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De-Stress Yourself: How to Keep Your Anxiety From Interfering With Your Investing

By Motley Fool Staff – Updated Aug 5, 2019 at 5:56PM

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Are you being as rational as you think you are when you make important fiscal decisions? Let’s talk.

Editor's note (Aug. 5, 2019): The markets started this week with a sharp reminder that stocks go down as well as up. That can be stressful. We get it. And that's why we're bringing your attention back to this episode of Motley Fool Answers and its look at the damage that fear and emotional investing can do to your portfolio returns and something you can do to resist the urge to sell, run, scream, cry, hide...

This probably won't come as much of a shock to you, but Americans are stressed. And while that condition has plenty of sources, if you're not wealthy, the odds are good that some of your chief stressors involve your financial situation. For this episode of Motley Fool Answers, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp are joined by Pete Shalek, the co-founder and CEO of Joyable, which he describes as not just an app, but an end-to-end mental-health solution that helps people improve their emotional well-being.

In this segment, they talk about the damage that fear and emotional investing can do to your portfolio returns, and consider some tips for pushing back against those risks. (Joyable can help.)

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on Feb. 6, 2018.

Pete Shalek: For us it's not about getting rid of these emotions. It's about still being able to do the things you want to do, and still making good decisions for the business that are objective. It's about treating your people well and treating them objectively. Because when you're anxious, one of the things that's worse about being anxious is that you're kind of a jerk when you're anxious. You become sort of self-oriented, so being able to diminish those emotions as best you can. I certainly haven't done it perfectly, but it's been really helpful to have these techniques.

My favorite technique is a simple thing that I do multiple times a day. It's not a cognitive behavioral therapy technique. It's a breathing technique called "square breathing" that's taught by the Navy Seals and other Special Forces units for literally when people are under fire to calm themselves down. It takes 60 seconds and it's super simple. All you do is you breathe in for four seconds, you hold your breath for four seconds... you're doing it now.

Alison Southwick: I was. I figured while you were talking, so it still made for good radio.

Shalek: So, you breathe in for four seconds, you hold your breath for four seconds, and you exhale for four seconds, and you hold your breath for four seconds. You do that four times. It takes 64 seconds and research has shown that it drops your heart rate and your blood pressure when you do that.

If I ever notice myself in the middle of a meeting, or in the middle of an important decision and I feel my blood pressure rising, I stop. You can do it while someone else is talking. It's totally inconspicuous. It calms me down...

Southwick: You caught me, though.

Shalek: I did, but I'm trained in this particular technique. That, for me, has been one really simple and mentally helpful technique to stay calm.

Southwick: That's great.

Robert Brokamp: You talk a little about how we are anxious, and before the show you mentioned some thoughts you had on how such things affect people as investors. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Shalek: There's been quite a bit of research done over time about emotions and decision-making, and what they've shown is that your emotions play a very large role in the decisions you make. Even the ones that you perceive to be rational are not actually driven entirely by objective logical settings. For instance, there was a big study done in 1999 that found that when people feel anxious they skew toward making lower risk, lower reward decisions; whereas if they feel depressed, they skew toward making higher-risk, higher-reward decisions.

Of course, as an investor, your goal is to be entirely objective and to put together the best portfolio you can without any bias for whether you're doing things that are high risk or low risk. That's all logically determined as part of your asset allocation. In reality, the ability to control your emotions allows you to make better investment decisions.

You can see it most obviously through bubbles like what's going on with bitcoin, where there's sort of fear and greed that drives behavior, and the best investors can avoid both of those emotional charges to be able to make good decisions for themselves.

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