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Wealth Column: Tips for stress-free investing

Nearly 2 of 3 Americans indicated feeling anxious when thinking about their personal finances, while fully half of respondents indicated feeling stressed when discussing their finances. There are three useful exercises to focus on inner positive strengths.

Bruce Helmer and Peg Webb sit next to each other at a table.
Bruce Helmer and Peg Webb, financial advisers at Wealth Enhancement Group and co-hosts of “Your Money” on KLKS 100.1 FM on Sunday mornings.
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The American Psychological Association’s most recent consumer survey found that 72% of Americans reported feeling stressed about money at least at some time in the past month.

Eighty-seven percent said a significant source of stress was the rise in prices of items due to inflation (specifically, gas prices, energy bills, groceries), and 65% noted that money was a source of stress, the same percentage that pointed to “the economy.”

What are some of the consequences of financial stress?

Being in sustained survival mode, Americans have been processing repercussions from COVID-19, which is turning up in reported:

  • Unhealthy weight gain,
  • Mental health issues,
  • Disturbed sleep.
  • Increased reliance on unhealthy habits.

A separate study from FINRA, a government-supervised nonprofit that oversees U.S. broker/dealers, reported that Americans reported feeling financial stress and anxiety well before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such stressors were “highly linked to low levels of financial literacy, problematic financial behaviors and decreased financial security.”
Furthermore, nearly 2 of 3 Americans indicated feeling anxious when thinking about their personal finances, while fully half of respondents indicated feeling stressed when discussing their finances. More women than men (65% vs. 54%) indicated feeling anxious about a lack of assets and insufficient income, high debt, money management challenges and low financial literacy.

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Root causes of financial stress

Research shows that our backgrounds and past experiences — especially how our parents handled financial challenges — leave a powerful psychological imprint on how we make financial decisions. In addition, humans who encounter fearful or unfamiliar situations, especially when there is a perception or belief in resource scarcity, are hard-wired to “fight or flight.” This is why people naturally try to avoid losses and uncertainty, which is a fact of life. Losses in the markets are unavoidable, so stress often bubbles to the surface when markets fall, and elation returns when markets get healthier.

Prescriptions for addressing challenging markets

When markets decline, traditional wisdom would have you focus on the importance of being dispassionate about your situation, whether it’s related to a drop in your 401(k) or a bid on a new house falling through.

The problem is, we cannot completely divorce our emotions from big decisions. It’s part of our evolutionary biology. Here are three useful exercises to move investors from relying on pure logic to navigate down markets to focus on three inner positive strengths:

  1. Find gratitude. Financial fear is about not having enough. Gratitude is about focusing on what we have — the good things in our lives. So, when you’re feeling stressed, think about the positives: Do you have a roof over your head, enough food to eat, access to healthcare, a strong network of family and friends? What more do you need?
  2. Have confidence. How often do we face an uncertain future? (Spoiler alert: It’s 100% of the time.) At critical moments in our lives, we face unexpected situations that can change us forever. Some of these situations are positive, some negative. Over time, as we gain wisdom and perspective, we learn how to navigate the unexpected. What may help you prevail during challenging times is a combination of talents, skills and character strengths. And focusing on things you can control — rather than the stress that comes from ruminating over what you can’t control — can give you the confidence to move forward.
  3. Discover hidden benefits. There is a silver lining to most hardships in life, although we may not recognize it as such right away. During our greatest challenges in life, we may feel some combination of overwhelmed, angry, sad, frustrated, depressed or numb. Nothing good seems to be happening. But struggles often create positive changes, too. Hardships often help us discover what’s important in life, such as transitioning to a new job that’s a better fit, ending an unhappy marriage or realizing that the true currency of life isn’t money, but time. 

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Bruce Helmer and Peg Webb are financial advisers at Wealth Enhancement Group and co-hosts of “Your Money” on News Radio 830 WCCO on Sunday mornings. Email Bruce and Peg at yourmoney@wealthenhancement.com. Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Wealth Enhancement Advisory Services, LLC, a registered investment adviser. Wealth Enhancement Group and Wealth Enhancement Advisory Services are separate entities from LPL.

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