Forward planning is the best way to alleviate the financial stress and anxiety that many Americans have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a group of financial experts that took part in Investopedia's "Your Money Your Health" virtual conference.

The second panel of the event—which saw Investopedia's Editor-in-Chief Caleb Silver joined by Amy Morlin, Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind; life development coach Mike Bayer; George M. Blount, a financial therapist; and financial planner Carolyn McClanahan—centered around the topic of managing financial and mental stress, a major issue for many Americans at this point in time. The main takeaway was the importance of discipline, not rushing into decisions, and having a clear plan in place to ensure that we are always ready to handle whatever life throws at us.

Key Takeaways

  • In a panel on financial and mental stress, experts highlighted the importance of forward planning in alleviating anxiety.
  • Panelists focused on remaining disciplined, not rushing into decisions, and having a clear plan in place to handle what life throws at us.
  • Meditation was also mentioned as a useful tool to manage stress.

"It's always important that you have some type of policies in place," said Blount, a financial therapist and the founder of nBalance Financial. "It's relevant at this time in our lives to say, 'okay, in the case of an emergency, this is what I am going to do' or 'in the case of losing a job, this is what I am going to do.' Don't wait for it to happen and then try to respond as quickly as you can at the event. If you have time and if you just find it easier writing this stuff down, come up with certain policies for how you treat life events, so that way when it happens, it is not a shock to you."

Blount dug deeper into the types of financial contingency plans that are helpful to have in place. "And so, if I have my 'lost a job' policy, when that happens I am going to have an immediate way to trigger some course of action that prevents me from moving too fast. If I have the 'stock market went down too much' type of policy, I need to have some type of response that allows me to slow down, understand what's happening, seek out the resources I need to feel better about what's happening, and then I move forward."

Carolyn McClanahan, a physician and financial planner, echoed this theory, urging people to think carefully about their goals, be prepared for challenging events, and get their finances in order before hand so that they don't get caught out.

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Your Money Your Health Conference: Managing Financial and Mental Stress Part 1

"When you think through things like loss of a job, or you get diagnosed with a serious illness, if you get dementia, what are you going to do? Have plans in advance that you've discussed with your family," she said. "When the bad thing happens, you're prepared. It brings down the anxiety levels so much."

"A lot of people think of financial planning as investments. Real financial planning … is first taking stock of our client's goals and also helping them develop ... are you happy now, and if not why?" McClanahan continued. "It may involve career planning, it may involve helping them break down their spending into what's really valuable to them, the needs versus the wants, and learning how to thoughtfully spend instead of just spending in search of something. It all starts with figuring out their goals."

McClanahan focused on the long-term benefits of having a solid financial plan in place. "Once you get people at peace with where they are financially, a lot of times they quit spending that search for buying those things, and their financial picture becomes a lot more secure," she said.

The financial planner also offered some tips for people who currently find themselves in a tough spot. "Identify what your needs and your wants are, and get rid of those wants if you are truly under financial insecurity at this point. And then, if you have the ability, negotiate with the people you owe money to and see if there are any other programs available," McClanahan advised.

She zeroed in on student loans, which are likely a cause of anxiety for many people. "There are programs out there to help with school loans, especially for low-income individuals, and then find out what services are available. There are a lot of local and state programs that people didn't know about, so do your research, and see what support is available to you."

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Your Money Your Health Conference: Managing Financial and Mental Stress Part 2

The special guest panelists agreed that speaking with an expert is often worth the money it costs but added that there are also lots of great free resources out there.

Panelists also mentioned meditation as a useful tool to manage stress. "Meditation is a loose garment, and everyone has to figure out their fit," said life development coach Mike Bayer. "Some people need to light some candles and spin a bowl around, and other people need to just sit still and breathe. But meditation is really about breathing and getting in the moment and getting centered and just allowing your body to go back to its resting place, because when we allow ourselves to get to that resting place, we make decisions that are more authentic, that are less out of emotion—they are more balanced, they are more who we are."

Bayer, owner of CAST Centers, continued, "The strategy is whatever is going to work for that person. For some people it's being in their garden, for other people it’s going on a walk, and for other people it's sitting still."