A planned retirement helps you and your mental health

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I’ve seen people who have retired without having a plan, and mostly, it isn’t a pretty sight. When I asked a clinical psychologist friend what she thought could be the major problem for those who retired without planning, ‘Anxiety and depression’, was her immediate answer.

Of course, there would be anxiety if retirement was merely a black hole. Where do you start? How do you negotiate this with your partner, if you have one? What will you do in the next 20 or 30 years of your life? It takes time to work through issues like these.

Good transitions need good planning

Retirement is a major life transition. However,  getting to retirement means you’ve already gone through several life transitions. They can include: home to school; high school to the workplace, a trade, or university; marriage; divorce, perhaps; children; and so on.

At retirement, we’re already experienced transition-ers, which is a bonus. Nancy K Schlossberg, in her book, Too Young to be Old, points out that the transition to retirement brings changes in: ‘roles, relationships, routines, and assumptions.’

Assumptions? Yes. You don’t really understand what parenting is like until you experience it. And you won’t really understand your retirement until you actually get there, but planning for it helps give it structure.

‘It can be difficult, even painful, to experience change’, writes Schlossberg. ‘Avoiding [change] is not an option. . . . The basic question is how you embrace your transitions’. That’s more than a what will you do? question, it’s also a mental health question.

Planning puts you in control

Tim Carey, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Charles Darwin University says, ‘psychological distress is experienced when people feel unable to control their thoughts, actions, emotions, or some other aspect of their day-to-day living’. In fact, ‘control over life circumstances reduces chronic stress and has favourable biological effects. . . . ‘What is important is not so much what you have but what you can do with what you have’.

Planning your retirement gives you control and helps to make it your retirement.

Living on purpose takes planning

Purposeful living is important for a successful retirement. That’s the finding of Michael Longhurst in his book Enjoying Retirement. It comes from his Retire 200 study, an in-depth study of 200 Australian retirees.

‘It makes sense that those who keep themselves busy will fare better emotionally than those who lie around doing nothing’, he says. And, if an activity has a purpose, it will prove to be more rewarding.

Victor J Stretcher adds that ‘the strength of one’s life purpose—which involves a combination of living according to your values and goals, and striving to make a positive difference in the world—can be measured . . . it correlates highly with psychological wellness’.

Your plan needs to be your plan

As a child, you may have tried wearing your parents’ shoes and they slopped around or your mother’s high heels tripped you up. It’s fun to play like grownups as a child. As an adult it’s time to be who you are. You would make a poor someone else.

Gustavo Razzetti, in Psychology Today says, ‘No one knows yourself better than you do. No one but yourself can choose how you live’. He warns that it’s too easy to lose control of our lives through social pressure and envying other people’s ‘perfect lives’. That simply leads to frustration because you aren’t being true to yourself.

The WHO on mental health

According to the World Health Organization ‘mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’.

Note the four elements listed to mental health. As you look at your retirement, you could ask how well you’re planning in these areas. Then you could work out how you’ll make sure you have this kind of balance in retirement.

Is it too late for me?

If you haven’t planned for retirement and it’s only a few weeks or days away, or you’ve just had it thrust upon you, what can you do?

First: Don’t panic. You can still create something great in your retirement.

Second: Take the time to create a plan. Don’t just settle on a lounge in front of the TV. This is time for pen, paper and thinking.

Third: Think about this time of life in bite-sized pieces. Start with planning the first six months (that’s usually quite easy). Then think about the first year. Finally, when you’re ready, the first five years.

It’s never too late to plan your retirement, but the earlier you start, the better. For you and your mental health.

A longer version of this post first appeared in YourLifeChoices

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of RetireNotes.com

Category: Emotional Health, Planning

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