Fear seems to be spreading through the stock market like the stomach bug in a McDonald’s ball pit. Bear market? Recession? Down arrows? Big red numbers? Collapse? These are scary words that trigger strong emotional responses, primarily fear.
Money is our HOW. Money is our ability to achieve our dreams. It’s our means to an end. Our money is our identity. When we see our accounts “losing” money, what we really see is ourselves losing future opportunity. We’re not actually scared of losing money, we’re scared of losing ourselves. We fear we won’t be able to provide. We’re scared our loved ones won’t love us anymore. We’re scared of feeling inadequate. We’re scared of not keeping up. We’re scared of pain.
Our natural response to being scared is to run. This response is embedded in each of us, it’s known as the fight or flight response. To not be scared is to not be human. This “flight response” always feels like the right thing to do. However, these emotionally charged decisions are often the birthplace of regret. Feeling scared is not the danger, avoidance and extrapolation is.
We project stories about ourselves into the future based on how we feel in the present. A few patterns emerge when these stories are examined. They usually take an Excellian form; if this, then that. These stories also tend to be polarized, never touching the gray area where we actually live most of our lives.”If I continue to lose money, then I will be a failure.” “If stocks keep going down, I won’t be able to provide for my family.” “If I lose anymore money, I’m going to be eating cat food for the rest of my life!” These concerns are valid and attention needs to be given to them. However, attention and action do not mean the same thing. After all, doesn’t it seem dangerous to draw concrete conclusions from things so illusive and flimsy as thoughts and feelings?
We seem to lack the ability to pump the brakes on our runaway thought trains. The open rate on the stories and messages we send ourselves is way higher than it should be. We buy into our thoughts with amazing consistency. Just know, it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to believe every thought we have. One of my favorite Twitter followers said it best:
You can feel bad without buying into the idea that you are bad.
— Dennis Tirch PhD (@DennisTirchPhD) December 20, 2018
I don’t know what it’s like to personally lose money in the stock market. But, I do know what it’s like to be scared. I’ve learned, through the teacher that is cancer, to make friends with fear and pain. I usually resist at first, but this chronic disease wears me down until I surrender.
These past two weeks have been especially rough, as my bedsheets seem to have been magnetized. Once I’ve successfully peeled myself loose from the charged warmth, I’ve become shackled with a ball and chain on each arm and leg. I’ve trudged through the days, walking on loose sand, straining to see through the dense mental fog.
It’s not always this bad but, I usually wake up in discomfort most days. Even when I feel good, I’m fearful of the pain returning. I’ve considerably reduced the amount that I “do” in all areas of life, which at times leaves me feeling inadequate, like I’m getting left behind. It’s this feeling of inadequacy that is the catalyst for fear.
Our friend of the firm, Carolyn Gowen, wrote two pieces recently about how financial advisors are there for the good times and bad. You can read them here and here. Advisors, as well as their clients, need to be able to process and cope with life’s misfortunes. Coping with difficult situations and feelings, like fear and inadequacy, gets easier the more we deal with them. I’m not claiming to be some enlightened being that has all the answers. But, having lived with cancer for almost a year now, I feel some what qualified to humbly suggest some techniques and strategies for dealing with these difficult emotions.
- Pay attention to your reactions when difficult feelings arise.
- Create space within yourself (think “there is room for this too”)
- Create time between your thought and reaction (take a few deep breathes)
- Name your feelings and try greeting them kindly as friends when they arise.
- Try and watch your emotions as a spectator. (You are the sky and your emotions are passing clouds)
- Try not to berate yourself for feeling any kind of way. (Negative emotional compounding)
- Your feelings are not your fault. Tell yourself this.
- Before getting out of bed each morning, tell yourself “at the end of today I will love myself, no matter what happens.”
- Self-soothe (gently hold your face or arms)
- Talk with a nonjudgemental, trusted person. (This is where an advisor comes in)
- Talk with a person who’s in a similar situation (can we make Market Worriers Anonymous a thing?)
- Cultivate love for yourself through metta meditation
I know that experiencing panic, fear and worry can feel like wearing a straight-jacket. Our minds get narrowed and become overwhelmed, focusing only on the one thing that will make us feel better in that moment. I humbly ask that you try to relate differently to your negative feelings. Just give it a try. If you don’t like it or it doesn’t work for you, you can always go back to your old ways. One of my favorite authors, Sharon Salzberg, defines the goal well in her book LovingKindness:
It’s okay to feel beaten and buried. Hope is not a straight line up and to the right. Like the stock market, our level of hope will fluctuate over time. Two things must persist through it all; long-term optimism and love for ourselves.