Will loneliness be your biggest challenge in retirement?

Senior man sitting lonely on a bench on riverside on misty autumnal monring

Image: yurikr/ Bigstockphoto.com

Various studies around the world show that loneliness and social isolation are becoming serious problems. The statistics in Australia—sometimes called the ‘Lucky Country’—should give us pause.

The latest Australian government report on the subject tells us that 1 in 10 Australians aged 15 and over say they lack social support. 1 in 4 are currently experiencing an episode of loneliness. And 1 in 2 report feeling lonely at least one day a week.

Defining the terms

In the report, social isolation is seen as having minimal contact with others and loneliness is a state of negative feelings from having lower levels of social contact than desired.

Some define loneliness as a form of social isolation while others say that loneliness is an emotional reaction to social isolation. This becomes complicated when individuals may be socially isolated but not lonely, or socially connected but feeling lonely.

Confusing? Added to this is the reality that the number of friends a person has is not a good predictor of loneliness.

The problem with loneliness and social isolation

Confusing or not, loneliness has been linked to a variety of health impacts, including premature death and poor physical and mental health—coupled with a general dissatisfaction with life.

Social isolation has been linked to mental illness, emotional distress, suicide, the development of dementia, premature death, poor health behaviours, smoking, physical inactivity, poor sleep, and biological effects, including high blood pressure and poorer immune function.

High levels of social isolation are also associated with a sustained decrease in feelings of wellbeing.

How you can tackle social isolation and loneliness

The report makes several suggestions, including that paid work can help stop loneliness. Delaying retirement may be helpful for some.

Caring for others, engaging in volunteer work and maintaining active memberships of sporting or community organisations can reduce social isolation. Having said that, having or building quality relationships is the best way to reduce feelings of loneliness.

If loneliness or social isolation is an issue, the challenge is to find something that both engages you and, hopefully, brings you in contact with like-minded people.

The complication of retirement

Whenever you retire, it will be inevitable that you’ll lose most of the social connections of your workplace. The challenge will be to develop the friendships you have outside of work, or create new ones.

And that’s much easier for some than for others.

You ratchet up the difficulty if, when you retire, you move to another location that’s away from long-time friends and activities you’ve been engaging in.

Your retirement challenge could be loneliness, but with creativity, determination and a positive attitude, it doesn’t have to be.

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

Category: Connecting, Emotional Health, Retirement

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