8 tips for nurturing emotional health in retirement

This piece is presented by Avera Health.

When we near retirement, we usually keep an eye on our financial situations — do I have enough in my 4019(k) or 403(b)? What kind of Social Security benefits will I have? Should we downsize?

But have you ever pondered the emotional side of retirement? At first thought, unscheduled days without meetings or deadlines offer freedom and relief. However, if you haven’t seriously considered how retirement is going to affect your future well-being and self-worth, that excitement can wear off quickly.

“Nearly 70 percent of people admit to facing some emotional challenges within the beginning stages of retirement,” said Rhonda Kemmis, Avera Employee Assistance Program consultant and trainer.

According to Kemmis, newly retired people can endure one or all of three major losses:

  • Loss of identity. Think about the last time someone asked you, “What do you do?” Throughout a 40-year career span, we attach our identity to our work more than any other facet of life. “Many doctors, police officers, firefighters and attorneys have said, ‘My job is not what I do, it’s who I am,’ ” Kemmis said. “After retirement, that question may be met with thoughts of, ‘Who am I now?’”
  • Loss of purpose. Even though many of us wish we didn’t have to work, having a career is therapeutic. It gives us purpose, satisfaction, a reason to get out of bed. Retirement means you may have up to nine extra unstructured hours each day that will need to be filled with a newfound purpose.
  • Loss of relationships. How many times have you parted ways with a friend with promises of keeping in touch, only to never hear from each other again? The same is true when leaving a job. “Oftentimes, colleagues become treasured friends. When a co-worker retires, good intentions to reconnect outside the office can fall to the wayside very quickly due to conflicting schedules,” Kemmis said. “It takes both parties to put an effort into maintaining a friendship away from the work site.”

Because you are responsible for your retirement experience, planning is essential. Your design should provide you with bliss, and it should never be compared to someone else’s. Kemmis suggests embracing the following tips to enhance your retirement:

  1. Practice mindfulness. Learn to take joy in the present moment, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of your world, paying attention to exactly where you are. This is especially helpful if you experience depression, anxiety or regret.
  2. Practice gratitude. “Maintain a healthy perspective by being thankful for the things we do have, rather than pining over the losses we may encounter as we age,” Kemmis said.
  3. Embrace solitude. While it’s normal to fill your time with trips, volunteerism, hobbies and lunch dates, remember to enjoy the quieter moments. Savor the simplicity of watching the sunrise with a cup of coffee. These are sometimes referred to as eternal moments, and we experience many of them every day. Browse through an old photo album. Watch your favorite movie. Take in the laughter of children playing in a park.
  4. Keep your worthy radar up. If you developed a particular skill set for your career, consider applying those talents in your community, through volunteerism or new and more flexible employment.
  5. Welcome invitations. When someone says, “Would you like to…,” be bold and say, “Yes!” Take a chance; you never know who you will meet, what you will learn or what doors will open by accepting an invitation you would have declined during the busy working years. And be the instigator as well; welcome guests over for a pot roast dinner on a Sunday.
  6. Make peace with your past. We’ve all endured negativity related to our work environment. Kemmis warns “that which is unresolved from the past will infiltrate into your retirement years and keep you miserable.”
  7. Spend money. Sometimes it’s difficult to change your mind-set from a saver to a spender. Of course, be mindful of your financial capabilities, but enjoy the fruits of your labor. Experience a new culture by engaging in travel and crossing off those long-awaited adventures from your bucket list.
  8. Learn new things. Stay in the loop on current events and trends. Find local opportunities to learn a new craft or skill, such as stained glass, art, a foreign language or a new sport. Your brain will reward you.

“Think back to the advice that is given at graduation ceremonies,” Kemmis said. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life! Dream big; you can create the life you’ve always dreamed of.”

Rhonda Kemmis presents Preparing for Emotional Retirement in Sioux Falls three times annually and A Fulfilling Retirement: One Last Prep for Leaders in Medicine each spring. For information about either seminar, contact the Avera Employee Assistance Program at 605-322-4069.

8 tips for nurturing emotional health in retirement

Almost 70 percent of people admit to facing emotional challenges within the beginning stages of retirement. Here are some steps that can help.

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