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If you’re a control freak like me, it’s hard to ignore the stock market right now — but it’s the best decision I’ve made

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When I first started investing in the stock market about four years ago, I was hesitant. I’m naturally a control freak; how would I not obsess over the market’s inevitable highs and lows? My boyfriend, who’s helped advise me on what to invest in, has constantly reassured me that these fluctuations are normal. He’s instilled in me that since I’m in my 40s, I have to look at investing as a long-term retirement strategy, not a get-rich-quick scheme.

I nodded my head, assuring him I understood — but that’s easier said than done. 

Getting on top of my retirement savings

At the start of this year, in an effort to be proactive about my savings, I set certain milestones for myself, projecting over the next decade how much I’d have to save to get a figure that I’d feel comfortable with for retirement. I didn’t want to stay in the dark about my investments, so at least once a week, and usually daily, I’d check to see how my stocks were doing, noting the totals in a spreadsheet. 

When the markets started dropping (and dropping and dropping) in response to the spreading coronavirus, I found that my outlook on investing also took a huge hit each time I saw a low number when I logged in. Instead of feeling like I was being smart about my money, I felt stupid, like I’d somehow invested poorly. I was taking it personally, even though I knew logically that I’d made good decisions because I was way up before the coronavirus started ravaging the world. 

My strategy for getting through the market downturn

I’ve since made a rule for myself that I won’t check until I hear that the market is on the upswing. If there’s nothing I can do about it, and taking a loss by selling my stocks wouldn’t make sense, I would rather focus on saving so that I can act promptly and buy more stock the next time the market tumbles. 

To write this essay, I broke my rule and checked my total, and the number made me do a double take it was so low. It’s one thing to hear about the market dropping, and another to see your own personal savings you’ve been proud of accumulating down 20% from where it was a few weeks ago. 

But just as I’ve done with paying off debt, I’ve had to separate my goals and accomplishments from something I have no control over. I can’t be attached to a number that is affected by so many different factors, and at 44, I have (hopefully) decades ahead of me to earn and invest.

Not looking at my investments is smart for my mental health

As someone who deals with anxiety and depression, I don’t need any more reasons to add stress to my life. The coronavirus seems to offer endless opportunities to analyze every decision I make, from taking public transportation to deciding whether to attend a cousin’s wedding overseas — and how often to check my retirement account.

As a freelance writer and editor, there are so many aspects of my financial life that are out of my control, from whether I’ll be paid on time to how many copies my books will sell. In any given year, my finances can be up tens of thousands of dollars, or down the same amount, even if I’m working the same amount of hours and putting in the same effort. So in some ways, I’m used to uncertainty around money. The coronavirus situation is just another variation on that, and at least that’s money that I don’t plan to use for a long time.

Information overload is real, and while I want to be aware of what’s happening in the world, alongside limiting checking my investments, I’ve had to limit how much I read and watch about the coronavirus. The same pattern takes over my mind when I dive down those rabbit holes, where I become fatalistic rather than proactive. 

Not checking my balance has freed up my mental energy around money to look more closely at my spending and saving. If I can cut $20 here and there, or eliminate or postpone some bigger purchases, I at least feel like I’m doing something good for both my current mindset and my financial future. Obsessing over the whims of the stock market during such a volatile time made me want to eat my feelings or give up on investing entirely, neither of which are healthy.

Is it easy to pretend that I am super blasé about watching my money seemingly disappear? No. But if I’m going to be a serious investor, I know I have to be prepared for times of economic turmoil, however long they last. Sometimes, the less you know, the better.

A financial planner can help you make sure you’re on track for retirement. Use SmartAsset’s free tool to connect with a qualified professional »

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