Stop Fretting—Take Action

It is tempting to stay glued to the television to be aware of every uptick (or downdraft) in the stock market, or ruminating on the latest data on who has contacted the virus and where. But doing so may not be healthy. At a minimum, it adds stress in an already heightened period of increased anxiety. Instead, we offer some practical tips for managing through the coronavirus crisis. Two days ago we opined here on what to do about portfolios suffering market gyrations caused by the dual impact of the coronavirus and global oil price disruption. There is much you can do to assuage fear in other aspects of your life by doing more productive things.

  • Limit your news intake from television, where anchors are more apt to imbue their own heightened emotions into the narrative. A constant drumbeat of panic-stricken tales and sobering statistics increases apprehension.
  • Take this time to read. Many of us have gotten away from reading in today’s tech-driven, blog-post, and podcast-laden environment. This is the time to dig out a good novel that allows you to escape reality. Edith Wharton’s novels are one suggestion, hearkening back to a time when life had different challenges and her characters found various ways to cope. A close friend suggested Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy—a nearly 900-page tome that chronicles a personal crisis of a different order. Its rich description of life a hundred years ago reminds us that every generation in every era faces obstacles, and how we choose to surmount them dictates the final outcome. It takes a while to get through 900 pages; by then, we will have more information about our current situation.
  • Take a practical step that gives you a sense of control by making your own hand sanitizer, combining alcohol with aloe vera. Many stores have run out, and many that stock it are taking advantage of the economic principle of scarcity to hike prices. You will find the ingredients and directions here.
  • Resist the temptation to check your portfolio balance every hour. Most experts recommend doing so only monthly, even when the markets are strong. Following that guidance will keep you from making emotion-based decisions, rather than maintaining firm command for the long haul.
  • Take a look at your spending. Although most economists are not predicting a full-fledged recession, some say a slowdown could be in the offing. Jason DeSena Trennert, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the international research firm Strategas, says, “Everything will probably get worse before it gets better, but it will get better.” Use this time to prepare. Most of us could trim 15%-20% from our monthly expenses. Easy targets: restaurants and entertainment. Begin by preparing meals at home. For entertainment (we are all being cautioned to avoid crowds), why not host a dinner party (with ample wipes on hand for those coming in from the elevator). It needn’t be exotic—pasta, salad, bread, and wine make an inexpensive menu. Bonus: It saves on air fare to Italy (even if we could fly there, given that country’s shutdown).
  • Exercise more. Vigorous exercise is the number-one stress combater, so lace up those running shoes and head for the park. A 30-minute aerobic workout gets the adrenaline flowing almost as rapidly as watching CNBC’s market news, and it’s much healthier. With many companies encouraging employees to work from home, the usual excuse of “I cannot work out at noon, because I don’t have time to do my hair” doesn’t wash (pardon the pun). You’ll feel refreshed, energized, and may even drop a pound or two. And while you’re at it, walk when possible, rather than take public transportation, where germs abound. (This writer began walking during the New York City transit strike in 1980, dropped 15 pounds, and subsequently ran 24 marathons and became a long-distance cyclist as a result.)
  • Drink lots of water and suppress the urge to question each sniffle or cough. Medical experts say that signs of the coronavirus are a dry cough and a sore throat that lasts for a few days, with no runny nose. If those are your symptoms, get tested.
  • Get your taxes done. The powers that be in Washington, DC are floating the idea of extending the filing deadline, but organizing receipts, investments, charitable deductions, etc. will make it easier no matter when taxes are due. It’s a good idea, by the way, to get organized early in the year by creating file folders for tax deductions, investment statements, medical records, and property taxes. Your accountant will thank you, and it won’t be such a massive undertaking next year.
  • Stay connected to family and friends. Nearly everyone agrees our country is divided. But we have faced crises as a nation before. We pulled together after the terrorist attacks of 911, and even both sides of the aisle in Congress worked in tandem. During World War II, families did their part, planting victory gardens, saving aluminum for the war effort, and submitting to ration stamps for certain food items and fuel. Granted, this crisis is a different kind, but it demands the same commitment. We are Americans. We have pulled through before. And we will this time.
  • Finally, stay positive, and that extends to social media. Tweeting (or posting on Facebook) hopes that our country’s leaders with whom you disagree will catch the virus and die is not only ugly. It is irresponsible. We are better than that.

We are not advocating a ‘put-your-head-in-the-sand’ approach. The coronavirus is a real threat. We do not know the extent of the problem nor how long it will last. People will get sick, and some will succumb. Staying calm, taking control, and avoiding panic will help get us through it.

Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay 

About Merry Sheils (24 Articles)
Merry Sheils won the New York Press Club’s Journalism Award for best business writing in 2011 and 2012. As a portfolio manager for private clients, she writes a financial column for as well as features and profiles. She frequently writes economic and capital markets commentary, including white papers, thought leadership pieces and investment reports, for companies and investment managers. Prior to becoming a writer, Merry worked as a senior portfolio manager and investment analyst at BNYMellon and Wilmington Trust Company (now M&T Bank). A SUNY graduate with a degree in finance, she is the author of “Debt-Based Securities” and has been published in The Financial Times, Forbes and Chief Executive Magazine, and has appeared as a guest on CNBC. She founded First New York Equity, Incorporated, an investment advisory firm, and sold it to Price Waterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers). She divides her time between New York City and her 18th century house in Columbia County, NY, where she is active in the North Chatham Free Library, the Old Chatham Hunt Club and the Columbia County Historical Society.