Whenever I talk to people who are either just retired or about to retire, they tell me that it is not an easy transition. Some report feeling guilty about not being at work during the day and are embarrassed to be seen at lunch with a friend or at the gym in the middle of the day. Others say they are sure they will be fine once they get used to al the free time.
But the reality is that retirement requires a plan just like every other stage of life. You can’t go from working on Friday and being retired on Monday and think everything will fall into place beautifully unless you have made a plan. It isn’t necessary to have your entire year or even month all planned out, but it is important to have some firm appointments or events to attend in those first few weeks.
First the bad news: A recent report from the Institute of Economic Affairs claims that recent retirees have a 60 percent of being diagnosed with a disease after retirement, and a 40 per cent risk of clinical depression, while another report suggests that the earlier one retires, the higher the risk of early death.
The good news is that one can avoid or greatly resist those statistics if you plan ahead.
Think about your free time. Is it a gift or a burden? All that new free time can mean different things to different folks. Unstructured time can mean hours in the garden or reading or playing with the grandchildren. It can also mean boredom, monotony and depression. And don’t think a magical solution will suddenly appear, bringing back that sense of status, purpose or structure you miss. You must act. One recent retiree told me he was sitting in a restaurant overhearing an important business deal being discussed at the next table. All he could think of was “I used to do that!” Days later he signed up for a place on his retirement community’s board and not long afterward became president. His sense of purpose and social interaction was restored.
Consider how much time you want to devote to different aspects of your life. Do you want to be an on call grandparent or caregiver to an elderly family member? Do you want to learn a new skill or share some of your knowledge with others who can use it? If most of your friendships were with people at work, are you doing anything about replacing that social circle with new people?
Do you have a bucket list? Places you want to visit? Make a list and pick something you can begin to make a reality. Perhaps there is a golf course you always wanted to play, or a special festival like Mardi Gras you always wanted to see. Start making plan, contact a travel advisor or ask friends who have been to places you want to see. Asking for help is a good way to begin to plan.
If you haven’t retired yet, see if you can ease into it by working fewer days or fewer hours to start. Use the new free time to check out hobbies or volunteer work you have always been interested in but too busy to try. Perhaps you always dreamed of playing a harp but find that your fingers aren’t as limber as they should be. Best to know that before you invest in an expensive instrument. Dreaming of sailing in retirement? Have you checked out whether you can still put the boat in and out of the water without help? You can still sail or play an instrument, but you may have to modify those dreams a bit.
And stay healthy. It sounds easy, but all those plans to join a gym or lose 20 pounds or eat a more healthy diet require adjustments as well. By all means increase your exercise time, but don’t overdo or try to do everything at once.
In health as in all things in life, incremental change can bring great results.