The stock market has been incredibly rocky over the past year, and if you're nauseated by the roller coaster of ups and downs, you're not alone.

A whopping 77% of Americans believe the market will continue to be "very volatile" in 2023, according to a recent survey from Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, and 62% worry a recession is looming.

It's normal to feel concerned about market volatility or a recession, but the right strategy can help protect your money. Here's what the smartest investors are doing right now to prepare themselves.

Person writing in a notebook and looking at a laptop.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Keep a long-term outlook

When the market is volatile, it's easy to get discouraged. Nobody knows for certain how stocks will perform over the coming weeks or months, and it's possible that things could get worse before they get better.

Historically, though, the market is incredibly resilient. In fact, for long-term investors, it can actually be harder to lose money in the market than to make money over time.

Analytics firm Crestmont Research studied the rolling 20-year total returns of the S&P 500 beginning in 1900 to determine how the market performed over time. Researchers found that in all 103 years examined (from 1919 to 2022), the S&P 500 earned positive total returns.

^SPX Chart

^SPX data by YCharts

That means if you had invested in an S&P 500 index fund anytime after 1900 and held that investment for 20 years, you'd have made money. Even if you had invested during a particularly volatile period, the market still would have earned positive total returns over 20 years.

While historical returns are not necessarily indicative of the market's future performance, it's extremely likely the market will thrive over decades. The best investors are the ones who can overlook short-term volatility and stay focused on the market's long-term potential.

2. Set your investments on autopilot

Even the most seasoned investors can get nervous when the market is shaky, and nobody wants to see their portfolio plummet in value.

Checking your investments when the market is down can sometimes lead to panic, which could then result in making less-than-ideal decisions. We're only human, and it's normal to feel the urge to panic-sell when things get rough.

It can be smart, then, to set your savings on autopilot so you don't need to check your portfolio. If you're investing through a 401(k) or IRA, you may be able to set up your account so that a set amount of money is transferred from your paycheck or bank on a routine schedule.

This way, you can continue investing without having to constantly see how your portfolio is performing. Again, investing is a long-term game, so the market will rebound eventually -- regardless of how tumultuous the short term may be. By sticking it out until the recovery period, you're far less likely to lose money.

3. Invest in the right places

The investments you choose can make or break your strategy, and the best stocks are the ones from healthy companies with the potential for long-term growth.

These stocks may not see explosive returns or make you rich overnight. In fact, most investments that make big promises like these are extremely risky, and you may end up losing more than you gain. But long-term stocks are more likely to recover from downturns and earn consistent returns over time -- making them a much safer option.

Right now is a smart time to double-check your portfolio and ensure you're only investing in stocks from strong companies. The more of these investments you own, the better your chances of recovering from even severe market volatility.

Tough economic times can take a toll on investors, and if you're nervous about the future, that's normal. But by taking these three steps, you can rest easier knowing you're doing everything possible to protect your money.