By Jamie Winters, LCSW
For many people, a job or career can serve as an integral part of their identity while also providing socialization and a sense of purpose that has been cultivated throughout their lives.
So, what happens when it is time for retirement?
It can be a wonderful time of life but, for some, also a very difficult adjustment that can have a negative impact on their mental health.
For those who experience depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders after retirement, help is available.
Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health provides a wide range of outpatient and inpatient services customized to meet the needs of older adults.
Recognize the Warning Signs
According to the National Institutes of Health, many older adults are at risk for mental health problems such as depression and anxiety as they experience the significant life changes that can come with age.
Physical illness, the death of a loved one, and retirement are all changes that can lead to feelings of sadness, stress and uncertainty.
Over time, older adults are typically able to adjust to these changes, but some have more difficulty than others.
That is why it is important to recognize the warning signs of a mental health problem in older adults. These warning signs can include:
• Changes in mood or energy level.
• A change in your eating or sleeping habits.
• Withdrawing from the people and activities you enjoy.
• Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, angry, upset, worried or scared.
• Feeling numb or like nothing matters.
• Having unexplained aches and pains.
• Feeling sadness or hopelessness.
• Smoking, drinking or using drugs more than usual.
• Anger, irritability or aggressiveness.
• Having thoughts and memories that you can’t get out of your head.
• Hearing voices or believing things that are not true.
• Thinking of harming yourself or others.
If you or loved ones experience signs of a mental health problem, talk to your physician or seek out a mental health therapist. In many cases, depression and anxiety can be successfully treated through talk therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.
Creativity Key to Successful Transition
When it comes to retirement, one key to a successful transition is to find ways to replace the mental stimulation, socialization, physical activity and purpose that your career provided. Some suggestions:
• Identify cope-ahead strategies. Consider what retirement might look like before the big day arrives. You may want to plan for a gradual transition rather than a sudden stop by maintaining a part-time role or serving as a consultant.
• Build structure into your day. Without the built-in structure that work provides, there’s more time for ruminating on the regrets of the past and the “what ifs” of the future. Structure can help you live in the moment and make the most of the time you have each day. Try to identify a purpose for three key parts of each day: something to get you up in the morning such as a volunteer role; something to look forward to in the afternoon like lunch with a friend or a walk with a neighbor; and something to close out the evening such as a favorite meal or a good book.
• Limit news intake. When at home it is easy to fall into the habit of keeping the television on. However, because news can be a constant, repetitive cycle of troubling information — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic — it is best for retirees to limit news intake to an hour each day, which includes reading the morning paper.
• Get creative. Retirement can provide an opportunity to explore new interests. Finding ways to bring a zest for life into your later years can promote better mental health.
• Check in frequently. Talk to friends who are also going through this new stage in life and see how they’re coping. Reach out to family members if you need some extra support and stay connected.
• Stay present. Try to make the best of the current moment and stay present. In other words, put your mind where your feet are. Focus on whatever it is you are doing now rather than thinking about the past or the future. Accept that life is unpredictable, and you don’t know what the future will bring.
• Remain hopeful. Though your life may have changed, it is still a life worth living. You can still find opportunities for engagement and contentment.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you are struggling with retirement or other changes that come with age, there is no shame in seeking help and guidance. You’ve earned your retirement. You deserve to enjoy it.
For more information about Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health or to find a therapist with Princeton House, call 888-437-1610 or visit www.princetonhouse.org.
Jamie Winters, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and senior primary therapist at the Princeton House North Brunswick outpatient site.