March 2020 really turned up the volume on stress and anxiety. The term pandemic brought a lot of panic and uncertainty. The stock market has seen record lows and many have lost so much. Schools and businesses have shut their doors. Many are out of work or simply not being paid due to the nature of their jobs. Social distancing and self quarantine have become the most prominent topics on social media. You can hardly find core items in grocery stores. The public can be seen wearing masks and gloves. There are test centers with lines so long you can't get in after hours of waiting because they're running out of tests. A cough or a sneeze leads to others assuming you're next sentence will be "I want brains for brunch."
*I am not a financial adviser, medical professional, or therapist. Writing about it just makes me feel better and maybe you'll feel better too. Keep in mind I'm saying this to myself in the mirror.*
It's okay to be upset
Often we try to mask our feelings and pretend we are totally fine. We dig deep, push through, find the last tiny bit of gas left in the tank and run on empty. We do need a healthy level of this resilience, but for me that mindset eventually leads to a breakdown.
It's okay to feel stress, anxiety, uncertainty, fear, anger, etc. This is a novel situation. Most of us have lost money, worry about keeping employment, worry about loved ones becoming sick, can't find what we need in the grocery stores, and have completely changed our routines. This is stressful and those feelings are valid. There is nothing wrong with admitting this to yourself or even others. Hell, cry if you need to let it out. And then know you're not alone.
After giving yourself permission to feel the way you feel, what is important is how you cope with those feelings.
Look for Gratitude
Family and Friends
If you're at home with family members or roommates, be mindful of your interactions. They are probably feeling a lot of the same things you are and interpersonal conflict will not help the situation. Try not to take your negative feelings out on your loved ones (I'm guilty of high irritability to my loving partner). Appreciate this time you have together and the fact that you're safe and healthy. Facetime (Duo app for Android) friends and family members who are not in your home. This keeps you connected and lessens feelings of isolation and loneliness.
If you are still employed and/or still receiving a paycheck, say thank you to the universe (or your employer and coworkers if you'd like). Realize that many have been laid off or are simply not being paid due to the nature of their jobs. Understand that your boss and coworkers are also experiencing negative feelings. Aim for positive, calm interactions.
Others who are Working
Be appreciative of the employees of medical facilities, grocery stores, gas stations, governmental services, postal services, banks, credit card companies, etc. For many, work hours are longer and they are in the public all day every day on top of any emotional stress they may be experiencing. Be appreciative of everyone who is able to work from home to keep businesses running as normally as possible. Appreciate anyone you can.
We don't appreciate how incredible health is until we are experiencing a pandemic. If you and your loved ones are well, say thank you. Be mindful that stress takes a toll on your health and immune system. Be intentional about stress relief and rest. Although it is okay to eat a little junk food during this time (guilty), try to maintain 70% healthy meals and eat regularly. If you workout, try not to fall out of a workout routine (also guilty). If you don't workout, maybe this is a good time to give it a go!
Be Compassionate and Understanding
Aside from recognizing your current feelings and that others have them too, be compassionate and understanding to others who may actually be sick. This is not a good time to have a cold or allergies (you're instantly treated like a zombie). Consider the fact that it's spring and the pollen is out full force.
Be compassionate to those who do have all of the symptoms of the virus. It is scary to think you may have what the world is freaking out about on top of feeling like shit. Even though it's not personal, being treated like you need to be avoided takes an emotional toll. Something is wrong with you and you can't be near others (oh, and you could die or kill someone else).
Getting tested is not easy. Healthcare professionals are given a limited amount of tests and must use discretion on how critical their patients may be. Test centers require doctor's orders or symptoms to be currently present. That's if you make it through the hours of waiting in line before they run out (with no bathroom access, mind you). The treatment of non-critical patients is the same whether you have a positive test result or not (self-quarantine, cough syrup & Tylenol). If your immune system is not compromised and your symptoms are not critical, you probably shouldn't take a test away from someone who could need it more.
Do what your doctor and your conscience tells you is in your best interest instead of listening to the pressure received from others.
Channel Anxiety in Positive Ways
What can you do to feel better or even just distract yourself that is helpful and does not cause future harm? For example, it would not be good to choose counterproductive things like online shopping, over-eating junk, over-exercising, substance abuse, etc. If you're at home, this is a good opportunity to do any or all of the things you always want to do but "never have time." Keith changed out all three of our bathroom sink faucets and mounted our TV in the basement. I've been painting walls and trim I haven't gotten to yet. Aside from home improvement, de-cluttering or spring cleaning can be refreshing and distracting. Focus on your hobbies or learn something new on YouTube. Catch up on your movies and shows. Sleep in. Paint your nails. Give or get a massage. Have sex. Workout. Cook. Bake. Make a financial plan. Play games. Clean out your digital clutter. Sip coffee. Sit on the porch. Take a bath. Start a blog. Start a journal. Call someone to chat. Schedule a video therapy session. Listen to music. Plant a garden. Get creative!
What to do with your Money
Mindfully Stock Up
I understand the fear around not having enough food and toiletries; however, hoarding them is creating scarcity mindset, panic in the grocery stores and causing many to not be able to find what they actually need. We mindfully bought extra in the items we use a lot of, but do not have more than 3-4 few weeks of groceries/supplies. There is 100% no need to buy ridiculous amounts of toilet paper and paper towels...I really don't understand it. I can maybe understand being out of hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes. If everyone continued to use only what they need, there wouldn't be such an insane shortage.
If you have a security fund or emergency fund, this is the time to pat yourself on the back and appreciate the comfort it offers when things become uncertain financially. Ideally, you'd have 3-6 months of expenses saved. If you don't, this is the time to start. If you're making extra debt payments, pause and fortify your security fund. If you haven't read my post on creating a security fund or ways to save money, start there. In these posts, I go over in more detail how to create space in your budget and ideas for ways to save more money.
Do Not Touch Your Retirement
This is not a good time to be panicking and pulling your money out of your retirement accounts. Leaving your money in long term and continuing to invest is the best way for it to recover, especially if you're getting an employer match. Just stop looking at it if it's making you want to sell at a loss.
If you've got a fully-funded security fund, continue investing as normal. The best investment strategy is to invest consistently regardless of what the market looks like. We invest in index funds through Betterment. If you aren't currently investing and you have a fully-funded security fund, now is a great time to start since the market is dropping. Think of it as the market being on sale.
If you own a home, consider looking into refinancing options. Interest rates have dropped to record lows and if it benefits you to refinance, this is your opportunity.
I hope you have found some comfort or inspiration in my ramblings this morning! Recognize what you're feeling is okay and channel it in positive ways. Be grateful for what you have and compassionate to others. Make smart money moves. We're all in this together. Take care of yourself <3