Embracing Retirement: The Psychological Effects of Retirement


Many people prepare for retirement early by building a robust 401(k) or putting more than necessary in an IRA. This preparation allows for a more vivid picture of one’s ideal retirement. People work hard during the early years and put money aside as preparation for the later years when they can enjoy the fruits of their younger labor: traveling the world, taking up new hobbies, starting the dream business, reconnecting with family, and so on.

However, many people overlook that the physical, emotional, and mental implications of retirement need preparation too.

The Effects of Retirement on Physical and Mental Health

Results from a study on the effects of retirement show an increase of 5 to 16 percent in difficulties in mobility and other daily activities among retirees. There was also a 5 to 6 percent increase in illnesses, along with a 6 to 9 percent decline in retirees’ mental health. These results were seen as possible effects of lifestyle changes, including decreased physical activity and social interactions among the retirees studied.

The same study also found that such physical and mental health effects of retirement are lessened if the retired individual is married or have social support available to him and if physical activity is maintained. Adverse effects were further observed when the retirement was involuntary.

One of the study’s conclusions state that, with all other things kept equal, postponing retirement for a later age likewise delays negative health outcomes, decreasing utilization of health care, and can improve a person’s general well-being.

Other challenges experienced by retirees include the following:

  • The inability to relax because of difficulties in “switching off” work mode.
  • Anxiety over unoccupied time with no more stream of income as before.
  • Identity crises related to being “no longer” a lawyer, teacher, doctor, etc.
  • Feelings of social isolation from being separated from colleagues.
  • A decline in self-confidence, mainly because of doubts over one’s importance or usefulness.

How to Adjust to Retirement

Whatever challenges you might face as you anticipate the next chapter of your life, the first step to preparing for them is the awareness that can allow you to adjust to them well. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Expect the Emotions. At first, there might be a welcome feeling of liberation. It’s like you’re finally on an unlimited vacation. But as this feeling wears off, you will start to feel a slowing of life. Fight the typical urge to suppress these negative emotions through alcohol or stress-eating as unhealthy coping strategies. Instead, allow yourself to experience the different emotions. Displace the negativity through reading, walking, writing, yoga, or meditation.
  • Structure. You’ve been so used to schedules and routines throughout your career. It might help that you likewise establish a routine in retirement. Plan your days. Try out various activities in different time frames and see how these make you feel. Allot time for enjoying coffee while reading the newspaper, exercise, social interaction, etc. It’s not necessary to stick to rigid schedules. However, a consistent wake-up time might help ease the drastic changes brought about by retirement.
  • Realistic Goals. While working, you had a set of goals and expectations. You can still focus on goals in retirement, as doing so can lend you a sense of purpose. Finish 1 new book a day. Travel to Asia. Lose 20 pounds. More importantly, meeting goals can provide the sense of achievement that’s vital throughout life.
  • Harness Friendships. Fight the possible feelings of isolation by setting out to reconnect with your old friends and make new ones. You can even make a routine out of regularly asking a friend out to lunch and urging them to introduce you to their friends.
  • Give Yourself Legroom. You might have planned out your retirement as filled with baking, home remodeling, painting, etc. But realize at some point that pursuing home-based activities is not as satisfying as you pictured it to be. Allow yourself to re-frame your picture of a dream retirement. Fortunately, there is no deadline to figuring things out.

Suppose you look forward to a quiet, well-rounded life without needing to exert yourself further. In that case, you may even consider settling down in a retirement community. Here, you can get the care, recreation, and friendships vital to your later years while you likewise achieve the structure to your days.

Suppose your job was physically exhausting or wanting in some way. In that case, you may look forward to retiring as the much-needed freedom from that burden. However, if you’ve had a fulfilling career around which you built your social ecosystem, retirement may present more demanding challenges. One thing is clear: retirement takes preparation. The best part of retirement is that you’ll then have plenty of opportunities to explore and try new things. The kind of life you want is all in your hands.

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