Amid the ongoing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, the ripple effects felt by stalled travel and struggling businesses, many people have been anxiously watching stock markets and have concens about their money.
Not knowing what’s going to happen with your finances can be a huge stressor for most ordinary people. Financial anxiety is marked by excessive worry over money and seemingly unrelated symptoms like difficulty sleeping, mood changes, or even headaches.
With the current market volatility, it is highly likely that people who experience these symptoms under normal circumstances will see their financial anxiety increase exponentially during this time of uncertainty.
You may be curious about this seemingly infinite cycle wherein the market wavers, people panic, and then things recover. If our economy bounced back from the eighties and the dot com bust (and even the Great Depression), why do people still drown in worry every time their stocks dip?
Studies examining recency bias have generally concluded that our brains give preference to the most recent information we have received¹. It means that while we all remember and understand that the stock market has recovered from full-on crashes before and people who play the long game generally see their stocks improve again, our brains don’t always give this information the weight it deserves. What is happening right now in front of our eyes is the information our minds run away with.
There’s also an element of herd mentality at play here. In studies where they gave participants choices to make and shown the decisions made by others, we see clear evidence that our brains guide us toward “going with the herd².” When we see others panicking over temporary stock market changes, we may be more likely to join them.
So what can you do to overcome this financial anxiety?
The first step is recognizing that it’s happening at all, and if you’re reading this, then you’ve probably already made that first step. All that’s left is to work on managing your emotions in the future.
Learn to identify and understand your emotions where the money is concerned. How do you feel when you see a news headline about the DOW? How long do these emotions linger? Financial anxiety can affect you throughout the day, even beyond the initial piece of “news” that first upset you.
Look deeper than “the market is volatile and so I am anxious.” What specific concerns or issues are causing you to feel the way you do? Are you worried about retirement? Medical bills? Your mortgage? It may be unpleasant to think about these things, but ignoring them won’t make your anxiety go away. It will only make it worse, albeit more abstract.
Remind yourself that your brain is stressing you in a misguided attempt to help you avoid danger³. And remember that while you cannot always control what emotions you experience, you can control how you respond to them and manage yourself going forward.
You probably have a lot of questions about your investments. Should you check in on your 401(k)? Should you relocate any assets? What about selling?
For most people, the best course of action is going to be: do nothing. Ride it out and try to relax, especially if retirement is still a few years away. Most people’s investments do better when they leave them alone.
But what if you are planning to retire soon? Should you postpone retirement until your 401(k) is in a better place? Should you be buying? It’s worth taking these concerns up with a trusted financial advisor. Don’t be afraid to seek guidance about the best options for you personally.
Hopefully, speaking with a professional will help calm your emotions about your financial endeavors. However, you will still need a game plan to address handling your feelings in the future. Identify ways to self-soothe and unwind. Whether that be meditation, a calming walk, or an intense workout, you know best what can help you handle yourself.
Staying informed is essential, but in the digital age, news can get overwhelming very quickly. Try to limit the social media you consume, and maybe make an effort to check the story no more than once a day. In terms of the market, changes will be slow. There is no advantage in reading a dozen think pieces, all making different predictions about where things will go next. Set your phone down, relax, and spend some time improving your mental wellbeing.
(1) Hartono, J (January 2012) The Recency Effect of Accounting Information
(2) Huh, YE; Vosgerau, J; Morewedge, C. K. (2014) Social defaults: Observed choices become choice defaults
(3) Web MD (February 2017) What Is Cortisol?