vs. cool air.

Have you heard of a transom?

Image via the U.S. National Archives/Flickr.

I hadn't, but I had seen them. They're those windows above your door that allow hot air to circulate to higher floors in the house. On exterior doors, transoms even had special hardware. This wasn't just a life-hack — it was a full-on craftsman tradition, complete with special engineering.

In addition to transoms, double-hung windows are another innovation.

Image via JustyCinMD/Flickr.

These are a huge staple for warmer/scorching climates. They open from the top to let heat out during the day and from the bottom to let in cool night air when the sun sets.

#4: Reflective roofs.

These guys were doing fancy roofs waaay before it was cool. Their roofs were made of reflective materials and were lighter in color.

Tin roofs! Image via Florida Memory/Flickr.

Imagine that in contrast to the darker asphalt roofs that are so common now.

#5: They adapted their habits (and had fun).

Older generations didn't lean against the winds of climate — they walked with it, adapting in myriad ways.

From the huge, thick drapes to cover their big windows during the day, to the way they changed the way they opened those windows, to even just carrying a fan everywhere ... they were adapting and making newer things the norm as they found creative solutions to dealing with climate.

And let's not forget the best adaptation: hanging out on the porch. Some folks would even sleep on screened-in porches in the summer.

You could also knit and flirt, like these folks from the early 1900s. Gotta prepare for winter in similar creative ways! Image via State Library of New South /Flickr.

My family's hot weather tradition involves a HUGE iced tea on the porch.

To me, this is heaven. Image via Melissa Doroquez/Flickr.

Not a bad adaptation. Very fun, and so chill.

These old traditions got me thinking: If they managed to find ingenious ways to cope with climate, we could all get together again to deal with it, right?

The fact is, we can't all run out and build a second story on our porch or cut a hole in the wall above our door. But individually, we can make small changes and adaptations to our habits. And generationally, we can work together and innovate to find new ways to deal with our climate that are just as beautiful and fun as our grandparents did.

Not sure if anyone will ever invent anything better than a shady porch and cold iced tea on a hot day, but I'd like to see us try.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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