Most of us have probably found ourselves, at one time or another, daydreaming about retirement.
It can be pretty exciting to think about a time where we don't have all of the daily demands and stressors that come with living in the "working world” and where we get to settle in and relax after so many years of the daily grind. However, once retirement is no longer a fantasy and it begins to settle in as more of a reality - it can actually be overwhelming, intimidating and even a little scary.
Life transitions are inherently difficult and for most of us, they typically come with a great deal of stress. We think about all of the extra responsibilities that come with earlier life transitions (e.g. entering the workforce, committing to a relationship, starting a family), and we expect that the increase in responsibilities will bring about a fair amount of stress.
Retirement, however, is a life transition where we release a lot of responsibility.
We may expect that by releasing a certain amount of responsibility, we might also release a lot of stress. In some cases, this may be true - but there can also be a great deal of stress that comes along with the transition to retirement.
Here are a few strategies that may help to ease the transition.
1. Acknowledge feelings of loss.
It may not seem intuitive, but there is often a feeling of ambiguous loss that comes with retirement. So many things change and it’s completely normal to feel a sense of sadness or even grief. There are things that we may expect to miss (friendly interactions with colleagues, feelings of accomplishment for a job well done, etc.) but you may also find yourself missing things that you never expected (daily commutes, annoying co-workers, rigid structure, etc.). As with any other grieving process, it’s important to acknowledge feelings of loss, take time for yourself, and process your grief with someone you trust.
2. Diversify your identity.
Retirement can also spur a crisis in identity. We all have many facets of identity, but society often places specific importance on our 'career identity'. When we meet someone new, one of our first questions is almost always, “...and what do you do?”. After retirement, you may feel as though you’ve lost your identity in some way (you no longer see yourself as “Mike the accountant”). At this time, it can be helpful to focus on other facets of identity ("Mike the husband", "Mike the father", "Mike the friend”, etc.). This is also a great time to look for new facets of identity and focus on the things that you love but never had time to do before (“Mike the car enthusiast”, “Mike the musician”, “Mike the triathlete", etc.).
3. Plan for relational shifts.
Another common challenge of retirement is an increase in relationship stress. If one or both members of a couple are used to being at work for most of the day, there can be a major shift (or even disruption) that comes with retirement. Couples may experience a newfound sense of pressure or tension during this transition. There’s more time together and less time to apart, which means that there’s more time to talk but less to report. There may also be a clash of routines, a loss of privacy, or even a general resentment toward one another. It can be helpful to expect these challenges and remember that it’s a very normal response to a major life transition. This helps to externalize the issue and remind us that the problem does not exist within the relationship. It helps to be kind, understanding and patient with your partner and also with yourself.
4. Find new structure.
When we talk about children, we often talk about the importance of structure and how anxiety is reduced by implementing routines. This concept is equally important for adults. Structure helps us feel emotionally prepared for what’s coming next and it helps to reduce decision fatigue. When we don’t have enough structure, we feel overwhelmed and ungrounded. After retirement, it can be extremely helpful to implement new routines.
5. Create meaning.
For many people, retirement can also bring up anxieties about mortality. If these fears arise, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. It’s very typical to have these concerns and we all deal with them in different ways. It may be helpful to process these anxieties with someone you trust, or it might be emotional work that you do on your own (through writing, reading, or creative endeavors). You may also be left with questions about legacy, such as “what am I leaving behind?”, “what impact have I made?”, or “how will I be remembered?”. Again, these questions are completely normal. At this point, it can be helpful to really face these questions, look at the things that matter most, and turn our attention toward those things. For many people, the things that matter most are interpersonal relationships. Devoting time, attention, and care to the people or things we love most will often help to ease anxiety about mortality and legacy.
Hopefully, these strategies will help to ease the complicated (and often difficult) transition to retirement.
Hope you’re having a good day and check in if you need me!