“I cannot wait to retire and put my feet up!” How many times has this thought crossed your mind, when you have one of those days at work? One of those days where everything seems to be falling to pieces. But have you considered all that comes with retirement?
The psychological impacts of retirement are varied and although the association between retirement and well being is not widely explored, it is of key importance when discussing mental health in the elderly. Retirement is a milestone and a major life transition for older adults. It involves the end of one phase and the beginning of a new one. Each individual’s transition to retirement might look vastly different. Some individuals take on voluntary retirement, while others are forced to retire early due to age or ill health.
Effects of retirement
Whilst extensive planning into the financial aspects of retirement is typically examined, the psychological impacts are often overlooked. Retirement is bound to come with its share of losses and gains. Initially, an escape from the monotony of work can be a welcome relief, something that you have been looking forward to for years. But this joy might eventually wear off and settle into a loss of purpose, meaning, and structure. This could potentially lead to feelings of aimlessness, loneliness and boredom, particularly if you had a job that was gratifying and gave you a sense of purpose.
Challenges faced after retirement
“The trouble with retirement is that you never get a day off.” – Abe Lemons
There are many changes that come with this phase, some of them being:
- Loss of identity – who am I if I am no longer a teacher/driver/salesman?
- Isolation – what am I to do without my colleagues and my work social circles?
- Grief – I’m unable to come to terms with the end of such a significant phase.
- Not feeling ‘useful’ – I’m not contributing anything, I must be pretty worthless.
- Loss of work/life structure – I don’t know what to do next.
- Aimlessness – what do I fill my day with?
- Death anxiety – I’m growing old and death is on the horizon.
Stress, anxiety and depression are common in the elderly population and usually go unrecognised as there is a lack of awareness, acknowledgement and access to mental health services.
How to make the transition smoother
Learning to accept change and acknowledging your emotions
Change is inevitable and can be challenging to embrace, especially when that change is forced on you. It is normal to feel a plethora of emotions when you go through these changes. It might help to see retirement as the start of a new journey, giving yourself grace and time to adapt. There is no ‘right’ way to feel when it comes to a new transition. Acknowledging what you are feeling, sitting in that emotional space (however unpleasant) and being emotionally self-aware can go a long way in helping you process your emotions.
Rethinking your identity as a retiree
If you have built your identity on your career and how well you have done at work, it might be hard to see how your identity could be redefined, but it is possible to find new ways of defining your identity through relationships or activities that are not work-related. Explore new hobbies, volunteer, learn something new, challenge your brain – the options are endless.
Maintaining structure during retirement
Not having a work schedule does not mean you cannot have structure in your day. Having a loose daily routine is a good place to start. Try sticking to a routine when it comes to sleep and wake up times. Make a schedule to meet up with others, to exercise and do other activities.
Expanding your social network
With retirement comes isolation and most of this is due to abruptly losing the social circle that comprises colleagues and coworkers. Research shows that staying socially connected has significant impacts on mental health. Don’t buy into the lie that you’re too old to make new friends. Explore avenues of creating new relationships outside of work.
Looking after your health
There are multiple stressors that come with retirement and proactively paying attention to your psychological wellbeing is vital. The loss of routine, structure, support and identity can affect your self-worth, which is a risk factor for depression. Do not hesitate to reach out if you’re struggling. It is not a sign of weakness. It shows that you care about your health, are aware of the psychological impacts of retirement, and are willing to take steps to address them.
“Retirement is a blank sheet of paper. It is a chance to redesign your life into something new and different.“- Patrick Foley
Reach out to us at www.effectiveliving.com.au/ if you or anyone you know would like to receive professional help with life transitions, stress, or any other mental health concern.
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Monica Jacob (MPhil Clin Psych, MSc Clin Psych, BSc Psych) is a psychologist who values trust, empathy, respect, warmth, and creativity in the therapy room and seeks to collaboratively help her clients lead more meaningful, enriched lives. Monica is passionate about understanding each individual’s unique journey and walking alongside them. She previously worked in hospital settings as part of a multidisciplinary team and provided psychotherapy to clients with various mental health needs in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Her clinical experience includes working with individuals experiencing mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and adjustment difficulties. Monica is dedicated to improving her expertise and knowledge by receiving regular supervision and reviewing research to provide the best possible support to her clients.