We’ve all dreamt about the day we can finally retire from the workforce. However, have you ever stopped to think about what it would really be like? What you would do every day? How you would structure your time? As financial advisers, we spend so much of our time educating and planning the financial aspects of our clients’ lives but have you ever stopped and considered the mental and psychological aspects? 

Retirement’s emotional aspects are not as frequently mentioned as its financial aspects. Financial Advisor, Christina Tran discusses the difficulties associated with retirement and what you can do to avoid a negative experience.

How can retirement be stressful?

Many of us spend years picturing our ideal retirement— travelling the world, spending time with family and friends, pursuing hobbies such as painting, gardening, cooking, playing golf, or fishing or simply enjoying the freedom to relax and take things easy for a change. But while we tend to give lots of thought to planning for the financial aspects of retirement, we often overlook the psychological impact of retiring from work.

Initially, escaping the daily grind and a long commute, workplace politics, or a difficult boss, for example, can seem like a huge relief. However, many new retirees find that after a few months the novelty of being on “permanent vacation” starts to wear off. You may miss the sense of identity, meaning, and purpose that came with your job, the structure it gave your days or the social aspect of having co-workers. Instead of feeling free, relaxed, and fulfilled, you feel bored, aimless, and isolated. You may grieve the loss of your old life, feel stressed about how you’re going to fill your days, or worried about the challenges of spending 24/7 with your partner. Some new retirees even experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

The transition to retirement can be broken down into 5 stages:

  • Stage 1: Pre-retirement – 5-10 years before you retire when many people shift their focus from levelling up their careers to focusing on financial planning for their retirement
  • Stage 2: The honeymoon phase – Once you have finally retired, there may be feelings of excitement and relief from being free from the stressors of the working world
  • Stage 3: Disenchantment – The emotional high and excitement may begin to wear off and many people may begin to feel lonely, bored or purposeless
  • Stage 4: Re-orientation – This is when you start to redefine your purpose and establish who you are without your job. This is the time to find hobbies that ignite your spark, pursue a passion, volunteer, look after grandchildren or try new activities
  • Stage 5: Stability – The final stage of retirement is when you feel content and positive about your newfound life. You may feel settled in a new routine and spend time doing things that make you feel fulfilled with a new sense of purpose and identity

The truth is that no matter how much you’ve been looking forward to it, retiring from work is a major life change that can bring stress as well as benefits. There are steps you can take to cope with the common challenges of retirement.

The challenges of retirement

Whatever your circumstances, ending your working life changes things—some for the better, others in unexpected or even difficult ways. If your job was physically draining, unfulfilling, or left you feeling burned out, for example, retiring can feel like a burden has been lifted. But if you enjoyed your work, found it gratifying, and built your social life around your career, retirement can present challenges. Things can be especially tough if you were forced to retire before you felt ready or have health issues that limit what you’re now able to do.

These are some of the most common challenges new retirees face:

  • Struggling to ‘switch off’ from work mode and relax
  • Feeling anxious about having more time on your hands but less money to spend
  • Finding it difficult to fill the extra hours with meaningful activity
  • Losing your identity – who are you as an individual now that you are no longer a teacher, doctor, electrician, engineer etc (many of us define ourselves by what we do for a living)
  • Feeling isolated without the social interaction of being around your co-workers
  • Experiencing a decline in how useful, important or self-confident you feel
  • Adjusting your routine or maintaining your independence now that you’re at home with your partner during the day
  • Feeling anxious and worried about financial uncertainty (can I afford to eat at a nice restaurant, will I eventually run out of money?)

Whatever your challenges may be, these are some tips to help you ease the transition, reduce stress and anxiety and find new meaning and purpose in life:

  • Expect to go through stages of emotions – understand and accept that it will take time to adjust – it is important to allow yourself to experience a wide range of emotions and find healthy ways to deal with them (yoga, exercise, reading, socialising etc)
  • Structure your days – while your days don’t need to be rigid, having a set wake-up time and routine can help you feel more normal now that you are no longer in the work-grind
  • Set small goals – think about what goals you might want to achieve in the first month, six months or year that you’ve been retired and write them down. Do you want to lose weight, travel overseas, or finish 5 books? The sky’s the limit – setting goals gives you a sense of purpose and something to strive towards and keeps you moving forward
  • Grow your friendships – Now that you are no longer socialising through work, there is a significant risk of becoming isolated during retirement. Schedule regular catch-ups with different friends or join a local community group with like-mind individuals who share similar hobbies or interests
  • Consider a casual job – who says retirement means leaving the workforce forever? Consider a less-stressful casual job that you enjoy or find meaningful. Research shows this has many benefits, not just financial but mentally and physically as well
  • Create a new budget – retirement is a good time to reconsider your spending now that your priorities have changed. Maybe you cut back on spending so much on clothes but spend more on memberships or entertainment
  • Schedule volunteering days – many retirees find volunteering for charitable causes not only boosts their psychological well-being but can also improve their cardiovascular health and lower the risk of hypertension. Getting out and doing things for your community keeps you engaged and driven as opposed to staying at home thinking and worrying about things you can’t control
  • Give yourself the flexibility to figure it out – give yourself time to experiment and figure it out. You may not have all the answers right away and that’s ok. The joy of retirement is that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to experiment and design the type of day and the kind of life you want to live

Whether you’re already retired and struggling with the change, planning to make the transition soon, or facing a forced or early retirement, there are healthy ways to adjust to this new chapter in your life and ensure your retirement is both happy and rewarding. No matter your own personal challenges, you can trust that the advisers at Catapult Wealth will be with you every step of the way.