How to find a goal after retirement

The loss of a routine and a sense of purpose could cause you to experience symptoms of depression after retirement. Help is available and relief is possible.

Even if you feel lost at first, retirement could be the start of your golden years. That doesn’t mean the transition is easy for everyone, and feeling sad, hopeless, or lost is natural and valid.

Depression after retirement is also common. It is estimated that almost a third of retirees in the United States develop symptoms of depression at this stage of their lives.

However, depression can be managed, and self-care and support can make a difference.

Everyone lives their retirement in a different way. But retirement can lead to depression in some people who face specific challenges.

“For many people, their work gives them meaning and purpose in their lives. When their job is gone, it can be difficult to fill that void with something else,” says Iris Waichlera Chicago-based licensed clinical social worker and author ofRole reversal, how to take care of yourself and your aging parents.”

According to Waichler, who specializes in elder care, work can provide emotional rewards, such as a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It also provides opportunities for socialization and intellectual stimulation.

“Depression and sadness can emerge when this environment disappears,” she says.

This may be especially the case for retirees who:

  • having lost a spouse
  • live alone
  • switch from daily activity to a more sedentary lifestyle
  • face financial difficulties
  • didn’t want to retire
  • living with health problems

For some retirees, it can be difficult to distinguish between a temporary bout of sadness or clinical depression.

Although depression can involve feelings of sadness, it can also present with a myriad of other emotions and physical symptoms.

“Sadness is an emotion that everyone experiences at times in their life when there is disappointment, challenge, or loss. It is usually event-related or triggered by something,” says Waichler.

But unlike sadness, depression is a formal mental health diagnosis that can last for months or even years if left untreated.

Symptoms of Depression

Major depressive disorder, also called clinical depression, is a mood disorder.

Symptoms include:

  • a decreased ability to feel pleasure or enjoy activities that previously interested you
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • irritability and outbursts of anger
  • cry for no reason
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty making decisions
  • appetite changes
  • weight loss or weight gain
  • tiredness and aches
  • changes in sleep patterns

You may only experience a few symptoms on the list, which would not necessarily indicate that you have depression.

If you experience 4 or more of these symptoms almost daily for more than 2 weeksit may be helpful to seek professional assistance.

“Therapists can give you information and teach you ways to cope and adjust to a retired life. They can also assess the severity of depression and recommend if medication is needed,” says Waichler.

In addition to depression, retirees may experience several mental health effects.

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues facing older adults, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Symptoms of anxiety can be related to financial worries, illness, fear of being dependent on others and other factors. A sedentary lifestyle can also contribute to anxiety.

Retirees, especially those who left work unexpectedly or involuntarily, may also experience lingering difficulties feelings of anger themselves, their former employer or family members.

The transition period can also stress relationships, especially romantic partners.

“A lot of people don’t discuss retirement with their partner. [before it happens]. So the two can have different expectations, which can lead to a lot of conflicts,” explains Noelia LeitePhD, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Doctor of Integrative Health in Miami.

If a couple goes from only seeing each other in the evenings to spending most of their time together, the relationship dynamics can change.

But not all mental health effects of retirement are challenging.

A study 2018 Using panel data from the Health and Retirement Study showed that many people experience positive health effects, such as an increased sense of life satisfaction, after retirement. It all depends on the context and the circumstances.

Depression is a formal mental health condition, and the symptoms can be managed. Treatment is often effective, so relief is possible. Self-care is also essential if you are living with depression after retirement.

1. Consider a gradual transition

Many people have no control over when or how they retire. But if possible, phasing out work gives you time to adjust to a new lifestyle, rather than spending full time not working at all.

“It helps people feel more in control, and the retreat feels less abrupt and disruptive,” says Waichler.

The experience may look different for everyone, but a gradual transition could mean that you:

  • plan home projects that you could start working on during your retirement and that you can take on full-time afterwards
  • asks to switch from full-time to part-time for a few months before retiring
  • join a mentorship program that keeps you active in the field you love

2. Try to create structure

Having a schedule can mimic the sense of purpose and structure that the job provides.

“Make a schedule that will help keep you busy. Possible things to include are exercise classes, social events with friends, attending conferences, or spending time with family,” says Waichler. “It helps you have more control over your schedule and your life.”

3. Consider staying as active as possible

According to Leite, finding opportunities to make new connections and socialize can help.

“It could be volunteering in the community or even starting a new profession. Who knows?” said Leite. “But you have to move. You have to stay active.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), working and volunteering has been shown to prevent depressionas well as symptoms of dementia and hypertension.

If you face physical limitations, consider using technology to stay in touch and develop new skills and interests. You can find online courses and communities that can help you do this.

4. Setting new goals can help

Goals can help you maintain or regain a sense of purpose.

A cohort study of 6,985 adults showed that having a sense of purpose promotes improvements in:

  • physical and mental well-being
  • overall quality of life
  • reduced mortality risk

Yet tapping into personal desires and goals can be an unexpected challenge for many retirees.

“It’s a transition from the ‘I have to work’ mindset. I have to earn money. I have to raise my children,” to now be in a phase where you are exploring your desires. ‘I want to be healthier. I want to travel more. I want to enjoy life more. I want to socialize more,” says Leite.

Retirement involves changes and adjustments that, in some cases, can cause you to develop symptoms of depression and other mental health issues.

Therapists who specialize in retirement or life transitions can help facilitate the process. They can also assess the severity of your symptoms and work with you to develop a treatment plan.

“Retirement is just a phase of life that comes to an end. You need to close it properly to be able to start a new one [that is] more beautiful and more prosperous,” says Leite. “It’s very possible to have a nice retirement phase.”

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