Don’t panic. Here’s how to keep your emotions out of your investment decisions

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The ups and downs of the stock market may have you tempted to make changes to your portfolio.

Yet time and again experts will tell you to never let emotions drive your investing decisions.

This week, fear may be a factor for investors watching developments between Russia and Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday he would recognize the independence of two breakaway regions in Ukraine, and later ordered forces into both regions.

The market was unsettled on Tuesday, following a week of losses by the major averages.

However, the ups and downs of the stock market are a normal part of the investing journey, said financial advisor Mitch Goldberg, president of ClientFirst Strategy in Melville, New York.

“It’s what you do before a plunge that counts, not the hasty reactions that come during and after, when you have no time to think,” he said.

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While market experts said they didn’t see evidence of panic in the market, it’s normal for people to feel panicked during heightened volatility, said financial psychologist Dr. Brad Klontz, associate professor of practice in financial psychology and behavioral finance at Creighton University Heider College of Business.

It’s the way the human brain is programmed, with our emotional brains bigger and more powerful than our rational brains, he explained.

“Go ahead and panic,” Klonz said. “Don’t panic about the fact that you are panicking.”

In other words, acknowledge your emotions — but don’t act on them. That goes for whether you want to sell during a big drop, or buy in during a surge.

It may be easier said than done. Here are some techniques to calm your emotional brain so you can make rational decisions.

Remember the past

When the stock market dives, remember that this isn’t the first time it’s happened.

“The stock market has overcome so many obstacles,” said Goldberg, pointing to 9/11, the Great Recession and the market crash of 1987.

Put some time between your impulse to act and your behavior.
Brad Klontz, financial psychologist

“What happened each time? The stock market recovered and claimed new highs.”

Klontz, who is also a certified financial planner, agrees.

In fact, he thinks it is the younger investors who have only witnessed a bull market who are more likely to become emotionally charged.

“They never had this experience,” he said.

Take deep breaths

It may sound trite, but taking a few deep breaths really does work, said Klontz, a member of the CNBC Invest in You Financial Wellness Council.

Doing breathing exercises can decrease your blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormone levels, according to wellness expert Deepak Chopra.

Consult with an expert

Consulting with a financial expert will not only help you evaluate the accuracy of your thinking, it also gives you something else you need: time.

If you can’t afford a financial advisor, at least speak to somebody before you make a decision, Klontz said. As long as they are not also panicking.

“The goal is to put some time between your impulse to act and your behavior,” he explained. “If you can put some time in between those two things, you are more likely to calm down your emotional brain, engage your rational brain and make a good decision.”

Consulting with an expert will also give you an opportunity to reevaluate your approach to investing. Perhaps you are taking too much risk or your portfolio isn’t as diversified as it should be.

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Sophie Tremblay

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