Can Retirement Be Bad for Your Mental Health?

We think of retirement as freedom. If you didn't like what you were doing for a living, you count the days until you don't have to do it anymore. If you were a boss or leader, you think of not having any pressure anymore. And then you get there. With no plans except to relax, you can quickly get into trouble. Why?

Financial advisors, and others in the field of managing your money talk about "successful retirement" as if it were totally dependent on how much money you have and whether you can "achieve your goals". Lacking expertise in health-related matters, they are not equipped to talk about what "successful retirement" really means. It's about much more than your money.

One thing we do know from experts in #mentalhealth is that human beings do best when they have some #structure in their lives. That doesn't have to mean going to work every day, but it does mean having something to do that gets you off the couch and out of the house. Sitting in front of the TV relaxing does not lead to great mental health. Perhaps it leads to boredom. #Boredom and no sense of purpose can erode your mental health. If you want to have a fully successful retirement, build in a plan that gives you a way to keep moving some of the time.

In my nursing career, I made thousands of home visits, many of these to elders. Some who had retired with no plan about doing anything in particular except "relax" quickly found themselves bored and some then got depressed. They had no sense of purpose in life. Their ailments began to take over their existence. Physical complaints became prominent in their days and doctor visits became their structure. I learned from watching. My observation was that you need a plan to stay healthy after your work life comes to an end.

Now, we have books, papers and other resources from professionals that do discuss retirement in terms of the whole person rather than just their money. What I saw firsthand as a nurse is consistent with their messaging about retirement. Here are some takeaways:

  1. Create structure for doing something regularly in #retirement, whether it's a sport, playing cards with friends, volunteering, or trying out something you've never done before. Connecting with others enhances your mental health. #Isolating yourself erodes it.
  2. Find a sense of purpose. It can be anything that is meaningful to you. Some want to "give back" through community work and #volunteering. Others connect to faith-based organizations and work with them. Create projects you want to try. The opportunities to express yourself are endless. Choose one and schedule your involvement shortly after your retirement date. If work once provided purpose, replace it with something you like.
  3. Community is critical to your mental health. Successful retirees have #connections to others, whether now and again or every day. Each person's needs to connect to family, friends and colleagues is individual but humans are not meant to exist in complete isolation from others. Isolation can lead to depression, which is unfortunately common for some retirees. That is not successful retirement, no matter what your financial circumstances.

If you are getting close to retirement age, or are thinking about it, don't let a dreamy scenario of travel and playing golf or whatever cloud your vision. It takes more than that for successful retirement. A plan to be #mentallystrong and healthy takes more than dreams. It requires a strategy to ensure that you will enjoy that part of life insofar as possible. Explore the possibilities. Successful retirement is within your reach, regardless of your finances.

Related: What Does It Mean When We Say An Elder Has “Diminished Capacity”?