Mental Health Resources for People About to Start Retirement
February 25, 2022
Retirement is a major life change. It can bring on a wide range of emotions, from feelings of excitement and freedom to fears and anxiety about finances and filling your time once you no longer have the daily routine of a job. This is especially true for people whose identity was closely tied to their career. Many people discover that retirement is not an event but rather a much longer transition that has many phases.
Even if they are financially prepared to stop working, many people are simply not psychologically ready to retire.
“I struggled with it. It wasn’t what I expected,” Nancy Schlossberg told MarketWatch in an article about the psychological burden of retirement. Today, she is an expert on transitions and the author of several books about retirement and aging.
Schlossberg and other experts advise people considering retirement to start planning several years before their target date. Then expect a year or so of adjustment after the novelty wears off. Flexibility and resilience are key.
“This is an entirely new experience,” says gerontologist Ken Dychtwald, coauthor of the 1989 best seller Age Wave and founder of a consulting firm that bears the same name. “You’ve been in patterns for decades. How is a person to know what will satisfy them?”
While finances typically get the most attention when it comes to retirement, “being financially secure” was actually rated least important (by 59% of survey respondents) compared to the other three pillars. “Having good physical/mental health” was rated most important, with 85% of survey respondents putting that at the top of their list.
Experts recommend using the following coping strategies for dealing with the challenges retirement presents in order to facilitate the transition to this next part of life.
How to Deal With the Challenges of Retirement
Stay active. Playing sports, working part-time or taking a class are all ways to keep the mind and body active.
Increase meaningful socialization. Whether you’re babysitting your grandkids or making new friends at the senior center, make time to participate in activities with other people.
Find a sense of purpose. If your purpose was derived from your career, you may feel adrift after retirement. Volunteer work or focusing on a particular cause that’s important to you can offer new ways to provide meaning in your life.
Pursue your passions. If you’ve always wanted to travel, learn a different language, teach yourself how to play the guitar or take up painting, now you have the time and freedom to do so.
Stick to a schedule. Without the structure of a full-time job, many people struggle with how to fill their days. Set up a schedule, creating set times when you will exercise, volunteer or do work around the house.
Resources for New or Soon-to-Be Retirees
Online Counseling Programs collected the following resources for retirees as they navigate the mental health challenges of this new phase of life.
Articles and Websites
Age Wave: Billed as “the nation’s foremost thought leader on issues relating to an aging population,” Age Wave offers research and consulting, educational programs and publications related to expectations, attitudes, hopes and fears regarding retirement.
RetirementWisdom: This website offers coaching, a newsletter, blog, podcast and other resources to help you prepare for the transition to retirement and create the second act you want.
Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies: This nonprofit publishes a wide range of research on various topics, including an annual survey and reports on women and retirement and planning for travel in retirement.
Encore.org: With a focus on intergenerational connection, this nonprofit offers opportunities and ideas to bridge divides, bring joy to the second half of life and help all ages thrive.
Retirement Blues: Taking It Too Easy Can Be Hard on You, Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard experts say that for optimal well-being in retirement, you need to stay engaged with your own interests and with other people. Doing either too little or too much can lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, appetite loss, memory impairment and insomnia.
The RetirementWisdom Podcast: Retirement planning often focuses on only the financial piece. This podcast covers the other aspects of preparing for life after full-time work through interviews with experts.
The Retire With Purpose Podcast: Designed to help retirees and pre-retirees improve their financial confidence, this podcast features interviews with experts in finance and retirement, and also covers topics such as mending relationships and finding a retirement coach.
The Psychology of Aging Podcast: Hosted by clinical geropsychologist Regina Koepp, experts discuss topics surrounding mental health and aging, dementia, caregiving and end of life. Recent episodes featured care for LGTBQ seniors and preventing elder financial abuse.
Video: How to Help with Retirement Depression: Dr. Joseph Sivak, director of behavioral health at The Villages Health, a 55+ community in Florida, explains the phenomenon of retirement depression and offers some tips for coping with it.
The Best Is Yet To Be: Discovering the Secret to a Creative, Happy Retirement, by Mike Bellah, Ph.D.: When college professor Mike Bellah retired early, he expected his golden years to be happy and carefree. But within weeks fears of lost identity and limited funds left him panicked and depressed. In this book, the author combines research and personal narrative to explain how he got his hope back.
A Couple’s Guide to Happy Retirement and Aging: 15 Keys to Long-Lasting Vitality and Connection, by Sara Yogev: Written by a psychologist specializing in work and family issues, this book summarizes the latest research findings and draws from stories of real couples. This book is intended to help partners prepare emotionally for the major life changes during retirement, nurture their relationship and find strategies to deal with differences around money, time together versus apart, housework and family.
Institute on Aging’s Friendship Line is the only accredited crisis line in the country for people 60 years and older and adults living with disabilities. The 24-hour toll-free Friendship Line (800-971-0016) is a crisis intervention hotline and a warmline for non-emergency emotional support calls.
AARP’s Friendly Voice service connects trained volunteers with callers who are isolated or experiencing challenges and want to talk. Call 1-888-281-0145 and leave your information and a volunteer will call you back.
The following resources are for informational purposes only; individuals should consult with a clinician before making decisions about mental health.