What to Do When the Stock Market Freaks Out

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Don't look at the numbers. Avoid the headlines too, if it will keep you from panicking. Yes, world markets are looking scary amid fears of coronavirus fallout. The very best thing you and every other consumer and investor out there can do is simple: Stay calm.

Market unrest over the last days and weeks can look even scarier when you're not fully certain what it all means. Not only do we sometimes latch onto the worst possible scenarios when we try to prepare for the future, but thanks to the screwy economics of advertising and journalism, extreme stories get lots of attention, incentivizing more and more unclear or even incorrect information. You don't have to be an expert to know that "collapse" is a terrible word in any headline.

It all might make you feel like doing something is better than nothing, but if you've got money in the stock market, doing nothing is precisely the right path right now. Lots of world events can affect the stock market, including the Olympics. Don't touch your portfolio — in fact, get comfortable with just hunkering down. Investment is a long-term game, and if anything, stocks bottoming out might be an opportunity to buy rather than sell. (Consult your resources and advisers on the particulars, of course.)

COVID-19, or any other large disruption, is an opportunity to practice de-stressing about money. It's counterintuitive, and it's totally fair to be scared, but when it comes to your finances, do what helps you best keep an eye on the prize — especially if it's coming years down the line.