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Coping With Retirement

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

What is it that makes retirement so difficult for many people? This is a follow up article to “To Retire or Not, A complicated Decision”.

Doing a search of articles on retirement reveals that most of them deal with financial issues and financial planning. While this is important even a well financed retirement cannot prevent some serious problems from arising very quickly after leaving work.

I recently met someone who just retired from teaching. He envisioned having time to relax and do nothing. However, he soon found out that having nothing to do left him in a quandary about how to spend his time. In other words, it didn’t take him long to become bored. Worse than that, his wife found him under foot and in the way most of the time. That was due in no small part because he was hanging around the house nagging her about small and inconsequential things.

The fact is that it’s a big change for a couple to go from being together for a couple of hours each day to being together all the time. It becomes easy for a retired couple to begin arguing over minor things because one or both of them have nothing to do. Boredom takes it’s toll. What further complicates this is the fact that people live, on the average, thirty years longer than was true in the past.

Work also provides a structure to the day. People have to rise at a certain time each day in order to arrive at work at a set time each day. In addition, work provides a social network that is very comforting. Work is a source of friendships that last many years while working together. People join each other for breakfast and lunch on a daily basis. If they live close to one another, they drive to work together. They can even join each other for social events during the weekends. Many people suddenly discover that their social network disappears after they retire because so much of their social life centered around work. Retirement can feel as though there are no longer any friends.

Work provides people a sense of identity and self esteem. When asked what people do for work the answer is usually in the form of “I am a…” The answer can range from “I am a teacher to a doctor, construction worker, electrician and etc. This type of identity contributes to a sense of status in the world and, therefore, a sense of self esteem. Retirement feels like a loss of much of this from an emotional standpoint.

All of these emotional stresses and strains have contributed to a high rate of divorce among recent retirees because they never planned for what they would do once their working years were done. That is why many experts advise those who are either contemplating retirement or are already retired to look for activities that can be fulfilling. For example, there are many volunteer activities that are available. One person I know works at an animal shelter that relies on volunteers because little or no many is available for hiring additional staff. This individual loves everything he does at the animal shelter because he feels he is doing something important and it satisfies his love of animals.

Another source of volunteering is to offer services in your area of expertise. Many schools are looking for people to work with kids in assisting teachers in the classroom. This is a great activity for those who are retired from teaching and feel a longing to be back in the classroom several hours per week.

For others, the time that becomes available after retirement allows for engaging in favorite sports activities. Many spend lots of time playing golf, tennis and other games as a way to remain fit while remaining socially engaged with others.

The bottom line to all of this is that people need to plan how they will spend their post work years. It is being left with no plans and no idea about what do that can leave retirees with feelings of depression and hopelessness.

What are your comments and experiences with retirement or a loved one who is retired? Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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