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Why it’s OK to look away when the stock market goes crazy

Stock market mania attracts a lot of eyeballs. It’s not just social-distanced day-traders glued to their phones, obsessing over every 1% bump in their favorite shares. Lately, it’s been internet-based retail traders giving hedge fund pros a run for their money. 

And what does any of this have to do with eyesight, eye care and keeping your vision in check? Well, consider this: 

  • Eye-related diseases cost Americans more than $130 billion dollars every year. Yes, eye health can affect financial wellbeing.     

  • Computer vision syndrome from staring at screens too long is not good for your eyes. 

  • Watching the markets can trigger stress, which has been implicated in a host of eye conditions.  

  • You won’t find “fixate on the gyrations of the stock market” on a list of sound advice for improving your financial health.    

These four factors suggest the best strategy for the health of your eyes and your finances is to resist the urge to watch the stock market go crazy. 

Let’s dig deeper into why your eyeballs will thank you for a level-headed approach to the financial markets. 

Eye disease is a genuine risk to your financial wellbeing 

Eye problems are not cheap. And just imagine how much tougher it would be to earn a living if you suddenly lost your vision. Researchers at the University of Chicago in 2013 noted that vision loss and eye disease cost an average of $139 billion a year in the U.S. 

These numbers include: 

  • $65 billion in direct medical costs from eye diseases and low vision

  • $48 billion in lost worker productivity from vision loss 

  • $20 billion in long-term care costs

These numbers average out to $450 per person. That might not sound like much, but people with vision impairments run up costs of $15,900, while blindness costs each person $26,900. 

Just buying new eyeglasses and frames can be a significant investment. If you develop serious problems like cataracts, glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration, the costs get even steeper. And as the world’s population ages, the financial risk of eye problems will remain a major concern. 

Next, let’s look at why watching the markets like a hawk might not be great for your eyes. 

Computer vision syndrome is a real thing 

Staring at computer and smartphone screens takes a toll on your vision. The American Optometric Association calls the condition computer vision syndrome. It can cause headaches and dry eyes. It might also blur your vision or leave your eyes feeling strained. It can even trigger pain in your neck and shoulders. 

What makes it worse? Well, poor lighting and lousy posture contribute to the syndrome. Screen glare and uncorrected vision problems also make things harder on your eyes. 

A lot of these problems are fixable or preventable. You can improve your posture, get a better desk chair and develop better viewing habits — like walking away from the screen for 20 seconds for every 20 minutes you spend on the computer. A pair of glasses just for screen reading might be a good idea. You might also need to control your access to blue light.  

If your job forces you to watch the financial markets, then you have no choice but to address these issues. But the rest of us would be better off putting down the phone (or at least looking away every once in a while).

Stress is not good for your eyesight 

If that’s your life savings bouncing up and down at the whims of Wall Street players, you’re bound to get stressed out. That’s also not good for your eyesight. 

What happens to your eyes under stress? First, your pupils dilate. That can blur your vision because too much light is reaching the nerves of the retina, which pump vision information to the brain. 

Psychological stress also releases cortisol, a steroid that influences metabolism and the processing of sugar and other substances in the blood. Researchers have found a link between excess cortisol and worsening vision loss.  

It’s hard to avoid stress in everyday life. Jobs, kids, relationships, families and pandemics (and all of the above) add more stress for all of us. 

Giving the financial markets a pass subtracts one stressor from your life. And as we’ll see, it may be better for your financial health. 

Most people don’t need to scan the markets every day 

The cautious folks at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission published an informative list of guidelines for investing in the financial markets even when stocks seem to be going crazy.  

Their tips include:

  • Creating a long-term financial plan

  • Studying a wide range of potential investments 

  • Creating an emergency fund 

  • Paying down high-interest debt 

  • Using dollar-cost averaging to buy more stock when prices are cheap and less stock when prices are expensive. (See all 10 of the SEC’s tips)

More financial context to keep in mind: 

  • Historically, the S&P 500 earns 8% per year, according to Investopedia. Even the best financial professionals have a tough time outperforming the S&P 500, according to the American Enterprise Institute

  • As Warren Buffett, one of the world’s most successful investors has put it, most people can get along fine putting money in an S&P 500 index fund and leaving it there for years.  

None of these insights say anything about staring at stock market graphics on your phone for hours on end. Indeed, when the financial markets nosedived in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, savvy market watchers were advising people to stay calm and tune out the financial news. 

Now, All About Vision is devoted to vision and eye care. We do not offer financial advice. We’re not saying buy an index fund, turn off your computer and forget about it. But we do know that risks like stress and staring at screens can endanger your eyesight — and that can cost you plenty. 

If a job or a hobby obliges you to stare at a screen for hours at a stretch, then you need to think about the impact on your eyesight. If you know it’s causing problems, then you probably ought to contact an eye doctor

And always invest time and energy in preserving and protecting your vision.

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