The stock market has been rocky lately, with the S&P 500 falling nearly 9% since mid-August. While some investors are predicting that a crash is looming, it's impossible to say for certain where the market is headed.

That uncertainty can be intimidating even for the most experienced investors, and it's normal to wonder just how safe the stock market really is. After all, when your life savings are tied up in your investments, you'll want to ensure you're protecting your money as much as possible.

Should you keep investing, then? Or is it safer to press pause or even pull your money out of the market altogether? Here's what you need to know.

Person with a serious expression looking out a window.

Image source: Getty Images.

Why the stock market is safer than it might seem

When stock prices are falling, and experts are warning about a crash, the market can seem dangerous. But over the long term, it's actually one of the safest places to keep your money.

The stock market will always be volatile in the short term. That's normal. But over the long run, it's consistently earned positive average returns despite experiencing countless downturns along the way.

In the past two decades alone, the market has seen the dot-com bubble burst, the Great Recession, the COVID-19 crash in March 2020, and dozens of smaller corrections and slumps in between. Despite everything, though, the S&P 500 has still seen returns of more than 167% in that time frame.

^SPX Chart.

^SPX data by YCharts.

The stock market can be unpredictable over weeks or months, but over years and decades, it's incredibly consistent. No matter what happens in the near future, it's almost guaranteed the market will see positive average returns over the long term.

Investing now could help you earn more over time

While it may sound counterintuitive, continuing to invest when stock prices are falling could actually increase your long-term earnings.

There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, when the market is in a slump, stock prices are significantly lower. This means you can load up on quality investments at a discount, potentially saving you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Also, when you invest during the market's low points, you're setting yourself up for substantial returns when it inevitably rebounds.

For example, during the Great Recession, the market reached rock bottom in March 2009. In the next year alone, though, the S&P 500 saw returns of nearly 70%. Within two years, it was up more than 95%. The best way to earn those types of returns is to invest during the lowest lows.

^SPX Chart.

^SPX data by YCharts.

It's normal to feel nervous about investing during a market downturn. And there is always a chance that your portfolio will drop in value in the short term if stock prices continue to fall.

However, maintaining a long-term outlook will make investing far easier, and it can also help you maximize your earnings. If you can swing it, continuing to invest in the stock market right now is one of the most profitable moves you can make.