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First off, remember to breathe.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -1.64% and S&P 500 Index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -1.91% plunged Thursday in the worst drop since the 1987 market crash. The dramatic decline came after President Trump announced Wednesday evening that the U.S. would suspend flights from 26 European countries for 30 days, starting midnight Friday in an effort to slow th silent spread of COVID-19, the sometimes fatal disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Rather than freaking out about the market’s rollercoaster ride, there are several steps you can take to improve your physical and financial health.
Hyper-ventilating about every rise and dip isn’t time well spent, experts said. Rather than freaking out about the market’s rollercoaster ride or the COVID-19 epidemic, there are several steps you can take to improve your emotional, physical and financial health. The World Health Organization has a set of recommendations for how to deal with stress stemming from the virus.
Coronavirus had infected 128,392 people globally and killed 4,728 as of Friday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering, and 69,607 recoveries. The U.S. had 1,701 confirmed coronavirus cases and 40 deaths.
WHO recommends people limit the amount of time “you and your family spend watching or listening to media coverage that you perceive as upsetting.” It also recommends gathering information about the virus from a credible source like the WHO or a local public health agency. Financial advisers say the same is true for those who are worried about their 401(k) or their investments in their favorite stocks, whether it’s /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -2.51% Google /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG -3.70% , Tesla /zigman2/quotes/203558040/composite TSLA -9.52% or Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -0.63% .
“Freaking out doesn’t help you stay healthy,” said Catherine Belling, a professor at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, who studies the role of fear and anxiety in health care. “It just makes you feel really bad and keeps you from doing the rational things that actually might help you stay healthy.” Instead of throwing yourself into a rabbit-hole of panic and anxiety, here are 10 ways to regain your sense of control.
1. Distract yourself from alarming headlines
If you’re a relatively young, long-term investor, don’t even look at your account balance, or the week’s stock-market plunge. It is too difficult at this point to predict the market’s levels years into the future, when young investors will be cashing out accounts such as their 401(k)s. Money that people are saving for short-term goals shouldn’t be invested in the market.
So instead of obsessively checking account balances or worrying about COVID-19, work out or socialize with friends. Exercise has even been linked to financial health; a 2016 study from the American Heart Association found that individuals who exercised moderately paid about $2,500 less in annual health care expenses related to heart disease than those who did not exercise.
Better yet: Do a job you can earn money for, like babysitting, dog walking or signing up for an app like TaskRabbit. Extra money can go toward debt or savings. Just don’t distract yourself through “retail therapy”: Anxiety is linked to making financially risky decisions. And shopping to relieve stress and anxiety can leave you in a worse financial state than before.
2. Take time to evaluate your budget
Many Americans would do well to examine their budgets — if they even have a budget at all, according to Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at the personal-finance website Bankrate.com. About two-thirds of American adults don’t even have one, according to the polling firm Gallup. And about the same percentage say they would have trouble coming up with $2,000 in an emergency, according to the New York Federal Reserve.
Some obvious places in the budget to make cuts: Cable TV, cellphone plans, video streaming subscriptions, or other monthly subscriptions that you may have forgotten about. Is it time to cut out that extra movie channel that you don’t watch? Can you get a better deal from another operator? Some people may be reluctant to go to a restaurant, due to fears relating to the coronavirus and being around people who are asymptomatic. Luckily cooking meals at home is generally less expensive than eating out, and for some, it’s an effective stress reliever .
3. Why not make your own hand sanitizer
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at 20 seconds over using hand sanitizer. But both aren’t always readily available, in which case the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Purell, which has been selling briskly, contains 70% ethyl alcohol. But many hand sanitizers are sold out. (GOJO, the parent company for Purell, did not respond to a request for comment.)
That said, you can easily make your own hand sanitizer and save yourself some money in the process, given that some hand sanitizer is selling for more than $100 for a 12 oz. bottle from third-party sellers on Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -2.00% . Anne Marie Helmenstine, who holds a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences, posted a tutorial online for how to make it. It may take your mind off the plunge in the stock markets, although some health experts say homemade versions may not be very effective. Here are the ingredients and equipment you would need:
2/3 cup 99% rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) or ethanol
1/3 cup aloe vera gel
8-10 drops essential oil, optional (such as lavender, vanilla, peppermint, grapefruit)
Bowl and spoon
Recycled liquid soap or hand sanitizer bottle
4. Check-in with elderly family and community members
The elderly appear to be more prone to contracting the new coronavirus. “But some haven’t even heard about it,” said Amy Goyer, a family and care-giving expert for AARP. “For others, that’s all they’re listening to.” It’s a good idea to call seniors and get a feel for where they stand, she said. “As the virus spreads it’s more and more important to be in touch with people who are isolated,” Goyer said. “They may think this is minor and may not get themselves checked out.”
At the same time, “You don’t want to act like we’re in the middle of a huge crisis,” according to Goyer, who has written three books on care giving. It is also very important for them to stock up on all the medication they need. Have a conversation with seniors about medication and other supplies they may need in the event that a health aide cannot or family members cannot assist them.
Have a conversation with seniors about medication and other supplies they may need in the event that an aid cannot or family members cannot assist them.
Meals on Wheels, a grassroots organization dedicated to addressing senior isolation and hunger, is often a lifeline for homebound older adults in times of emergency. Many local programs have a telephone reassurance program run by volunteers who can check in with seniors regularly to make sure they have all the supplies they need and are in good health. “Letting a senior know you’re thinking of them from afar in times like this can absolutely provide reassurance and help to combat the negative health effects of social isolation and loneliness,” said Jenny Young, vice president of communications for Meals on Wheels America.
5. Be choosy about where you get your news
Misinformation on Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -0.63% or Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR +1.23% could cause health authorities to expend more effort debunking false theories about coronavirus. Companies like Facebook have brought in third-party fact checkers to cut down on the amount of fake news. Other platforms like Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR +1.23% . Seek out COVID-19 information from the CDC or WHO, and financial information from trusted news sources rather than online groups. “You’ll feel reassured because you’ve done what you can to prevent and prepare, just in case you need to,” Belling said.
6. Organize your finances and pay off debt
Fully 18% of people who earn more than $100,000 say they live paycheck to paycheck, according to a survey released last month of 8,000 workers by global advisory firm Willis Towers Watson. “There’s a high correlation between high pay — and living in a high-cost area and having an advanced degree,” Shane Bartling, the senior director for retirement for the firm, explains of why so many people making a chunk of change say they’re still living paycheck to paycheck.
Do you have a student loan, or even some credit-card debt? Currently, Americans have a total of roughly $1.5 trillion in student loan debt — and graduate degrees are responsible for a chunk of that debt. Make a payment, instead of worrying about the market. Many credit-card accounts have compound interest rates of 20% or more. So money spent on that debt can guarantee high returns. Even paying student-loan debt, which typically has lower rates, can guarantee a better return than the market can at times, she said.
7. Amp up your retirement investing
Have you signed up for a retirement account? There’s no time like the present. Many employed Americans don’t have a retirement account at all. If there’s room in your budget, you can also amp up the amount you contribute to your 401(k) in order to get a contribution match from your employer, if it offers one. For those who don’t have 401(k) accounts at work, it can be fast to sign up online for a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. They allow you to save while receiving tax benefits for doing so.
Nearly one quarter of the investors in the 401(k) plans managed by Fidelity Investments said they were overinvested in stocks versus recommended levels.
Fidelity Investments, a major manager of company retirement plans, recently estimated that 23% of the investors in the 401(k) plans it manages were overinvested in stocks compared to their recommended levels, including 7% who had their entire 401(k) plan in the stock market. Among baby boomers, who are near or in retirement, 38% were overinvested in stocks, and 8% were entirely invested in the stock market.
Ideally, you will “maximize contributions to your IRA, 401(k), or 403(b). You can contribute up to $19,500 in 2020 to your 401(k) or 403(b) plan, and if you’re 50 or older, you can contribute an extra $6,500,” according to Kimberly Foss, the founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, Calif. She adds: “And don’t forget IRAs; the maximum contribution for 2020 is $6,000, with an extra $1,000 catch-up provision in you’re 50 or older. The tax-free compounding of these retirement accounts is strong magic for your income at retirement time.”
8. Open a higher-interest savings account
Many traditional banks offer low interest rates on savings accounts, but there are several online banks offering higher rates to consumers.Consumers holding an emergency fund in cash could be earning more than they are currently, he said, and setting up an online account can take only a few minutes. Look for a savings account that pays a greater than 2% annual percentage yield. On that note, some financial writers recommend CIT Bank and Citizens Access, an offshoot of Citizens Bank, Marcus by Goldman Sachs /zigman2/quotes/209237603/composite GS -2.67% , Synchrony and Barclays.
Research from TD Ameritrade — which looks at people who save 20% or more of their incomes, called “super savers” — shows that the single biggest difference between what super savers spent less on, as compared with the rest of us, was housing. Super savers spent just 14% of their incomes on housing, while regular folks dropped 23%. What’s more, more than four in 10 people who fully funded or were very close to fully funding their 401(k) accounts said in another survey that one of the sacrifices they made to save so much was that they lived in a modest home.
9. Celebrate your strengths, fix your financial flaws
In less than 15 minutes, you can find out just how financially healthy you are by taking a financial capability quiz . Questions like: Could you come up with $2,000 if an unexpected need arose within the next month? May prompt you to adhere to a stricter budget, especially if you or your partner has to take time off work because of illness.
One rule of thumb: dedicate 80% of your spending budget to necessities like rent, utilities and 20% for fun splurges like concerts and clothing, according to Northwestern Mutual. A fear-driven rush to sell stocks amidst coronavirus concerns may ignore the less obvious underlying problems in your portfolio. “Are your investments appropriate for your age?” or “Are you sensibly diversified?” may help you regain a sense of control over your emotional and financial health.
10. Finally, explore the art of meditation
Closing your eyes and taking deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth won’t pay your bills, create a magical bump in the stock market, and it certainly won’t act as a preventative measure against coronavirus. But it can help you restore a calm mind set to make more rational decisions. There are free apps such as Smiling Mind and one designed by UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. YouTube /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG -3.70% also offers guided meditation tutorials.
One of the most popular paid meditation apps, Headspace, which costs $12.99 a month, offers a catalog of 30-day courses on topics such as how to find focus at work and dealing with regret. They also offer single meditation courses that can last three to 10 minutes. “Our brains have developed to focus on the threat,” said Megan Jones Bell, a clinical psychologist and chief science officer at Headspace. “I think it’s understandable for people to go down a rabbit hole.”
Meditation helps people “deactivate that emotional center of the brain which is sensitive to negative reactions that keep us hooked to news cycles,” she added. That will hopefully help you process both ongoing news of COVID-19 and the Dow’s rough ride.
(Maria LaMagna, Brett Arends and Catey Hill contributed to this article.)