Contributor: Paul Brandus 

Just a few weeks ago, stocks were at all-time highs, TV pundits were analyzing a November matchup between President Trump and Bernie Sanders, sports fans were gearing up for March Madness and a new baseball season—and COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, was an overseas problem. 

Seems like ancient history, doesn’t it? 

The deluge of bad news since has turned lives upside down and cast a shadow of fear across the nation. There’s the virus itself, which is now killing hundreds of Americans daily and is, health experts say, weeks from peaking. Then there is a savage bear market SPX, -0.21%, that has added to the financial stress that tens of millions of people had even before all this began. Also adding to this stress: the recommended isolation that has us cooped up in the house—no meeting friends for a cup of coffee, or family gatherings. Humans are social animals, and the lack of interaction can add to our stress and weaken our immune systems.

I’ll deal with the finances in a second, but first, some tips on reducing the stress. Focus on just four things. 

Stay in touch. If you’re not familiar with things like Skype, and Zoom, this is a great time to learn. Invite others and you can “meet” for that morning coffee from home. Your mobile phone also has apps (like Apple’s FaceTime) for video calls—and what’s wrong with picking up the old-fashioned landline? Just because you’re inside doesn’t mean you’re really that isolated. Church services and social groups are also moving online, by the way. 

Turn off the TV. Having the news on all day, listening to stories of disease, death and a falling stock market is a guaranteed way of feeling bad. To keep up, brief updates in the morning, midday and evening should be enough. You can also subscribe free to email updates from major newspapers, that let you scan the headlines in just a few minutes.

Exercise. This is a great way to lower stress, and if you don’t want to go outside, you can certainly exercise at home. If you don’t have a dedicated space for this, you can create one. Even if you don’t have equipment (you can always order stuff online), you can do stretches, sit ups, pushups and jumping jacks, etc., and if you want to take a free online class there are tons of options. 

For older Americans, the National Institute on Aging has various videos that you can easily follow. Here’s an example. For something more ambitious, I recommend Fitness Blender. Just click on “Workouts and Programs” and you can follow videos that are geared to your ability and needs. Don’t forget to stretch before and after you exercise and to drink water throughout. 

Eat properly and rest. Avoid junk food. Emphasize fresh fruits, veggies and proteins. A drink with dinner or in the evening is OK, but don’t overdo it. Get plenty of rest. And drink more water. 

So to reduce stress, focus on the above and I think you’ll feel better and think better, which will help you focus on the next matter: Money.

Don’t get emotional. This crash (as with most crashes) came as a surprise to most. I presume you’ve lost money—I know I have—but there is no use crying over spilled milk or panicking about further losses. Letting your fear (or greed) get the best of you practically guarantees selling low and later buying high. 

Focus. Your goals—as they should always be—are these: to ensure that you have enough to live on, that you’re well diversified, that you’re not taking on more risk than you can stomach, and that you’re maintaining long-term purchasing power. By this I mean if inflation is 2% a year, your portfolio should grow by at least that much to keep up. 

Think long-term. Americans are living longer than ever. The Census Bureau points out for example, that by 2040, just 20 years from now, nearly one in 25 of us will live to 85 or longer. This suggests you should always have some exposure to stocks for the simple reason that—the last month not withstanding—they tend to do just fine over longer periods.

Have a plan. The above points all suggest working with a trusted financial adviser. Here’s a Catch-22: The more money people have, the more they tend to work with an adviser. But what’s the best way to grow and protect your money in the first place? By working with an adviser. Some advisers require a certain minimum, some don’t. But many mutual fund shops—probably yours—will also be happy to work with you. Pick up the phone and ask.