The value of your home is declining. Your stocks and bonds are acting as if they have some incurable disease. There are rumors circulating around your office that people will be laid off. And you didn't get any change from your $20 when you filled the gas tank of your compact car this morning.

Is it time to stuff your mattress full of cash and pull the sheets over your head until the economy improves? That's one way to handle the problem. But below is some advice from top people in the field of finance, employment, real estate and financial planning in case you are claustrophobic and don't like to sleep on a lumpy mattress.

Robert Hewitt, head of his own financial planning firm in Monterey, Calif., and chairman of the International Association for Financial Planning, thinks -- in essence -- that investors should start reading baseball box scores and not the stock tables. They should become long-term investors and shouldn't be concerned with day-to-day stock market gyrations.

"The market goes up and down. You are going to have these 10 percent to 15 percent drop-offs," said Hewitt, who believes long-term investors should continue to buy even when stock prices are sinking. "Unless you are a daily trader, you should buy on the way down."

But long-term investors should carefully consider what industries are likely to do well in the 1990s. "We are back to goals and objectives -- looking for longer-term themes for the 1990s," Hewitt said. Some industries that Hewitt thinks will prosper over the long haul are oil, health care and the environmental industry.

Keep only 40 percent of your money in the stock market, said Henry Gooss, chief investment officer of Manufacturers Hanover's private banking group. But leave 50 percent of your money in bonds, since they are likely to go up in value once the nation's economy gets really weak and interest rates come down.

The other 10 percent should be kept in cash, said Gooss, whose department advises the bank's most affluent customers.

"The whole investment community is sitting on a knife-edge at this point," added Gooss, who said he is most concerned right now about weakness in the economy. That's why, Gooss said, "we are not making new commitments to the {stock} markets right now."

If there are rumors about layoffs at your company, believe them, said William J. Morin, chairman of Drake Beam Morin Inc., one of the biggest U.S. outplacement agencies. His agency helps companies trim their staffs, and he said business is booming. He said the cutbacks are occurring not only throughout the United States but around the world.

Using his inside knowledge of bleak employment outlook, Morin said workers should expect the worst. If a layoff rumor turns out to be inaccurate, then the worker will be pleasantly surprised.

"Most people discount what they hear {about layoffs}. You should believe more today than ever before what you hear about your company," said Morin.

Robert H. Edelstein, co-chairman of the Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the University of California at Berkeley, said housing prices could fall another 5 percent to 10 percent before the market stabilizes. "If you had a very efficient market, in principle, you should sell, rent and buy later," said Edelstein.

But since the transaction costs for buying and selling a house are so high, there is little a homeowner can do at this stage of the slump except to sit tight and wait it out.

In regions where house prices have already fallen 30 percent (such as New England), the sell-lease-buy tactic would have been effective if used in the past few years. But now it's too late.

Since cycles in the real estate market take a long time to develop, Edelstein said there is little reason to rush to buy a house that has fallen in price. "Unless you see an extraordinary deal, you should walk away," he said.

People who want to sell their homes eventually should obviously avoid taking out any more loans against the property's equity. And if the nation's economy does soften a lot and interest rates fall, property owners who want to remain in their houses should consider refinancing their mortgages.

People who aren't thrilled with their homes, by contrast, should use the lower interest rates that could result from a weakening of the economy as an opportunity to trade up to their dream home. (Keep in mind that a heated debate is going on as to how far interest rates will fall in an upcoming recession. Some experts believe that the massive federal budget deficit will keep rates from falling much, if at all.)

How should you change your spending habits if the nation's economy -- and consequently your own budget -- is contracting?

Donald Badders, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Services International, a nonprofit group and the biggest such service in the country, said that people shouldn't cancel plans for making necessary big purchases. If you need to buy something big, you might get a better deal during a recession.

But consumers should start paying down some of their credit card debt and start paying cash for such things as food and pharmaceutical supplies. "We're advising people to pull in their belts a little bit," Badders said.

In the last recession, people cut back on home maintenance costs, furniture and major appliance purchases and air travel, according to data from the Labor Department. Consumers didn't, however, forgo entertainment, health care or booze or reduce their housing costs, according to the data.

Michael Staten, director of Purdue University's Credit Research Center, said consumers seem to have already adjusted their spending to the slower economy. Credit growth is slower, said Staten, "and it's been that way for several months."

Even as the stock market was collapsing a few Fridays ago, one Wall Street executive found himself in an auditorium full of bullish money managers who told him reassuringly that the stock market would go higher and that it was a good opportunity to buy stock.

The stock market hasn't gone higher since that Friday. In fact, the market -- as measured by the Dow Jones industrial average -- is down another couple of hundred points. That decline has produced a noticeable shift in sentiment among some groups of market watchers. But there is still an army of optimists on Wall Street, and that fact could mean stock prices still have a long way to fall. Even last week's big drop produced a chorus of pros proclaiming that this was a "buying opportunity."

Investors Intelligence of New Rochelle, N.Y., reported recently that the financial newsletter writers it surveys have become much more gloomy about the stock outlook. Only 34 percent are bullish and 48 percent are bearish. (The rest were neutral.) That's almost exactly the opposite of opinions in late July -- about the time the Wall Street executive was being comforted by the money managers.

But pessimism isn't rampant, especially among those who plant their opinions inside brokerage firms. Even though there is no scientific way to measure it, experts on the stock market who hang around Wall Street are fairly optimistic.

But remember that optimism is considered by many to be a contrary indicator. When stocks are falling, too much optimism could mean that prices still have to decline more. Diehard contrarians would say that only when people are overly pessimistic is there a chance for a worthwhile rally.

Here are some of the optimists: Michael Metz, the stock market strategist at Oppenheimer & Co., said that -- barring any increased hostilities in the Middle East -- stock prices could be bottoming right now. "I think we've just about washed out the sellers," said Metz, who added that the stock market has already discounted the possibility of a recession.

Dean Witter Reynolds Inc.'s market guru, John Connolly, is another. "Right now, we seem to have the worst of possible combinations -- inflation that is hurting the bond market and lower earnings that are hurting stocks. Over an extended period of time, you can't have both."

Connolly said the current oil crisis will weaken the economy "somewhat, but won't cause a recession." And down the road, Connolly predicted, interest rates will be lowered. Lower interest rates, in turn, will help the stock market recover.

Just so you don't get the wrong idea -- there are pessimists around also. Michael Jenkins of Stock Cycles Forecasts forecast that the Dow will decline to 1400 to 1700 over the next two years as the typical bear market develops.

And Alfred Goldman, chief technical analyst at A.G. Edwards & Co in St. Louis, said the Dow could fall another 200 points if the Middle East situation doesn't worsen, and will drop more than that if it does.

John Crudele is a columnist for the New York Post.