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Q&A: How do I deal with the mental transition into retirement?

My brother was a lawyer for more than 40 years, and he recently retired. He seems to be struggling a bit with the transition. I plan on retiring next year and don’t want to fall into the same trap. Any advice? 

-Tony K.

 

Tony, we’re not at all surprised your brother is finding retirement challenging.

Please let him know he’s not alone.

For most people, for most of their life, their identity and social life are tied to their job. This loss of identity is one of the biggest hurdles new retirees have to overcome.

Furthermore, the shift from working 40 plus hours a week to not working at all can be stressful and disorienting. There’s so much free time to fill!

We’re glad you’re being proactive and trying to learn from your brother’s struggles. Because one of the biggest misconceptions about retirement planning is that it’s only about preparing financially.

In reality, you need to focus on being mentally (and even physically) prepared as well. 

Here are a few Allworth tips we hope you take to heart before you retire (and perhaps you can also share them with your brother). 

Acknowledge your conflicting emotions

Retiring is an entirely new stage of life. It’s OK to feel nervous and overwhelmed. After all, you’ve never done this before!

Understand that you’ll go through emotional ebbs and flows. When researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, studied retirees in 2014, they discovered something interesting: the retirees experienced a ‘honeymoon’ stage when they first retired.

But then, just a few years later, the ‘sugar rush’ was over. A sharp decline in happiness followed.[1]

Unfortunately, in some cases, that unhappiness can evolve into something even more severe. A separate study found that retired men are 40% more likely to be depressed than men who are working. And, not surprisingly, the rates of substance abuse and divorce increase for retirees.[2]

Knowing ahead of time you might experience conflicting emotional states can help you better prepare for the feelings of shock, elation, boredom, anxiety, and freedom that typically accompany retirement.

Create a new routine 

Yes, retirement is supposed to be the time in your life when you shouldn’t have to adhere to a schedule.

But consider creating a schedule anyway. Would you believe it if we told you retirees with busier schedules were happier than retirees who had very little to do?[3]

Let’s be clear, however. This certainly doesn’t mean scheduling every moment of every day.

What it does mean is organizing your activities by day and by week and creating goals for your newfound free time. Consider using the SMART system to make sure your goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

As always, try to find balance. Don’t cram too much into your schedule.

Strengthen your social circle

Take a look at your groups of friends. Will others be retiring when you are? Or will you be the first to enter this brave new world?

If you’re the first, there’s a possibility you could feel some initial isolation. It can be hard to even relate to close friends once you move into different stages of life.

So, consider this: If you have a few acquaintances who also happen to be retired, try forging a deeper relationship. Your common bond of retirement could unlock a brand-new friendship.

On the other hand, if your close friends will be retiring around the same time as you, consider yourself lucky. Be sure to lean on each other for advice and support.

And, of course, if you’re married (or in a relationship), let’s not forget about your significant other. If you’re retiring at the same time, studies have shown that stress hits a marriage particularly hard during the first two years since the ‘buffers’ that were once between both people – such as work and kids – are now gone.[4] 

However, it can be equally challenging if one of you keeps working and the other retires. This ‘staggered’ approach to retirement can create resentment on both sides if not properly addressed. 

If you’re retiring at the same time, try your best to balance ‘couple time’ with ‘alone time.’

Retiring at different times? Discuss the expectations you have for each other around housework and free time. 

Find a purpose

So, here’s the big question: What makes you happy? Or more specifically, what do you think will make you happy once you retire?

Discovering the answer to this question, as fleeting as it might seem, is key to living a successful retirement. You’re going to need a reason to get up every morning. You’re going to need meaning. 

This purpose, of course, looks different for everyone. Perhaps it’s picking up a new hobby, volunteering for a favorite charity, learning a new skill or trade, or even traveling.

It could even make sense to work part-time. Keeping one foot in the workforce has even helped some retirees improve their mental and physical health. 

Change is uncomfortable. Effectively navigating the transition lies in having a strong sense of self, along with well-defined goals.

We recommend starting to think about your mental and social transition three to five years before you plan to retire. Then, keep reassessing and adjusting once you leave your job.

To hear real-life stories of how 'everyday people' have approached – and conquered – the transition into retirement, we invite you to listen to Allworth Financial’s podcast, “The Art of Retirement.” 

[1] https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/01/retiring-minds
[2] https://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-youre-probably-not-psychologically-ready-to-retire-2019-05-21
[3] https://www.nextavenue.org/time-management-crucial-happy-retirement/
[4] https://www.aarp.org/retirement/planning-for-retirement/info-2016/retirement-planning-tips-for-couples.html