Traders are the tough guys on Wall Street, enduring grueling sessions on stock-exchange floors, juggling demanding clients and watching millions of dollars move with every little swing of the market. But, sometimes, even tough guys get the blues.
When that happens, stressed-out traders call Dr. Ari Kiev, a psychiatrist who has specialized in working with Wall Street professionals since the early 1990s. Kiev, the author of a handful of investment-related books including
Mastering Trading Stress: Strategies for Maximizing Performance
, helps traders understand how their mental well-being affects their job performance. And his advice isn't reserved for the Wall Street set: It offers useful lessons for individual investors struggling to cope with the market's vagaries.
Finding ways to handle those pressures has become increasingly important these days, when the prevailing mood on Wall Street is downright grim. "There is a sense of despair and frustration," he says.
Tips for the traders
Kiev says many traders aren't thinking rationally and are too focused on short-term results. That means when the market goes down, traders are trying to figure out how to recoup those losses immediately. What's more, jobs are disappearing as
continue to hemorrhage money and the investment banking industry remains shaky. "They're concerned about whether they're going to have a job at the end of the day," says Kiev. "It creates a certain amount of insecurity. They've lost confidence as well as money."
So how can Wall Street Tough Guys turn it around after the recent ups and downs in the market? Kiev advises traders to take a step back and re-evaluate how they handle stressful or difficult situations. The insecurities caused by the down market means traders may be more cautious, for example, leading to a dangerous deviation from their usual strategies. For example, know what you'll do -- or, more important, what you won't do -- if one of your holdings tumbles 20% in morning trading. "You've got to detach yourself from your emotional response to what's happening," he says. "Practice various ways you'll handle different scenarios, then allow yourself to trust your instincts."
Kiev recommends exercises to reduce tension. For example, enroll in a yoga class or learn some deep-breathing and muscle-relaxation exercises. A portfolio manager Kiev works with schedules 45 minutes of yoga every morning to help him cope with market difficulties. "He gets himself into a centered state," Kiev says. "If things aren't going well later in the day, he can get back into that same mindset."
Lessons for the average investor
The same lessons can work for individual investors struggling to stay afloat in a stormy market. Kiev argues that investors who make decisions based on reason rather than emotion will find more success in the markets. "See things as they are, and don't put too much meaning on them so you can stay cool, calm and collected," he says.
Kiev also advises investors to limit the number of companies they track. He recommends they dig deeply into just two or three companies a year by poring over their SEC filings and maintaining spreadsheets to track their performance. Individuals also should develop their own investment methodologies that give them clear direction about when to buy and sell holdings. Have a plan and stick to it: For example, if you set a sell price of $20 for shares of Company X, make sure you actually sell that position when it hits $20.
Kiev also urges individual investors to tune out most of the investment information available on cable news shows and Web sites, let alone infomercials touting the next great investment. "The more anxious you are, the more suggestible you are," he says. "Develop your own approach and do your research, then create a plan and stick to it."