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Journey into retirement and how life might change

The change of lifestyle when you finish work and move into retirement can be quite dramatic.

Key points:

  • Transitioning from a full-time job into retirement can be a big change for new retirees

  • There are usually four stages of retirement - pre-retirement, the honeymoon phase, the letdown period, and the redevelopment phase  

  • Seek mental support if you aren't coping with the changes in your life

Grandfather going for a hike with his grandson.
Many people don't realise how much they rely on their daily or weekly routine until that routine is no longer there. [Source: iStock]

There is a lot of focus on preparing financially for retirement, but most people don't think about how drastically retirement can impact your mental health, sense of self and purpose.

Of course retirement is fantastic and is going to be a whole new wonderful time of your life to experience. But the change from going to work each day to finding a life without that obligation and routine can be huge.

Many people don't realise how much they rely on their daily or weekly routine until that routine is no longer there.

That's why, preparing yourself for retirement also means getting yourself mentally ready.

The "retirement blues"

So you have finished your last day at work. Turned off your computer for the last time, cleared your desk and said your goodbyes to team mates and coworkers. 

Closing the door on a workplace when you retire can be quite emotional. After the initial sense of freedom and elation of never having to work again wears off reality sets in.  

In many cases, there can be a sense of loss. A loss of purpose. A loss of activity. It can be difficult to deal with and there will be a time of adjustment to get used to your new life. 

Some people struggle more than others and for them this feeling of loss and the fear of losing their identity associated with their career could result in depression.

Adelaide Clinical Psychologist, Simeon Jones, explains that people can struggle with a couple of things after they retire, usually their identities and sense of purpose.

"Our identity is central to how we live and how we feel about ourselves and the world. To have an identity where we feel valuable or valued, to have an identity where we feel empowered or a certain level of influence is key to anybody's mental health," says Mr Jones.

"If someone doesn't feel valuable and [feels] powerless, they won't be feeling positive about their life or enjoying their life. That autonomy, and also just having an opportunity to explore and enjoy ourselves, is key to mental health in general.

"It would be pretty natural for a majority of people to have a level of grief around [the end of] their careers they have really enjoyed. It is actually pretty normal to find that sad or a little bit scary to transition out of that."

It is common to develop the "retirement blues", where your loss of the 9-5 job leaves you with a large hole to fill. Harvard Medical School even recommends that retirees "don't take it easy" when they retire, but instead stay engaged with all their interests and priorities during retirement.

Mr Jones agrees with that sentiment, saying it is important people build their social connections with people and their community, and have a willingness to experience new hobbies and activities which provide them purpose and value.

"People who stay fairly rigid on their views on how they should do life or what makes them valuable as a person, those are the people who will struggle more. I would encourage flexibility, and try to look at life and the world in different and new ways, and also experiment," says Mr Jones.

Your mental health should always be a priority, it can otherwise lead to further mental health issues and chronic diseases, like forms of dementia.

After retirement there will be a period of reinvention, where you try to find what and who  'You" is, and redevelop your personal identity.

It is the perfect time to get to know yourself without your daily job to get in the way!

Phases of retirement

Before you actually finish work, towards the end of the pre-retirement stage, you will have quite an idyllic view of what your retirement will look like. In your final five to ten years, your main focus is probably on being able to retire financially, but have you thought about what you are actually going to do with your time and how this change will affect you mentally?

"Often with retirement, the focus is on setting yourself up financially as opposed to setting yourself up for a lifestyle change," says Mr Jones. 

"People in the year or two leading up to their retirement [should] actually start to reflect on how they want to spend their time and what they want to engage with when they do retire. And even take that up before they retire, so they might start volunteering or buy a set of golf clubs or try different hobbies or engage with different social groups beforehand. 

"Then when the transition comes, they are excited to spend more time doing those things as opposed to being left feeling kind of empty or less full than before."

Usually, the second phase of retirement is like the "honeymoon stage" of a relationship or after a wedding. It refers the the time period straight after finishing work. Those first few weeks or months when you're enjoying not having to go to work each day and the days are yours to do what you like.

After the honeymoon phase is the letdown period, where you have come down from your high of retirement. Many retirees find this period difficult to find things to keep themselves busy.

Mr Jones says people should expect a certain amount of adjustment to retirement, ranging from about six months to a year.

But he says some older people don't seek help until a couple of years after they retire when they find nothing has changed or improved.

You will eventually move into a phase of redevelopment, where you actively seek new activities to keep yourself busy. Whether that be through volunteering, new hobbies, or keeping social.

"If you have that willingness to put yourself out there, then the vast majority of people will find their own equilibrium, their own balance, their spark in life again. It just takes that willingness to try," says Mr Jones.

Eventually, you will settle into your new routine and are able to get used to the downtime you now have available for the things you enjoy.

What to do if you have the retirement blues

Mr Jones stresses that it is important to recognise if you are struggling during your retirement.

He recommends attempting to find new meaning and purpose in things that bring you pleasure in life. But if this doesn't work and you are finding it hard to get there by yourself, visit your General Practitioner (GP) and get a referral to a psychologist to get support.

Putting yourself out there and experimenting with new activities and things can be really beneficial in improving your wellbeing.

While the first few years can be different when you are retired, Mr Jones says you should remain positive and look at retirement as a new chance to learn more about you.

"Look at retirement as an opportunity rather than a loss of identity or loss of role," suggests Mr Jones.

"Rather than feeling like you have lost something, you can see it as a chance to become a new person and expand the person who you are."

What's your top tip to settle into retirement life? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

Finding purpose in your retirement
Transitioning into your retirement life
Preparing yourself for retirement

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