I've lived through some really brutal bear markets, and one thing I've learned from these unfortunate time periods is that nobody can reliably know when they will occur. The best you can do is understand history and steel yourself in advance for what is just the typical market action, as bulls follow bears and bears follow bulls.

Here are three things I do to deal with bear markets that might help you, too.

1. Stop paying so much attention

When I first started investing, I was addicted to the market. Every little piece of news and stock move caught my attention. I simply couldn't get enough of it! And, as I look back now, I realize just how exhausting it all was. Watching a business news network today bores me to tears because they just keep saying the same things over and over again with over-excited zeal. That, however, is their job. They're paid to make every little zig and zag look like it's the most important thing ever so you continue to watch. That's how they generate advertising revenue.

A compass with the arrow pointing to the word Strategy.

Image source: Getty Images.

You, however, don't need to play that game. You can choose to ignore the hype and focus instead on the long term. It sounds trite and simplistic, but it's true. In fact, that's a key pillar of legendary investor Warren Buffett's investment plan, given that he looks at businesses as if he were buying the whole thing, not just some shares (OK, a lot of shares in his case).

For example, Hormel (HRL -1.36%) is a stock I recently added to. It isn't doing very well right now thanks to inflation, avian flu (which is hurting its Jennie-O turkey business), and a recent acquisition (Planters) that needs a little TLC. Investors are downbeat, but this Dividend King's long-term prospects haven't materially changed. I didn't even consider the market as I made the decision to add shares. (The stock fell further after I pushed the buy button, by the way, but I'm not particularly upset by my poor short-term timing.)

Sure, a bear market could lead to some great buying opportunities (more on that below), but the decision process shouldn't be driven by the stock market's short-term gyration. The ups and downs are transitory. Ignore them as best you can and focus on the long-term prospects of the companies you own.

Count your dividend checks

The more than 50 years' worth of dividend increases at Hormel are very important for me in two ways. The reason I added to my position recently was because the dividend yield is near historically high levels, which suggests the shares are cheap. For reference, the yield is currently around 2.5%, which isn't massive on an absolute basis but is, as noted, attractive historically.

This is just one of many dividend stocks I own. For example, I also recently added to my position in Medtronic, where green shoots are starting to show despite investors' dour view of the business leading to a historically high yield.

Now I will be collecting even more in quarterly dividends from Hormel and Medtronic. And, like King Midas, I'll be waiting with bated breath to see those checks come in so I can write them down in a dividend tracking spreadsheet I update on a monthly basis. Basically, I changed my point of view from watching stock prices to watching much more reliable dividend checks. If the check changes, I have to do a deep dive. Honestly, I usually know something is wrong before the check shows up, but you get the point.

Once again, what never plays a role is the market. I just want to know that my companies are performing well, with consistent and hopefully growing dividends as one of the key monitoring factors.

I'd be lying if I said this was a perfect system. But I promise it's likely to be very comforting to watch the stability of your dividends when Wall Street is in panic mode.

Create a wish list

I noted above that market downturn can lead to strong buying opportunities, though I also said I prefer to pay attention to companies and not to the market. That's why I have a short list of stocks that I would love to own if only they were cheaper. Right now, my list includes names like Steel Dynamics (STLD -0.53%) and Sun Communities, among others. 

While I'm focused on the businesses on my list, I recognize that the market plays a role in their stock prices. So, when a bear market hits, I always pull out my list and focus on my desire to own stocks for the long term. When I look at the market in this way, I'm viewing a bear market as a time to buy -- not a time for panic selling. This is important because having such a list can allow you to take advantage of the fact that people are selling indiscriminately, while avoiding getting caught up in that contagious, negative mood.

The key to making this work, though, is to start before the bear market hits. If you're like me, you're always reading something about some company that interests you. Dig in and enjoy the time you're spending researching the company. If it passes muster as a business, but is just too expensive, add it to your wish list. That way, when a bear market comes, you know enough about the company to take action. 

Steel Dynamics, for example, was founded by an ex-employee of Nucor, a steel company I own. It follows a very similar business model and has achieved great success. However, it's smaller and more nimble than Nucor and, thus, has been growing more quickly. I think, at the right price, it would be a good compliment to Nucor, but it's just too expensive for me right now. A bear market could change that, and having it on my wish list could propel me into the buying mood when everyone else is panic selling.

You are your own worst enemy

The biggest problem most people face when it comes to investing is their own emotions. I learned that the hard way, but you don't have to. Bear markets are a part of the investing process, and you need to accept that. My way of dealing with them, which I'd recommend to you, is to stop paying so much attention to the market's gyrations. Focus, instead, on the dividends you collect from dividend stocks -- they will be far more consistent over time. And prepare for bear markets by making a wish list that will let you turn market downturns into market opportunities.