8 Tips for Adjusting to Retirement

This new phase of your life can be a little difficult to navigate at first

You’ve likely thought a lot about how you’ll enjoy your golden years. But there’s a good chance you never thought much about the psychological effect retirement might have on you.

Retirement often means a loss of identity. Whether you identified as a banker, cook, or teacher, retirement can cause you to question who you are now that you’re no longer working.

Other issues that accompany retirement—such as more time and less money—can also make for a difficult adjustment. Some retirees experience mental health issues, such depression and anxiety, after they've stopped working. 

If you’re in the early stages of retirement and feeling somewhat lost, you’re not alone. Many retirees find the transition can be difficult.

Following these eight tips might help you adjust to retirement better so you can feel fulfilled and happy during this chapter of your life.

1
Expect to Go Through Stages of Emotions

Adjusting to retirement can take a while.

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There’s an emotional process that most people go through when adjusting to retirement. At first, there’s a feeling of freedom. It’s like you’re on a vacation that’s going to last forever.

That sense of novelty wears off, however, and you will settle into a slower lifestyle. There might be a stage that involves a lot of, “Oh, no! What did I do?” thoughts, followed by anxiety and boredom. You might even feel guilty for not enjoying retirement as much as you think you should.

Suppressing your emotions or denying your feelings can lead to unhealthy coping strategies—like relying on alcohol or food. Allow yourself to experience a wide range of emotions, whatever those emotions may be. 

Look for healthy ways to deal with those feelings. You might find walking, reading, writing, talking to others, or yoga helps you deal with your emotions.

2
Structure Your Days

Pre-retirement, you had your routine down pat: Alarm goes off, shower, breakfast, pack a lunch, head out the door. There was probably a similar structure to the end of your days that began when you walked back over the threshold of your home.

If you thrived with a schedule, you might establish a retirement routine that helps you plan your days. Experiment with various activities and time slots to see how it makes you feel.

Pencil in time for lingering over the newspaper and enjoying a cup of coffee, but add in regular time for exercise, social activities, volunteer opportunities, and family meals.

While your days don’t need to be rigid, having a set wake-up time and routine can help you feel more normalcy now that you aren’t going to work.

3
Set Small Goals

Your pre-retirement life was measured in meeting milestones, such as making deadlines, finishing projects, or getting a promotion. You can still focus on goals after you retire, though they might be a little different than they were before.

Working on goals can give you a sense of purpose. And accomplishing new things can give you a sense of achievement.

Think about what milestones you might want to meet in the first month, six months, or one year that you’ve been retired and write them down. Do you want to lose 10 pounds? Travel to Europe? (Yes, goals can be fun, too!) Finish five books that you’ve been putting off? The sky’s the limit.

4
Grow Your Friendships

There’s a significant risk of becoming isolated during retirement. After 30 years of meeting friends through work and seeing them every day, it might not be as easy to keep up with those you hold dear. 

This can play into the restructuring of your daily routine—ask one friend to meet you for lunch every Monday, another friend to go walking through the neighborhood with you on Wednesdays and a third pal to grab a coffee on Friday afternoons.

If you and your spouse are friends with other couples, aim to invite them over for dinner or board games at least once a month. If you don’t feel like you have enough people to keep you socially active, take advantage of the extra time in your life to make new friends.

Check out any programs offered at your church or a local community center, or find a group of like-minded individuals who share an affection for your favorite hobby, whether it’s golf, crafts or cooking.

5
Consider an “Encore” Job

Who says that retirement from one job has to mean leaving the workforce entirely? A number of folks try out a less-stressful secondary career, perhaps one that’s part-time, after leaving their longtime industry.

Research finds that retirees who got a “bridge” job, another term for this type of work, are often in better health, both mentally and physically, and report higher levels of life satisfaction.

So look around your community (or search the internet for work from home opportunities) for jobs that you might enjoy doing during retirement.

6
Create a New Budget

Even the best savers might have to make some spending adjustments after retirement. In an ideal world, you have saved enough to last 20 to 30 years, but if you’re like most retirees, there’s a good chance you might fall a bit short of that goal.

Figure out what you need in your new post-career life and what you don’t. For example, that clothing budget that you always spent on business clothes can go out the window, but you might need to add in a category for membership dues for a variety of organizations that you wish to join.

Establish a budget that will help you see how much money you have for entertainment or fun. You might learn you need a part-time job so you can go on an annual vacation. Or, you might discover you have enough money left over to take your grandkids to lunch once a week. 

7
Schedule Volunteer Shifts

Not willing to go back to the office grind? That’s understandable. You might find you’d rather reap the same benefits by volunteering on a regular basis.

Studies show that seniors who incorporate a low to medium level of volunteering in their life report more satisfaction with life and fewer symptoms of depression than those who didn’t volunteer.

The perks might be related to the expanded social ties that volunteering provides, or the sense of purpose a person can feel by committing to charitable causes. It’s not only going to boost your psychological well-being, but it could improve your cardiovascular health and lower the risk of hypertension, too.

Whether you choose to help out at your local library or you decide you’d like to volunteer at the hospital, look for ways to get involved in your community.

8
Give Yourself Flexibility to Figure It Out

You might think that you want to spend your retirement painting, cooking, and reading, but then find out that all that time spent at home doesn’t fulfill the lifestyle you dreamed about. After 30 years in the workplace, you finally have time to experiment with what you really want.

There are many different ways you can spend your time. And fortunately, there’s no need to figure it all out right away.

It will likely take a fair amount of experimenting to help you find just the right balance of how you want to spend your time. You can always increase social activities later or develop new hobbies if you want to stay busier.

The joy of retirement is that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to experiment. It’s up to you to design the type of day—and kind of life—that you want to live.

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Article Sources
  • Heller-Sahlgren G. Retirement Blues. Journal of Health Economics. 2017;54:66-78. DOI: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2017.03.007.

  • Mukku SSR, Harbishettar V, Sivakumar P. Psychological Morbidity after Job Retirement: A Review. Asian Journal of Psychiatry. August 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.ajp.2018.08.003.