The coronavirus pandemic has taken a severe toll on Americans’ emotional well-being. That’s why psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor, calls 2020 “The Year of Anxiety.”
The core of anxiety is uncertainty — and there’s plenty to feel uncertain about, chiefly, the “double-whammy” of the virus and the upcoming presidential election, says Alpert, known as “The Wall Street Therapist.” In private practice, with offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, his clients include financial advisors, traders, analysts and bankers.
In Kaiser Family Foundation’s Health Tracking Poll of May 2020, 39% of U.S. adults reported that coronavirus-related stress and worry has affected their mental health.
As for financial advisors, they and others are feeling higher anxiety amid the pandemic, because of the isolation aspect, than during the 2007-2008 financial crisis, Alpert argues.
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During and after that meltdown, many Wall Street FAs and others in financial services resorted to drugs and massage parlors to cope with anxiety.
Now, amid the social isolation that COVID-19 has imposed and the wide range of businesses in lock-down, those activities have been curtailed, according to Alpert, who wrote “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days,” co-authored with Alisa Bowman (Center Street-2019 paperback).
In the interview, Alpert highlights a few pandemic positives he’s sussed out and provides tips on how to keep anxiety under control.
The trainer and performance coach numbers among his corporate clients Liberty Mutual Insurance and Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
ThinkAdvisor interviewed Alpert, speaking by phone from New York City, on Wednesday, July 22. While he labels 2020 “The Year of Anxiety,” in Chinese astrology 2020 is “The Year of the Rat.” The last Chinese Rat year was 2008. Make of this coincidence what you will.
Here are excerpts from our interview:
THINKADVISOR: What have been the pandemic’s psychological effects so far?
JONATHAN ALPERT: The pandemic has taken a huge toll on people psychologically: 2020 is The Year of Anxiety. Medical doctors will tell you that prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications have increased.
What’s causing the anxiety?
Uncertainty underlies anxiety, and that’s what we’re faced with right now. We’ve spanned three seasons with coronavirus: The pandemic began in the winter and went through spring. Here we are in summer, and it will probably go until fall.
Is the virus the worst uncertainty that the stock market is grappling with?
Even without the coronavirus, we’d be facing uncertainty because of the upcoming [presidential] election. But now we’ve got a kind of double-whammy: coronavirus and the election. I think the election is creating huge anxiety in the market. People are unsure of what a Biden administration would mean. Also, racial tension and “cancel culture” are causing a lot of the anxiety, too.
How is the pandemic impacting financial advisors’ emotional health?
Like the rest of the population at large, advisors are stressed and anxious about what the future holds. And now, after working from home for months, they’re anxious about what their return to the office will look like. For a lot of people, there’s uncertainty too about what’s happening with schools. They’re trying to figure out that if they have to go back to [their company’s office] to work, what will that mean for their child [care]. At the same time, though, advisors have been a voice of reason for clients and feel good that they’re able to educate them.
What’s the primary complaint of your FA clients right now?
Generalized anxiety, anxiety related to coronavirus, difficulty dealing with the isolation. With younger people, coronavirus has impacted their dating lives: They aren’t able to go out, date or meet new people. But in some ways, I think the pandemic forces [men and women] to get to know [someone new] differently and perhaps better before they head out to meet them and possibly jump into bed.
During the financial crisis and later, you noted that financial advisors were using pill-popping, marijuana and cocaine as coping mechanisms. Is that still the case amid the pandemic?