For many of us, retirement might feel like we’ve hit the jackpot. Being able to spend our time doing exactly what we want to when we want to. However, for some people this rose-tinted vision ends up being something else entirely. At the start we might enjoy the idea of endless lie-ins or duvet days. But soon afterwards we might start craving structure or routine. I spoke to Patient.info about why we might feel depressed in retirement, how the workplace shapes our identity, and offer some tips for coping.
Why do some people experience retirement depression?
Some people report feeling unhappy or hopeless in retirement. There might be a sense of grief for our lost identity. Or loneliness, if we feel isolated without the social connections of our workplace. We might struggle to adjust our relationships, spending more time with some people and less time with others.
We might miss the approval that we received when we were in the workplace, and the associated sense of self-worth.
Retirement might also serve as a reminder that we are ageing, triggering worries about dying or losing our health. We might also become anxious about money worries, as we adjust to our retirement income.
All of this might contribute to a sense of depression.
How does our working life shape our identity, and why might we feel lost when we retire?
Think about how many hours a week you spend at work, travelling to work, thinking about work. Whether we like it or not, our career and our experiences in the workplace shape who we are and how we feel about ourselves. Successes and failures, working towards goals, developing relationships with colleagues, ambition, social interactions, the workplace has it all. When we retire – even if we have looked forward to it for many years – it might feel as if we have jumped off a cliff. Particularly if we have been working full-time for a long period.
There’s a stereotype of a retired businessman who starts meddling in his wife’s ‘housewife’ duties. Although this image is no longer the case in many families, you might feel lost when you find yourself with more time at home, and unsure how to navigate any shift in responsibilities. You might feel as if you’re stepping on someone else’s toes, or as if you don’t know what’s expected of you.
What can you do to prevent low mood when you retire?
When you’re preparing for retirement, think beyond the practical and financial implications. Think about what you might miss from the workplace, the social connections, the stimulation, the challenge, the sense of purpose. Start thinking about how you might build this into your retirement life. Consider what you might want your schedule to look like. Look for opportunities to get outside, to create a new routine, to learn something new, to build new connections.
Age UK offers useful advice about preparations for retirement, including the emotional side of life -
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I love working with people to help them to understand themselves.