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How to feel up when the market’s down

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Kai Ryssdal: You’re probably numb to bad economic news by now, right? After the crash of last fall watching the stock market nowadays doesn’t bring too much fear. And we’re all used to lousy reports on unemployment and gross domestic product. Therapists and mental health professionals would say we have updated our coping mechanisms to deal with the financial ups and downs. Commentator Paul Hellman has a couple more.

PAUL HELLMAN: Sometimes, in the middle of work, I wonder, “How’s the Dow doing?” — the way you might worry about an unsteady friend who reacts to every single thing that happens and then gives you the math: “I was up this morning, now I’m down — really down.”

How do you stay up when the Dow goes down? One answer comes from a surprising source: financial advice.

Unfortunately, you can’t really apply this advice to your portfolio for the main reason that your portfolio no longer really exists, but you can use it to restore perspective. Here’s the key principle: think wide, think long.

Think wide: Open any financial guide, what do you read? Diversify. Regrettably, even diversified portfolios have lost money. So maybe it’s time to diversify out of “money.”

Let’s assume you’ve already done that, in the sense that you no longer have any. Well, consider your career. Hmm, my career? Let’s see, I’m worried about getting laid off. All right, who isn’t, but what can you do about it? How can you take some initiative and stand out? And what’s your Plan B if you do get laid off? Put something down on paper. Keep it simple, one page.

Consider your health. Hmm, my health? Well, I’m really stressed out by all this financial news. All right, who isn’t, but what can you do about it? Can you exercise more, practice some relaxation techniques, spend more time with friends, family?

Here’s the point: Don’t put all your concerns in one basket.

Sounds odd, but by looking at the broad sweep of your affairs, you compartmentalize any single problem, and maybe, you discover one or two things to feel grateful for.

Also, think long: Stock-market pros advise against putting money in the market that you’ll need before five years. Will you be upset about the Dow in 5 years? Hmm, five years — maybe. All right, how about 10 years?

Most problems are temporary, not permanent. In 10 years, I believe — call me optimistic — that we’ll have a completely new set of circumstances to worry about.

Kai Ryssdal: Paul Hellman is a business consultant.

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