Common Cents & Stressing Out

This past week, I made several economic presentations. During the Q&A period after one of them, a person asked if I remembered a prediction I made at a presentation on the same day the first case of COVID-19 in Birmingham was reported. He had been there; remembered I had made a forward-thinking comment about the virus, but couldn’t recall what I had said. Had I been right?

In all candor, I couldn’t tell you what I said if my life depended on it. However, never one to let a good opportunity go to waste, I replied I most certainly did remember my prediction, and it had been 100% correct. Then, I asked for the next question, without giving any specifics which, of course, I didn’t have.

People laughed appropriately, and I admitted I didn’t remember my remarks.

In thinking back over the last 15 months, I can’t help but wonder how much of today’s societal discord is the result of the Draconian steps our governments took to control the spread of the virus: closing down chunks of the economy, telling people to ‘shelter in place’ and practice ‘social distancing,’ and essentially limiting what they considered to be unnecessary contact. After all, human beings are social creatures. To what extent did the mandated isolations have on our psyches and ability to interact with others.

To be sure, ‘we’ were sailing in some unchartered waters at the time, and my intention isn’t to cast either blame or aspersions. Still, what have we learned, if anything? If we had to do it all over again, what changes would we make, as a society?

Admittedly, I am not a mental health professional; however, job losses, school closings, major changes in social activities, major changes in living conditions, revisions of personal habits, major changes in worship activities, and other things we all faced last year are major ‘stressors.’ In essence, in addition to being worried about COVID-19, Americans heaped a bunch of stress on themselves. That can’t be good, and isn’t.

This is what the Cleveland Clinic has to say about what happens to the body during stress:

“The body’s autonomic nervous system controls your heart rate, breathing, vision changes and more. Its built-in stress response, the “fight-or-flight response,” helps the body face stressful situations.

When a person has long-term (chronic) stress, continued activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body. Physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms develop.

  • Physical symptoms of stress include:
  • Aches and pains.
  • Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing.
  • Exhaustion or trouble sleeping.
  • Headaches, dizziness or shaking.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Muscle tension or jaw clenching.
  • Stomach or digestive problems.
  • Trouble having sex.
  • Weak immune system.

Stress can lead to emotional and mental symptoms like:

Often, people with chronic stress try to manage it with unhealthy behaviors, including:

  • Drinking too much or too often.
  • Gambling.
  • Overeating or developing an eating disorder.
  • Participating compulsively in sex, shopping or internet browsing.
  • Smoking.
  • Using drugs.”

Is there any wonder why we seem to be tearing ourselves apart? We have just gone through an extended period of time where we couldn’t eat together, work together, meet with one another, worship with each other, hug loved ones (especially those in nursing facilities), go to school, etc., all the while worried about our personal safety and that of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones. Is it any wonder we are as edgy as we are?

To be sure, the government has attempted to alleviate some of this stress by throwing money at it. While that is much better than a sharp stick to the eye, as most things are, I am not confident money alone is the panacea Washington apparently believes it is. After all, would you rather die rich and alone OR poor and beloved? Your call.

If we had to do it all over again, I would hope the powers that be wouldn’t force economies to close, mandate ‘sheltering in place,’ and enact restrictions which make it impossible to worship together, work together, go to school, and to even hug loved ones. While we can make up the economic ground relatively quickly, the wounds caused by the stress we inflicted upon ourselves will take much longer to heal.

In the end, it appears we are coming out of the other side of this pandemic. However, to fully put it past us, we should all do one of the Cleveland Clinic’s recommendations to prevent stress: “stay positive and practice gratitude, acknowledging the good parts of your day or life.” Had I known then what I know now, that is what I would have said at that presentation in the Spring of last year.

Take care, have a great weekend, and be sure to listen to our Trading Perspectives podcast.

John Norris

Chief Economist



As always, nothing in this newsletter should be considered or otherwise construed as an offer to buy or sell investment services or securities of any type. Any individual action you might take from reading this newsletter is at your own risk. My opinion, as those of our investment committee, are subject to change without notice. Finally, the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the reset of the associates and/or shareholders of Oakworth Capital Bank or the official position of the company itself. Finally, we do NOT make a market in any of the companies listed in this newsletter, and I do not own them personally.