What people don’t tell you about retirement

Click to play video: 'Free time and loss of identity: What people don’t tell you about retirement'
Free time and loss of identity: What people don’t tell you about retirement
WATCH: Most of us work for the majority of our adult life. And we think it’s all fun and games when we retire. But there is something most of us don’t think about when we let go of work, experts warn – Jan 3, 2018

When people think about retirement, many think about preparing themselves financially. How much money will they need to save? How should they allocate their budget? Will it be enough?

But what many people don’t often consider is how that major life event can affect them psychologically.

According to Dr. Christopher Frank, a medical professor at Queen’s University, many people worry about this chapter in their life for three reasons: not knowing what to do with the excess in free time; a change in their 9 to 5 routine; and a loss of identity that is often tied to one’s profession.

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“I think it’s that classic thing of what to do with time,” Frank says. “I think the loss of identity is really important as well. Our work, in many cases, defines us. Both the amount of time and people’s ability to structure it and people’s ability to reengage their work energies into meaningful things and that loss of identity when you go from being whatever you were to being a retired person can be a big strain for people.”

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Retirement can also bring on decision paralysis, diminished self-trust, the experience of a post retirement voice, the search for meaningful engagement in society, the confluence of aging, death anxiety and self-actualization, a study from the University of Alberta adds.

It’s a change that can bring on feelings of boredom at the very least (especially at the beginning), but for some it can induce anxiety, ennui and even depression, Frank says.

“I think to some degree these feelings are normal,” he says. “I think that when they start to become pervasive and when they stop people from finding the strategies that they should be using to put structure in and finding the motivation to do things to engage and maintain their sense of community, that’s when it can become more pathological. But I think it’s normal for everyone to experience some aspect of that.”

This is something that even the American Psychological Association recognizes as an issue for retirees.

“People can go through hell when they retire and they will never say a word about it, often because they are embarrassed,” said Robert Delamontagne, author of The Retiring Mind: how to Make the Psychological Transition to Retirement. “The cultural norm for retirement is that you are living the good life.”

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But for depression in particular, a study out of Thompson Rivers University found that retirement may not have a significant impact on depression.

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It’s a stage in life that each will handle differently, but a better outcome and smoother transition can happen if one takes steps beforehand to reduce the shock of the transition and likelihood of experiencing these feelings.

One thing many people do for a smoother transition is find a part-time job after retirement, Frank says. Doing this can reduce the shock one often feels after quitting working life cold turkey.

It’s a trend known as “bridge employment,” the American Psychological Association explains, or “encore work.” According to a 2013 survey by, 60 per cent of workers aged 60 and older say they would look for a new job after retiring.

But planning can start as early as mid-life, Frank says. Establish a strong sense of community with family, as well as friends, through activities and clubs. Another important thing to do is to take care of both your body and mental health, Frank adds. Eat healthy, stay active, drink alcohol in moderation, and engage in periods of reflection. Lastly, find ways to continue doing the activities you love do to.


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