The stock market has been having a rough year so far. The S&P 500 is currently down more than 17% since January, and it also briefly entered bear market territory recently.

Market downturns can be intimidating, and even experienced investors are often unnerved by volatility. Also, because nobody knows for certain whether a crash is looming, it's normal to feel concerned about the market's future.

Just how worried about a market crash should you be, though? And what should you be doing to protect your investments? There are a few things to know.

Person with a serious expression looking out a window.

Image source: Getty Images.

Is the stock market going to crash?

Nobody can say for sure how the market will perform in the coming weeks or months. While there is a chance that stock prices could continue falling, it's also possible that the market recovers relatively quickly.

Rather than trying to predict the market's performance or worrying about whether a crash is looming, the best thing you can do right now is maintain a long-term outlook.

The market has seen plenty of corrections and crashes over the years. In the past two decades alone, it's experienced everything from the dot-com bubble burst to the Great Recession to the crash in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only has it recovered from every downturn so far, but it's also earned positive average returns over time.

^SPX Chart

^SPX data by YCharts

If you're worried about a potential stock market crash, keep in mind that investing is a long-term game. No matter what happens over the coming weeks or months, it's extremely likely the market will rebound eventually.

How to protect your money

Whether the stock market crashes or not, there are steps you can take to protect your investments as much as possible.

For one, make sure your portfolio is well-diversified. Most experts recommend owning at least 25 to 30 stocks from a variety of industries. This way, even if one or two of your stocks don't survive a market downturn, it won't have a major impact on the rest of your portfolio.

Next, double-check your asset allocation -- especially if you're close to retirement. As you age, it's wise to gradually shift your portfolio to the conservative side, investing less in stocks and more in bonds. If you expect to need your money in the next few years, investing more conservatively can reduce the impact of volatility and keep your savings safer.

Finally, ensure that every stock in your portfolio is a solid long-term investment. Healthy companies are more likely to rebound from downturns. If you have a portfolio full of strong stocks, your investments have a much better chance of surviving even the worst market crashes.

Market volatility can be nerve-wracking, even for experienced investors. But by taking steps to protect your investments, choosing the right stocks, and holding those stocks for the long term despite volatility, you can rest easier knowing your money is as safe as possible.