Mark Lister

Keeping our mental health in check has been a challenge for many of us lately. Lockdowns, restrictions and other changes have made it more difficult to cope with all the regular pressures people face.

Admittedly, monitoring your sharemarket investments is somewhat of a trivial problem to have, compared with many other things that impact our wellbeing. However, it’s disconcerting to see our savings take a dive, especially given we have no control over what financial markets will do next.

The first piece of advice I can offer is to stay calm, and not to panic. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed when all the news seems negative, but we don’t make our best decisions under those conditions. It’s easier said than done, but make the effort to take a step back.

If you’re nervous, don’t be afraid to take a little bit of risk off the table. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, especially if you’re sitting on strong gains, if your shares have grown to represent a larger proportion of your portfolio than originally intended, and most importantly if it’ll help you sleep at night.

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Having said that, before making any decisions remind yourself of your investment objectives. If those haven’t changed then perhaps your strategy shouldn’t either.

Most of us are investing in the hope of meeting our long-term goals, which are usually some five, ten or twenty years into the future. With that in mind, it makes little sense to react to weekly, monthly or even yearly volatility.

We know that over longer timeframes shares will deliver strong returns with remarkable consistency. Investing isn’t about chasing the ups and downs of the market, it’s about building and managing a well-constructed portfolio in line with your goals and objectives.

There’s always a temptation to sell up entirely, wait for the rough times to pass and get back in later. If things take a turn for the worse this could be the right thing to do, but only if you’re good enough to get back in at the right time.

If you’re a long-term owner of quality businesses rather than a trader, you might be better off just staying put. Corrections, bear markets and recessions will come and go, but great businesses will remain resilient, keep paying dividends and continue finding opportunities to grow.

If you’re fully invested in equities you open yourself up to the full force of volatile periods, but you’ll do your future self just as much of a disservice by sitting on the sidelines and missing out on the strong periods.

Making sure you’re well diversified can also keep the stress levels down. Investing isn’t about being ‘in or out’ of the market. Economies, markets and currencies ebb and flow, so hedging your bets across different asset classes, geographies and sectors is the safest route for most of us.

If you’ve got an investment adviser, lean on them for support during times like this. The role of a good adviser is not to predict the path of financial markets, provide trading ideas or to be a stock picker.

He or she will add significant value to your lifetime wealth by ensuring you stay disciplined, talking you out of poor decisions you could be tempted to make during unnerving periods, and keeping you on track to achieve your long-term objectives.

Finally, remember that if you're relatively early in your investment journey, the ups and downs are your friend.

If you’ll need to cash up your portfolio and call on your money soon, periods of volatility can be awful (and you probably should be invested more conservatively anyway).

However, if you’ve got cash to put to work or you’re in the accumulation phase of your investment journey, these are an opportunity.

For those with 10 or 20 years until retirement (or even longer), buying companies near all-time highs isn’t the objective. Investing in them at lower levels is a much more attractive prospect.