On April 15, while many people headed to the post office to mail off tax returns to our friends at the IRS, many also called their brokers, to say "sell." The stock market dropped significantly that day, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 191 points (1.9%). As a Washington Post article by Ben White noted, "It was the biggest one-day drop for the Dow since May 19, 2003, and the third day in a row of triple-digit declines. For the week, the Dow lost 373.83 points, or 3.6%."

A lot of Americans seem to be freaking out at least a little, and you can blame it on all kinds of things. For starters, there's the price of oil. In case you didn't notice, it hasn't exactly been staying put lately. We also saw the Federal Reserve recently reporting factory output down 1% in March. Job creation in March was fairly anemic, as was retail spending. And consumer confidence, as measured by the University of Michigan, slipped as of a few weeks ago. As Seth Jayson noted recently, even IBM is sputtering. It reported having trouble closing deals, a situation that suggests that others in the technological arena may be facing difficulties.

Meanwhile, on an interesting note, White noted that there is still plenty of encouraging news, such as strong earnings reports from the likes of PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP), General Electric (NYSE:GE), Citigroup, and Apple Computer (NASDAQ:AAPL).

But back to market declines. What do they mean for you? Well, if you're a long-term investor planning to plunk many more dollars into stocks in the coming years, you may do well to cheer on declines. The more the market sinks, the better bargains we'll find. They just may not regain their true value for a while.

Another strategy is to look for "defensive" holdings. To understand what a defensive company is, think of one that isn't too tied to the overall economy. For example, if the economy tanks, you may put off buying that new Ford (NYSE:F) Mustang and a new Maytag (NYSE:MYG) washing machine. But you'll still keep buying your Lipitor from Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and your shampoo from Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG). Those are defensive products.

You may also want to seek out stocks that pay dividends. A healthy company's stock price may not budge much for a long time (or may even sink for a protracted period), but if it pays a dividend, it's likely to keep doing so, no matter what the economy is doing. I encourage you to take advantage of a free trial of our Motley Fool Income Investor newsletter, which will allow you to peek at a long list of dividend payers recommended by our Fool analyst Mathew Emmert.

Learn more in these Mathew Emmert articles:

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Pfizer and PepsiCo. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.