A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Tips for making the most of retirement

Wellness / retirement / Yoga / Older couple

Having structure and staying active in retirement is important for your mental health.

Retirement, with its increased free time and fewer responsibilities is often referred to as a person’s golden years. But for many, adjusting to this period of increased freedom from the responsibilities of work can be difficult. With this major life change, some people may experience depression.

A loss of structure

“One of the biggest challenges for newly-retired people is the change in structure,” said Dr. Michael Schulein, a Marshfield Clinic Health System psychologist who has presented at men’s conferences and for physicians on the topic of preparing for retirement. “People go from having a job which structures a huge portion of each day to not having any of that structure in retirement.”

Unless people are intentional about how they structure their days in retirement, they can end up filling their time by watching news on television or surfing social media. Too much of those activities can be harmful to a person’s mental health.

Manage expectations and have a plan

It’s also possible that a person’s idea of what retirement will be does not match reality, and this can cause mental distress.

“People can have unreasonable expectations that they’re supposed to do something incredibly memorable every day, that every day they should be on a boat watching whales breach or doing something really exciting,” Schulein said. “People can also think that retirement just sort of happens, that everything will fall into place. That’s not accurate. Retirement needs to be planned and not just from the financial standpoint.”

Schulein said research suggests people who have spent time planning what their days will look like in retirement are happier when they get there than those who do not plan ahead. One way to prepare is talking to others who are retired to see what their experience has been like.

Ideas for structuring your time

Schulein suggests a number of ways for retirees to structure their newly-found free time:

  • Volunteer
  • Return to hobbies you didn’t have time for when you were working
  • Make sure you are spending time being social
  • Travel
  • Explore new hobbies

For people who are workaholics, Schulein said it is important to start finding time for activities outside of work in preparation for retirement and also for general well-being.

“Diversity is very important in our lives. When we live and breathe our job, we’re missing some important diversity,” Schulein said. “The diversity of time spent with our families, our friends, with activities, tending to our physical well-being. When we lack the diversity of spending time in those areas, that’s not healthy for us while we’re working, and it becomes even more risky for us when we’re no longer working.”

Stay open minded

Having a social circle is important in retirement, but many people rely on their work environment for much of their social engagement. If a newly-retired person finds him or herself feeling socially isolated, Schulein says reinventing yourself can help.

“Look back at things you’ve been interested in before your life became filled with family and work responsibilities. Go back and look at those interests and see if there’s a way to connect with other people with those same interests,” Schulein said. “Start retirement with a beginner’s mind. This is a new opportunity, so stay open to the possibilities.”

Schulein said retiring in stages, going from a 40-hour work week to 20 hours a week, also can help people adjust more gradually to what retirement will be like.

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