Don’t overlook psychological health needs when making retirement plans


For years, wealth management companies have been telling us in commercials that retirement needs to be on our radar. When the Coronavirus pandemic hit in March of 2020, hundreds of thousands of workers were faced with adjustments to hours, working from home, taking leave, or being faced with unemployment. What Forbes magazine called “a wave of early retirements” occurred in the first stages of the pandemic. Now over a year in, many workers in their late fifties and early sixties are wondering if it is even worth staying in the labor force. 

While such a decision isn’t made lightly, there is Medicare, Social Security, and a variety of financial aspects, the area that tends to get overlooked is the psychological aspect of what retiring means to us as social beings. 

“Retirement isn’t a one-time adjustment. It is a series of adjustments that start from the moment we decide to leave the workplace and stem into our social, financial and partnership relationships.” said Jon Davies, PhD and Director of the McKenzie River Men’s Center, adding that this can be harder if our identities are directly tied to our titles. “There are a variety of unanticipated emotions for new retirees. People might be expecting joy and elation, but instead find themselves dealing with grief and loss.” 

Yvette Waters was the Executive Director of the Committee Against Domestic Violence for twenty-one years when she was forced to retire for medical reasons. “I had a lot of difficulty letting go of the office. I had to constantly remind myself that the work is now in someone else’s hands.”

Davies says another aspect that tends to catch retirees off guard is the isolation that occurs when you don’t have somewhere to be during the weekday. 

Waters agrees and says that COVID-19 restrictions have not made it easy to stay in touch. “You lose your social circle when you don’t see or talk to people. That is one thing about retirement, you will rediscover yourself. You spend a lot of time alone.” 

Having a partner can make things less lonely, but Davies points out that even the closest couple may find themselves on each other’s nerves. “Being partnered creates news issues when those that used to have space now share surplus time. Plus, newly retired couples may find that they have opposite ideals about what retirement looks like. They might not like the same things. It is okay that the picture changes.” 

Davies identifies the key to avoid social isolation is to start building a bridge from your work life to retired life before you make the actual transition. “Find a social group that you enjoy, an issue you are passionate about, or just a weekly activity that keeps you connected to the community. It will help you stay active and vibrant.”

Waters recommends that you keep moving too. “Build movement into your daily routine. That makes it easier to stay active if you are always in motion.”

Carolyn Benedict, LCSW and volunteer for Center for Community Counseling, echoes both sentiments. “Find something to brighten every day, like an activity that gives you joy. We all need something that has meaning and stimulates our brain.” 

Brenda J. Wilkie is an MSW Intern at the Center for Community Counseling and a graduate student at the University of Denver. She also holds a BAS in Broadcasting from Boise State University.

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