I’m not sure anyone could have predicted what the beginning of 2021 would look like, particularly as we ushered out 2020 believing it was one of the most challenging years on record.

And now, as our new year begins, we are seeing an unprecedented surge in COVID deaths, stoking our fears of an elderly loved one contracting the virus. We see that our local hospital’s ICU beds are full and wonder what will happen to us if we become ill.

We see record business closures resulting in the unemployment of friends and family. We see the storming and vandalizing of our Capitol, making us feel unsafe and stirring up emotions of shock and disbelief.

And we’ve missed, for months on end, being able to hold, hug and be with those we love.

If we look back at the past 10 months, it’s no surprise many of us are experiencing chronic stress.

During stressful times, I experience hair loss. In that brief window when salons were open, my hairdresser remarked on how thin my hair had become.

Throughout the pandemic, people have been sharing with me symptoms they’re experiencing, such as insomnia, headaches, upset stomach, tooth fractures, back pain, sudden outbreaks of shingles and flare-ups of autoimmune disorders.

Studies show that high levels of stress over an extended period of time can drastically alter physical functions and have a significant impact on our mental health.

But many times our physical and emotional reaction to chronic stress goes unnoticed.

I realized I wasn’t tuned in to my own emotions when I heard the news of Alex Trebek’s death. Yes, he was the beloved host of the TV game show “Jeopardy,” but I found myself really sobbing when I heard of his passing.

I checked in with myself because I thought, “Is this the right level of emotion for the passing of a stranger?”

Only then did I realize that my response was compounded by the chronic stress I was experiencing. I was grieving not only the loss of Trebek, but the loss of all the lives from COVID and my sadness at being unable to see my mother for over a year. It’s as if the floodgates opened.

Symptoms of chronic stress may include headaches, chest pain, muscle tension, nausea or changes in sex drive, as well as fatigue and struggling to fall or stay asleep.

Those with chronic stress may worry excessively and feel overwhelmed with responsibilities. They may struggle to focus on tasks or stay motivated.

They may feel irritable, sad or angry, may have little appetite or find that they are overeating. They may struggle to regulate how much caffeine, alcohol or tobacco they use.

If these sound like things you’re experiencing, you may want to consult your healthcare provider.

Additionally, physical activity, such as taking a brisk walk, deep- ens breathing and helps relieve muscle tension.

And lastly, keeping in contact with social supports such as friends, co-workers, relatives and spouses can help sustain us at times of chronic stress and crisis.

January is the perfect time to check in with yourself to see if chronic stress is affecting you. Life will invariably deal us some further challenges in 2021, and learning to recognize the factors contributing to your chronic stress will be the first step toward a healthier you.

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