Everyone I know is worried right now—running for the hand sanitizer and staying home to avoid crowds. If you’re not getting out as much as usual, chances are you also have more time to panic over that other major pain point—the stock market jitters.
We are wired for anxiety. It’s not just our reptilian “fight or flight” response, says Dr. Anne-Marie Albano, who is the director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders. As the human cortex evolved, we also developed the ability to scope out a threat and worry about it.
We hear alarm bells when we see the markets tumbling and media talking heads proclaiming the end of the world as we know it.
The strange thing about human nature is that the same alarm bells fail to go off when the markets soar month after month and year after year.
Nothing in our wiring tells us to be careful and recognize that markets always shift at some point. When markets do turn down, we feel regret for not having been soothsayers about when to cash in.
No question, it’s painful that we don’t know how the present horrors in the world will play out. The market took a nosedive on the heels of COVID-19, amidst fears that the pandemic will send the global economy down the tubes.
In truth, there were plenty of indications that the stock market was headed for a correction well before COVID-19 came along. But it’s the uncertainty that has the markets in a frenzy.
The fear and stress we’re experiencing has another effect, in addition to making us miserable. The fear response sets off a release of the stress hormone cortisol in our system, which over time can weaken our immune system and even interfere with learning and memory.
Is there a way out? The last thing you need at a time like this is the kind of money pain that keeps you awake at night worrying. So think about it: what are the biggest money pain points?
Here are six that are at the top of many people’s lists these days:
1. Worrying about daily volatility.
2. Being glued to the news for the lasted crisis or “analysis” on where we’re going.
3. Focusing on what other people are doing.
4. Going into panic mode.
5. Fearing that economic changes will destroy your security.
6. Being laden with a large amount of debt at high interest rates.
It is hard to stay away from these pain points in a period of extreme market volatility. The pundits who are paid to thrust the crisis into the spotlight are everywhere.
You’re allowed to take a break from the news. But the best way to cope is to turn your money pain into what I call money pleasure. What gives us money pleasure?
Here’s my counter-list of top factors—seven of them:
1. Knowing that market volatility is normal—and so are recessions.
2. Knowing that your portfolio is aligned with your ability to withstand volatility in the market.
3. Feeling confident that you won’t have to sell off securities at lower prices because you have an emergency fund that is sufficient and liquid.
4. Being aware of your values and living accordingly.
5. Knowing that you don’t have a mountain of debt weighing you down.
6. Being attuned to changes that might affect your career and actively developing skills that keep you valuable.
7. Taking advantage of what the economic conditions provide. For example, you can refinance your mortgage at a lower rate, or, if you have unused cash on the sidelines, buy equities at low prices.
The purpose of sound financial planning is to make sure you live with more money pleasure than pain.
Many years ago, I heard a marketing expert talk about the stock market this way, and I paraphrase: If there were signs on an elevator that said, “This elevator SOARS and PLUNGES”, no one would get on.
But if you own equities, you don’t get off the ride when they’ve plunged down to the sub-basement level. If you aren’t taking undue risk for your time horizon and you don’t have to sell now, the numbers in your investment accounts are just numbers on paper.
My advice: Stock up on sanitizer. Be sensible about going out in crowds. Be similarly preventive when it comes to managing your money. Focus on what really matters and what will, in the long run, provide the highest level of money pleasure.