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frowning man sinking stock exchange - stock market crash impact on autism and anxiety
  • Posted March 17, 2020

Stock Market, Autism, and Anxiety

Why the most anxious are the best prepared

For the past several days, these topics are all that has been on my social media feeds. It is all I am reading, and it is all anyone wants to talk with me about. That being said, one thing occurred to me on a day the market dropped 12%, and the president warned of a possible recession.

I never see the topics in my title mentioned in the same post, article, blog or even sentence! As an autistic CFP® who works with other families and individuals, I have been very busy the past couple weeks. I have been working hard on research, emailing and calling clients to let them know that although I am watching their investments, and although I am capable of making changes, that I have a plan and the best course of action is to actually do nothing. And you know what? I feel okay.

Do you know why I am feeling okay, and not very anxious (my normal state)? The “do nothing” recommendation is the most logical recommendation that could be made, it is simple, historically correct. Buying and Holding has always been a recommended strategy because it works. Warren Buffet and Jack Bogle have been citing the correlation between buying and holding and economic growth for the duration of their careers. “If you hold in the stock market, you will grow with America”, they say. “If you aren’t willing to own a stock for ten years, don’t even think about owning it for ten minutes.” (- Buffet, 1996)

I am taking my emotions out of the equation. Instead, I am talking to my clients in a logical way. They by-and-large understand that things will come back, the market will recover, this is what happens, and they trust me to be the steward for their investments, and in turn their future.

Buffet has said many things, and on the surface they seem so obvious, because they are. “Be greedy when others are fearful, be fearful when others are greedy — The stock market is a mechanism to take money away from the impatient and hand to the patient”

There are real concerns, real data, real scenarios, and real options. I plan every minute of every day trying to think of the worst-case scenario. I try to think of all the possible ways something can go wrong, and the best way to prevent them (because that is my nature). I am not emotionless—in fact, my emotions are pretty intense. That being said, in times like these due to my intense interest mixed with my innate personality, I am able to hyper focus, look at the data, and come up with a plan for what happens next.

When we think about individuals, especially with autism and neurodiversity, one of the often mentioned “deficits” is getting stuck in the details, rather than the big picture. I think if we reexamine this from a competence-based model, we will realize that seeing the details may be what makes us so good at something!

The ability to see the details so well allows us to see every possible scenario, and allows us to see options to prepare for all of them. If we follow the theory that there are three types of thinkers (visual, fact, and pattern) – I personally fall squarely into the pattern category (as many in this community do). I look for patterns, I look to see what can go wrong, and at the worst possible time. Because of this, as it turns out, in a time like right now where the world is in a panic, I actually feel relatively prepared.

Just like many autistic individuals, I can definitely become anxious over the change in routine, and the things that I think about may seem silly to others. For example, on the drive home last week listening to a Bloomberg interview it occurred to me that if businesses shut down for more than a month, I may not be able to get my scheduled haircut in a month when I am due for my appointment (every 6 weeks, on the dot). Haircuts are hard for me because I despise light touches. It makes me uncomfortable and uneasy. This had me noticeably anxious and upset. I was not sure what I would do if I was not able to follow my routine, if my hair got too long. This fear was reassured by my amazing and loving wife who after some convincing conceded that if hair cut places were closed, she would cut my hair. Whew. Crisis avoided.

Yes the market will come back, it always has. However, when we see our money electronically go down 30% in a short period of time, when we see years’ worth of hard work and savings vanished in less than a day, it is of course understandably easy to get frustrated or possibly even more appropriate – scared. I tell all of my clients when it comes to investing, my main goal is to make sure when things get bad, which they will, that you will not take out all your money and put it under the mattress. It is my job to be the steward of the ship in these hard times and make sure that nobody gets to the point where they can’t sleep at night. Rest easy everyone, we have you covered.

We are so busy worrying about the day-to-day, the little details we get caught up with, that sometimes we forget to plan for the future. However, this is really a case where planning and not planning look exactly the same.

This is where we need the rational minds, the thinkers who at times can seem the most irrational and anxious. Focus on the facts, focus on the long-term picture. Will your immediate or future plans be changed? Yes. My account is down, however maybe there are investments that are holding up well, maybe I can take money from those. There is going to be a time here where buying low and trying to sell high makes sense. I will be there with you to make those decisions.

We need to remember that some things are inevitable, and this is a reminder to start planning and talking. We also need this as a reminder that the word needs all different kinds of minds and we can see here why that is so true!