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Checking in with your mental health at retirement

Transitioning to retirement is more than a financial change. It’s also a significant mindset change. Many retirees find the adjustment challenging, and for some, it may lead to anxiety, depression and other health problems.

Here’s some pointers for maintaining mental wellness during retirement.

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5 minute read

Expect to feel a range of emotions

There’s an emotional process many people go through as they approach, enter and settle into life in retirement. At first, there’s a feeling of excitement to finally arrive at this phase in your life. You may feel relieved and happy to have more time to pursue your interests, slow down a little and enjoy life. Then, as reality sinks in, you might start to worry about who you are without the structure of work, what you’re going to do with your time, followed by boredom and loneliness.

Retirement and relationships

If you’re partnered, your retirement is likely to have a positive impact on your physical and mental well-being, and a positive impact on the well-being of your spouse. That said, the amount of time you spend together will probably increase, your routines and responsibilities may change and both men and women may struggle to adjust to the new situation. Despite this, life satisfaction is generally higher for a retired person with a spouse or partner than it is for single retirees with companionship, sharing financial resources and help with domestic duties obvious benefits.

Single men and single women share some concerns, such as living in a secure environment and finding support with personal needs as they age. What’s different is the financial outlook. Retirement can be more of a financial challenge for many women.

Single women find themselves living alone during retirement in greater numbers than their male counterparts and less frequent contact with friends from work and social connections can lead to social isolation.

It is a well-known and acknowledged fact that women still retire on less income from superannuation than men because of the gender pay gap and career interruptions. The physical and mental health of single women can be impacted in retirement as few can afford to live a ‘comfortable lifestyle’.

The number one regret we often hear from widows and divorcees is they wish they’d been more involved in family finances. Being suddenly single can thrust them into unfamiliar territory to make financial decisions without the necessary skills or confidence to do so.

Work is the great paradox of men’s health. Being in paid employment can mean long hours at the workplace, high stress and for those with physically demanding jobs, long-lasting effects on their health. Yet for those in well-paid, satisfying, creative and valued employment, work is one of the greatest contributors to good physical and mental health. Leaving the workplace may, therefore, represent a health challenge for many men, particularly single men, who may feel the loss of identity and isolation away from the social aspects of work more acutely.

The good news is that while financial anxiety may run high among single retirees of both sexes, the key to overcoming these insecurities is to start retirement planning early and reach out for help when you need it .

Who am I now?

You may find yourself asking questions about your identity. We place so much emphasis on what we do that it almost becomes who we are.

Before, you may have identified as:

  • An employee or employer
  • A provider
  • Independent
  • Ambitious or successful

Losing this sense of identity can lead to feelings of loss or worthlessness, and this in turn can lead to experiences of anxiety or depression.

Everyone is susceptible to mental health problems are some point in their lifetime, particularly during any kind of major transition – retirement being a key one. Even though it’s normal to experience a grieving process as you move into a new phase of your life, you shouldn’t ignore your feelings if you find yourself sad, hopeless, anxious or angry about this change.

Anxiety

Anxiety is more than just feeling worried or stressed out. Everyone feels worried or unsettled when things happen in their lives, but usually those feelings go away once the external cause is removed.

Anxiety becomes a problem when you find yourself feeling anxious or stressed frequently or for no particular reason, or if you find yourself unable to cope with the ordinary demands of your daily life.

If you’re concerned that you may be experiencing anxiety, you can learn more on the Beyond Blue website. You should also consider making an appointment with your general practitioner.

Depression

Like feelings of worry or stress, everyone feels sad or down from time to time. Depression, however, can occur for weeks or months, sometimes (but not always) for no apparent reason.

Untreated, depression can impact your physical health as well as seriously impact your ability to complete your usual daily activities. Depression is very treatable, but getting help can be hard when you’re feeling down.

If you think you might be depressed, you can learn more on the Beyond Blue website. You should also consider making an appointment with your general practitioner.

Here are a couple of things to help you cope:

Now that you’ve retired, or are about to retire, you have the opportunity to reassess how you see yourself. You can cast yourself in the role of:

  • partner,
  • community elder,
  • grandparent,
  • grey nomad, or
  • shameless eccentric.

Focus on your relationships

If you’re partnered, your retirement will change how much time you spend together. Use this opportunity to nurture your relationship.

Grow your friendships – or make new ones

Community is a strong protective factor for mental health. If you don’t already have a friendship or community group, find one. You can do this through your hobbies, volunteer work, or your local community group.

Enrol in short courses to keep your mind active

The University of the Third Age (U3A) is for the “age of active retirement.” There are no academic requirements for enrolment, and no exams. Annual membership and course prices are very affordable and can be accessed in person or online.

See related articles: How to boost your mood and Think about your budget.

Make the most of your super

Whatever you do, remember retirement is a very special time in your life. You’ve worked hard and your super may help you achieve your retirement dreams.

To find out more about your retirement income options, or to make sure your Sunsuper Income account is working for you, call us on 13 11 84 to speak to a Sunsuper financial adviser, or get in contact with us online.

You can also reach out to:

Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide call back service 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or use their online services.

If you are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000.

Some articles may contain resources and tools to promote awareness and education about mental health and wellbeing related issues. Sunsuper is not a health or crisis service, nor does it provide clinical advice or professional services for mental health matters. The information provided on or through these articles is therefore intended for educational and information purposes only. It cannot take the place of any professional help, diagnosis or treatment. If you are in crisis, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

References:

Australian Government Office for Women. Aspects of Retirement for Older Women Report. 2006.

Anxiety and depression in older people, Beyond Blue. 2018.

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