“The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, uttered those words in 1932, during his first inaugural address. The American people were scared because of the stock market crash and subsequent depression. When FDR spoke, it didn’t look like things were going to get better any time soon. It strikes me that we’re at a similar crossroad in terms of national fear and it started last week.


The spread of the coronavirus has grabbed headlines around the word. As of February 27, according to CNN.com there were more than 82,000 reported cases of the virus worldwide and the deaths attributed to it were estimated to be 2,800.

Did you know the death toll from influenza was nearly 100,000 over the last two years? And that was only in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control. Total deaths over the last nine years have been approximately 335,000 in the U.S.!

Compare that to 1918, when the Spanish Flu pandemic touched the lives of almost 1/3rd of the world’s population, killing an estimated 700,000 Americans, and 20-50 million people worldwide. Wow!

Stock Market Free Fall

On February 12, the stock market was at 29,550 but fell to 25,409 by the close of trading on February 28 (Yahoo Finance). Last week was the worst week for the stock market since 2008. Ouch! That hurts a lot of people – not just millionaires and billionaires – because of the all the retirement savings invested in the markets.

Given the comparatively small death toll at this point, why is there so much panic in the markets? Here are a number of issues:

  1. Connected world. Even though the vast majority of the coronavirus cases are in China, a tremendous amount of goods for the global supply chain come from China. Without those goods, manufacturing around the world slows down followed by sales and profits.
  2. Reduced travel. As people become more afraid they travel less which hurts a huge part of the global economy including hotels, cruises, airlines and all the businesses that benefit from tourism and business travel.
  3. Instant news. Decades ago we’d find out what the market did when we turned on the nightly news. Now you can literally see the stock market change second by second on some news channels and apps. Watching those numbers all day long is not good for your stress level or investment strategy.
  4. Easy transmission. Because we can be almost anywhere in the world within 24 hours, viruses and disease spread faster than ever. That adds to the fear that this virus could make its way across the globe very quickly.

The Biggest Issue

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman said, “Nothing is as important as you think it is, while you’re thinking about it.” When our limited attention gets focused on whatever is front and center for us, we cannot see the forest for the trees. We lose perspective and in the process our decision making suffers.

Right now, with the 24×7 news cycle and availability of instant updates our attention is focused on the coronavirus and its potential health and economic affects more than ever. You can’t turn on any news or financial station without the coronavirus dominating everything. People in tunnel vision gripped by fear and doubt usually don’t make wise decisions. In essence, we often compound our own problems and fears.


Roosevelt was right in many respects. We can become our biggest enemies when we let our fears dominate our thoughts and actions. It’s only natural because our brains are wired for survival. However, just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s always most optimal.

To Do This Week

  1. Take a break from the news. The story hardly changes hour to hour, morning to night, and day to day so why hype yourself up with anxiety?
  2. Don’t’ keep looking at the stock market. You can’t change it so it might depress you in the short term. Remember, it has always bounced back so why wouldn’t you trust that it will again?
  3. Keep the numbers in perspective. We don’t know how this will play out but I’m comforted by the fact that we have so many more medical resources, financial resources and technology at our disposal than the world did in 1918.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence and persuasion.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was a top 10 selling Amazon book in several insurance categories and top 50 in sales & selling. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 90,000 people around the world!

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