By Christina Kramlich, CFP®, Financial Advisor
It’s been a little more than two months since the COVID-19 crisis began, and we seem to be entering a new stage socially. There’s still a lot of anxiety, but I see people starting to adapt to the “new normal,” whatever the new normal is going to be. Now that the initial shock of the pandemic and economic shut-down has worn off, there are new issues emerging. On one hand, people feel the need to get back to work immediately for the sake of the economy and livelihoods, and on the other hand, there’s the feeling that we all need to stay home as much as possible for the sake of our collective health. Most of us are feeling the tug of both of these at various times. There’s uncertainty in multiple areas of life: health, businesses, jobs, activities, events, school, anticipated vacations — everything, basically! And that uncertainty makes people feel incredibly vulnerable and can trigger them emotionally in ways they’re not used to. As planners, we’ve been trying to help clients, friends, and families manage their emotions during all of this.
Last week I Zoom-attended a conference, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) Spring Connect — and hats off to the organizers for changing up the whole program and putting it online in just six weeks or so. While we didn’t get the fun, social time that conferences usually offer, there were some great presentations. One of particular interest to me was on managing emotions, led by Dr. Kristy Archuleta, Associate Professor of Financial Planning, Housing, and Consumer Economics at the University of Georgia.
Archuleta teaches financial planners to apply methods from mental health frameworks to help clients deal with financial life planning issues. She was doing this well before the crisis broke out, so she has a good perspective. She listed four main factors contributing to anxiety right now:
- Physical health, or simply trying not to get COVID-19 to start with, as well as staying fit.
- Psychological well-being, or trying to stay balanced during so much uncertainty.
- Relational well-being, or figuring out how to handle relationships in this new reality.
- Financial well-being, including lost jobs or fears about job security, the volatility in the stock market, concerns about retirement plans, etc.
Each of these factors interacts with the others and provokes responses that are likely new and disconcerting. Right now, it seems like surviving is the new thriving.
So how do we survive — and even thrive – in these times?
Here are a few concrete ways offered by Archuleta and confirmed by experiences in my own life and with my clients:
Set and follow good routines. It will help provide consistency in your days, and there is comfort in that. Many people are still in quarantine, and even if they do go back to work, they will likely be leaving the house much less for some time going forward. Having a good routine for self-care, such as exercising in the morning to start the day, dressing for work (even if it’s just in casual clothes, at least it’s not PJs), taking a walk at lunchtime if possible, keeping tabs on screen-time, getting enough sleep — can really keep you grounded. It’s also helpful to maintain a respect for the boundary between your home life and other activities you’re involved in, even if that boundary is only in your mind at this point.
Acknowledge small accomplishments. Small wins can be really satisfying and help keep us motivated in a positive direction. This might mean organizing a part of your living space, setting a new fitness goal, trying new recipes, or reading books, and then recognizing your accomplishments. These can add up and will make a difference in helping you stay present and feeling good. Plus, they can become positive habits for the long run.
Have gratitude for the moment, but keep looking ahead. To the extent possible, it’s important to focus on the positive aspects of our lives right now, rather than looking back at past mistakes or regrets. It’s also important to look forward — not at the things we fear and can’t control — but the things we want to move toward and over which we do have some control. In the financial realm, this could mean sticking to the financial plan you’ve already created, or beginning one with a planner, if you haven’t done so yet.
Finally, give yourself a break if you have a tough day. If you find yourself having a hard time focusing on a given day or moment, acknowledge it. If you can take a few minutes to do something else — physical activity, reading something (not news), meditation, talking with a friend or loved one, playing with your pets, or spending a moment in nature — you can move back to the present and reset. We’re all doing a massive amount of adjustment, so be kind to yourself. Recognize that you’re human and keep moving forward.