Retirement anxiety and retirement blues are both very real things.
Associate Professor Tania Wiseman is the programme lead for Occupational Therapy and Head of Therapies at United Kingdom’s Swansea University. She shared her thoughts on beating the retirement blues during a 2023 New Zealand visit.
Retirement can feel like a strange time for many people. Gone is the routine of work, your time is your own – in theory. How to stop chores from taking over can become a tricky balance. Some people retreat and return to work. Some people’s hours become filled with transporting grandchildren and minding them so their parents can work. Often, those that persevere find they are as busy as ever – but not always with the fun leisurely activities they were looking forward to.
It’s strange that this is so often the case because retirement is something many of us look forward to for most of our working lives. Indeed, it’s the one time in life when you can really devote yourself to hobbies and interests, leisure and pleasure.
This uncertain picture means that approaching retirement can be a time of fear – retirement anxiety is a real thing. So too are the retirement blues.
When you add in potential health concerns and financial worries, it’s maybe not surprising that a recent survey found that more than half of over-40s feel anxious about retiring.
One retirement challenge is how to replace the friendships you make through work. Indeed, it seems the people who fare best in retirement find ways to cultivate connections.
The longest-running study on human happiness found the thing that makes us most happy in life is our relationships and positive social connections – they also help us to live longer too. Indeed, this 85-year-old Harvard study shows that maintaining quality relationships has a huge benefit for our physical and mental health and wellbeing.
Similarly, the charity The Centre for Better Ageing has found that social connections are just as important as money and health to a good later life.
When it comes to retirement anxiety, my research (Wiseman) with retirees shows that most people who have been retired for several years learn to manage their concerns and develop satisfying and interesting lives.
As with a lot of us, most of their time was taken up with home-based chores, self-care, looking after friends and relatives and serving the community – along with working really hard to keep fit, so as to “age well”.
But my research also found that negative notions of ageing can become internalised and prevent people from having fun and making new connections.
In my study, people said they were conscious that others might judge the suitability of their leisure choices. While some rebels could only really enjoy a pastime if they knew their children would disapprove (think daytime drinking, gambling, watching TV, cycling on busy roads in a rainstorm and flirting with strangers), most were limited in their leisure choices by this concern.
Several did not have any pastimes they enjoyed. Those who found a balance had rich and varied leisure lives, but they preferred people from their own age group and a similar background, where they were less likely to be told how amazing they are, for their age.