Dear Dr. Hendlin: Needless to say this stock market roller coaster has been an experience. I feel that I have dealt with the situation relatively well; however, my body disagrees. I don't feel that my trading has been adversely affected; in fact the experience has left me stronger in that regard, but physically I feel in some kind of limbo. I have experienced a high level of anxiety on one occasion which resulted in a marked rise in my blood pressure. This wasn't the beginning of the situation, and I will be consulting a physician, but my body still seems in a shambles and I believe most of it to be mental.
I sit down in front of my computers and I feel anxious and I have a desire to just walk away and get myself back together. This helps, but the feelings persist. Is this all I can do or should I take some kind of an extended vacation or sabbatical to deal with all the anxiety I am feeling? What are the tricks of the trade to deal with these problems? I'm 35 years old and have been trading as an individual for seven years. What are the best methods for dealing with the stress of trading? Thank you.-- G.G.
First, follow through with your intention to consult a physician, in order to rule out high blood pressure or any other physical problem. Below, I've listed some strategies for dealing with stress. Most of these, as well as some important additional tactics (for example, meditation), are expanded upon
here. The following list is aimed at managing both inner "noise" and environmental stressors, as well as addressing the mind
- Monitor your level of interest. When it drops, your concentration will tend to drop with it. Avoid those tasks and activities in which you have no interest, when possible. You can't trade effectively without sustained and focused interest.
Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Walking through the world sleep-deprived makes everyday noise seem more excruciating. It also contributes to moments of "blanking out," bouts of depression, low frustration tolerance, irritability and short-sighted trading decisions.
Establish a regular exercise routine. This will help fight low energy, depressive tendencies and negative thinking. It is especially important if you are spending a number of hours daily in front of the monitor watching quotes and trading. Along with this, watch your diet during the trading day. Too much caffeine, sugar or nicotine will disrupt your attention span and affect your trading (not to mention what they do to your heart).
Take periodic vacations away from trading. You need breaks from digital data during the course of the trading day. They will give you a chance to stretch your body, refocus your eyes and refuel your body. Just do it.
Shuttle between internal and external data. Remember to alternate your focus back and forth between the information on your monitor and the "data" inside your mind. Notice what thoughts emerge in your mind as you watch changes on the monitor or news events on television.
Spend at least one part of the day focusing on your thoughts and emotional reactions for every three parts of the day you spend concentrating on external information flow. If you think this is a lot of time to give to your inner world, you are underestimating the impact your inner world is having on your trading.
Identify and combat all negative thoughts. What are your top five negative thoughts when you are trading? Are they triggered by certain events or memories? If so, see if you can imagine another way to interpret the remembered events.
Mediate all-or-nothing thinking. Catch yourself when you begin thinking in extremes. Always try to find some gradations between the most dramatic interpretations of a situation. Eliminating extremes helps eliminate stress.
Persistently but gently bring the mind back to the task at hand. It is normal for the mind to wander, even with compelling data flashing before you on the monitor. Over the course of hours, your mind will wander away from all the stimulation. When you notice your mind has drifted, just bring it back again and again without being hard on yourself. Feeling more in control of your attention reduces stress.
Know and respect your limits. When you begin to feel that you are no longer concentrating well, give yourself permission to take breaks or even stop trading for the day. Resist the temptation to sit at the computer and trade under any circumstance; you are more likely to make mental errors. Turn off the computer and let the market do its dance for the day without you. Nothing will be lost: More juicy trading opportunities are always just around the corner.
And that's just the half of it.
Steven J. Hendlin, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Irvine, Calif. He has been in private practice for the last 25 years, investing for the last 20 years and actively trading online as a swing trader and long-term investor since 1996. He is the author of
The Disciplined Online Investor
, recently translated into Spanish. He is pleased to receive your comments and questions for publication in his public forum columns at
email@example.com, but please remember that he is unable to provide personal counseling or psychotherapy through the mail.
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