How to Cope With the Stress of Retirement

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Retirement sounds like fun, doesn't it? It can be. But it also involves a major change in your life, and therefore represents a stressful transition. On the "life events scale" used by psychologists to determine stress levels, retirement is rated as the 10th most stressful event you can experience – behind the death of a spouse, divorce or a jail term, but ahead of the addition of a new family member, the death of a close friend or foreclosure on your home.

In addition, other stressful events may occur at about the same time. Your spouse may also be retiring, or there may have been a change in your health. Or perhaps you're moving. All these events add to your stress levels. The way to cope is to anticipate what will happen, make some plans and then don't harbor any regrets for what you've left behind. Here's how to look ahead to the opportunities in front of you.

It's a big change. First of all, accept the fact that you are making a big move. It's normal to feel a little apprehensive as you start a new phase of life, so don't beat yourself up about it. You are no longer on the clock. You are free to do what you want. There are no more meetings, sales calls or work-related travel. So remind yourself that, once you get settled, the lifestyle you are about to embrace should be easier and less stressful than your work life, and is often more personally fulfilling.

There's a lot of excitement. Retirement is something most of us have been looking forward to for years. We've been anticipating the road ahead and are about to embark on a journey that is entirely of our own making. The opportunities are endless and perhaps a bit daunting. There is no more commute, schedule or limits at all, except the ones you put on yourself. Excitement adds to stress. But just remember, you're not throwing out the entire script of your life, just turning the page to a new chapter. Yes, it's a big change, but you're still grounded in your family, friends and your own self-identity.

You're faced with a new challenge. Retirement brings many unknowns. What if you run out of interesting things to do? Are you afraid you'll be bored? If you're worried about that, then perhaps it's time to set a goal. It might be traveling to all seven continents, starting a new business, volunteering for a favorite cause or stepping in to help take care of your grandchildren. The younger you are when you retire, the more ambitious you can get. But if you're not retiring until age 70 or later, maybe it's time to just relax. You've earned it.

So do something about it. Make a plan, including a financial plan. You'll save yourself a lot of anxiety if you know where you stand financially, and where your monthly income is coming from. Take inventory of your IRAs and 401(k)s, and do your homework on Social Security and Medicare. Retirement is also a popular time for people to assess their health, and perhaps start some lifestyle changes that will keep you healthy, and therefore more stress-free.

Keep your options open. Sometimes your retirement dream turns out to be a nightmare. A couple might move to Florida and find they can't stand the heat and humidity and traffic. A business executive who volunteers for a nonprofit could find the new atmosphere stifling and frustrating. But in retirement, as opposed to the workforce, you are now in control. Some people move back home after they've tried Florida, and there's no shame in quitting your volunteer job and trying something else. One thing to remember about retirement is you no longer have to compete in school, contend for dates or climb the corporate ladder. You have much less to gain or lose. That should take the pressure off.

Keep your sense of perspective. Remember, retirement is a relatively new concept. It's only been around for about a hundred years. We are fortunate to be able to enjoy this stage of life. Not everyone lives to see retirement. Over 2 million baby boomers have already died, never reaching this stage of life. So count yourself lucky, and go out and enjoy what is truly a lifetime bonus.
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