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Fidelity: People More Financially Stressed Than 6 Months Ago, Don't Expect Relief Soon

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Six months into the coronavirus pandemic, Americans are experiencing increased anxiety, and 70% of participants in a recent poll said they did not expect stress relief to happen in 2021, Fidelity Investments reported Tuesday.

Perhaps as a result, 58% of respondents said they were making different financial preparations for the new year.

At the same time, the survey showed that Americans were confident in their ability to confront the challenges ahead.

Rising Stress Levels

Several day-to-day concerns have increased Americans’ individual stress levels, according to the survey findings:

  • Family’s health – 54%
  • Educating children with everyone at home – 52%
  • Long-term financial situation six months from now – 46%
  • Long-term job security six months from now if the pandemic continues – 45%

Add to these stresses a steady stream of life-changing events, reported by some two-thirds of respondents, the most common being job loss, loss of a loved one, caregiving responsibilities and making a major purchase.

Related: Nearly Half of Investors Sold Stock in March; Most Now Regret It: Survey

The study also found that key financial stressors during the pandemic had actually increased since April, even though the market was far more volatile at that time:

  • Pay for child’s college education – April, 43%; now 46%
  • Find money to save for other goals after paying monthly bills – 43%; 45%
  • Being able to cover costs for aging parents – 42%; 45%
  • Maintaining nest egg through retirement – 35%; 44%
  • Pay for health care costs in retirement – 37%; 40%

“The events of the past six months are unlike any other, and they are especially stressful since our way of living and working continues to evolve,” Stacey Watson, senior vice president with oversight for life event planning at Fidelity Investments, said in a statement.

“Even with these challenges, it’s encouraging that many families have discovered this experience has brought them closer together, taught them not to take anything for granted, and above all, made them realize they possess strength and resiliency they never knew they had.”

Finding Silver Linings 

Some encouraging findings also emerged from the survey. Eighty percent of respondents said the pandemic had taught them that they could handle more than they realized.

In addition, 77% said living through the crisis had put life’s challenges into a different perspective; two-thirds said the experience had renewed and strengthened connections with friends and family.

Many even purported to have discovered that something unexpectedly good had come out of the experience. Forty-two percent said they were more grateful for things they had taken for granted.

Thirty-five percent said they were spending more quality time with loved ones, and 34% had found strength they were unaware they had.

Fidelity noted in the statement that people are taking action, too. The firm experienced a big increase in planning interactions during the second quarter, up 24% from the same period in 2019.

“The fact that more people are interested in having deeper planning discussions about their finances during this period is encouraging,” Watson said. “As the research shows, having a detailed plan in place can provide greater peace of mind and better ensure people are taking the necessary steps to safeguard their financial security for the long run.”

Handling the Unexpected 

Fidelity said its research had uncovered best practices for handling mounting pressure.

To prepare for the future, spend time learning from the past. Sixty-four percent of those who learned a new skill, found strength they didn’t know they had or built resilience as a result of the pandemic, were planning differently for 2021, compared with 54% who didn’t.

Take an active approach to problem solving, bit by bit. Forty-two percent of respondents said they tackled obstacles by breaking challenges down into pieces and solving them one at a time, while 32% wait until they have an action plan fully developed before facing the challenge.

The delay can be costly, Fidelity said: People who did so also worried more, suffered from greater stress and were less likely to have learned anything from the experience.

Don’t be afraid to get by with a little help from others, in good times or bad. Fidelity noted that this isn’t easy, as many survey respondents reported that they receive most support during joyous rather than challenging events.

But that may be because people tend to make others aware of the positive moments in life and hold back on sharing the negative, Fidelity said.

“The events of the past six months are unlike any other, so silver linings may be difficult to see,” Watson said. “However, to move from confused to confident, the research speaks to the importance of seeking out help—because some days, all of us need assistance moving forward.”

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