How to make the most of your life post retirement

With longer lifespans, today life begins after retirement and yet almost all retirement plans start and end at financial preparedness, giving little, if any, attention to the your social and emotional readiness

Senior couple watching sunset / life after retirement

Type ‘retirement planning’ into any search bar on the internet and you will find hundreds of articles about planning for the financial side of retirement. There’s all that talk about reaching your financial goals, saving enough for a secure retirement and living your dream. For most people retirement preparation is exactly that—having enough money.

Somehow, we believe all we must do is have enough money and everything else will fall into place. We believe that retirement means we will be on a perpetual vacation doing all the things we enjoy with no planning necessary to create a retirement state of mind.

Why retirement requires mental planning too

Recently I spoke to Natasha, a friend of mine, who retired with her husband. They left their jobs, sold their home and moved 2,500 miles to a retirement community, which boasted of restaurants, stores, theatres, golf courses, swimming pools, along with club houses for card games and art classes. There, the couple purchased a new home and relaxed and partied with new friends while they enjoyed the amenities. Then, Natasha confessed, they got bored.

As she related how they got tired of doing the same things every day with the same people, it reminded me of Robert Atchley’s study on the stages of retirement. Atchley, a professor of gerontology, identified six stages of retirement—disillusionment is one of them. To sum up his research, retirement is a major life transition where no matter how much we plan financially, we need to do a better job of planning for the emotional and psychological changes brought about by leaving our work lives behind. Mental health in retirement is just as important, if not more, than financial health.

With advances in nutrition and medical care, it is possible for many people to live another 20 to 30 years in retirement. The idea of 20 years of doing nothing but having fun may sound like, well, fun, but realistically it’s a formula for a boring life. Work provides many things that enhance our lives, such as challenge, structure to our days and, for most people, a social forum as co-workers and customers become friends. While the workplace may be a top source of stress for many people, it should come as no surprise when once we retire we miss the engagement with others at the office. In fact, the stress of our job is often replaced by other forms of stress, and sometimes even depression.

With advances in nutrition and medical care, it is possible for many people to live another 20 to 30 years in retirement

One change at a time

Like Natasha who moved 2,500 miles thinking she was going to retirement utopia, some people find themselves stressed over the choices they made. In her case, she left the retirement community, moved back to her old home town, bought another house in her old neighbourhood and took a part-time job as she realised how much she missed her work life, old friends and the community she’d been part of for 30 years. Moving is stressful at any time in life, whether it’s for a job transfer or for your retirement. And, as with Natasha’s example, when the initial euphoria of retiring is replaced by boredom, there is anxiety over deciding what to do next. Finding new meaning and purpose in life after retirement takes not only thought and introspection, but also a leap of faith.

Things that you need to keep in mind before you retire

  1. For retirees, the number one stressor is money. Even if you form a solid financial plan with professional advice, once the pay cheque stops coming in, retirees often feel a tremendous amount of stress. No matter how many financial planners you talk to, there is no guarantee that your money will last your lifetime.
  2. Then, there’s the spectre of health issues. We all know we will eventually have health issues, body parts will wear out and we won’t be able to do as much as we once did. Retirement age is often the time when health issues begin to surface. Even people who retire in excellent health find themselves worrying about potential health issues and, yes, the resulting strain on their finances.
  3. Then, there is this seldom-thought-of stressor. Retirees who are married often look forward to finally spending more time together, only to realise that after having spent decades apart all day in the workplace, co-habiting 24x7 is entirely too much time together.

Finding new meaning and purpose in life after retirement takes not only thought and introspection, but also a leap of faith

Steps to make the transition smooth

Man explaining retirement financial plan to elderly couples

As you enter this potentially exciting time of life, minimising the stress, finding new purpose and meaning and making a successful transition requires advanced planning. Here are four steps to ensure that you are mentally prepared to make a smooth transition to retirement.

  1. The first step is recognising there will be an adjustment period, the same way you have adjusted in the past to other major life events like getting married, having children, changing jobs, moving to a new locale or losing a loved one.  Retirement is also a major life event; once you acknowledge this fact, you will have an easier time adjusting than those who think there will be no ups and downs.
  2. Talk to a counsellor, preferably one who specialises in mental health for older adults. Today, there are life coaches who specialise in retirement issues. Seek their advice just as you would a financial counsellor. Your plan for emotional and psychological stability is just as personal as your plan for financial stability. A counsellor can help you focus on what is best for you.
  3. Think about the activities you will engage in during your retirement. 20 to 30 years is a long time, long enough for a second career after you’ve had some extended relaxation; long enough to take up and master a new hobby; long enough to make your dent in the universe through volunteer work. This is the time of life to reach for the stars, so become an explorer of yourself.
  4. Plan on staying physically active as much as possible and engaging in activities that will keep you engaged with other people. Think about the timing of your exit from work in terms of your hobbies, travel plans and social commitments. If visiting places where it snows is your idea of a great retirement activity, winter is probably the perfect time to retire. But if you are a gardener, planning to start a fruit and vegetable garden in your compound, then you may want to wait for warm weather to arrive before making your exit. And, before you make a major change like selling your house and moving 2,500 miles, remember, by retiring, you are already involved in one major life change. So, try not to do everything at once.

This is the time of life to reach for the stars, so become an explorer of yourself

As human beings, we have an inner need to strive for something greater. That need doesn’t dissolve with retirement. We still look for meaning and purpose in our lives. The idea of spending decades doing the same ordinary business day after day instead of finding our true potential is like a slow death. Whether you are planning your retirement or are already in retirement, if you haven’t already done so, take steps now to ensure a healthy, fulfilling retirement state of mind.

The six stages of retirement according to Robert Atchley

Pre-retirement
This point in time is when the person is contemplating the changes that will occur when they leave their job and what they want to do when they retire.

Retirement
At this stage the person engages in what they want to do and plans for the future.

Disenchantment
Some people find adjusting to retirement difficult and discover that it is not what they thought it would be.

Reorientation
After a period of rest and relaxation people take stock of how they can fulfill their dreams.

Retirement routine
This phase consists of living a rewarding life through a fixed schedule. Some are able to do this immediately after leaving the workplace, while others take longer. Once people settle into a routine, this phase can last for many years.

Termination of retirement
When a person can no longer live independently due to illness or disability, retirement in its true sense comes to an end as the person’s primary focus shifts to their health.

For more information visit http://ohioline.osu.edu/ss-fact/0201.html

This was first published in the April 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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