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Psychology of retiring: why emotional security matters

Jul 14 2016

Financial security is a huge part of planning and living in retirement, yet emotional security is arguably more essential to a healthy retirement, says Hyong Un, M.D, chief psychiatric officer of Aetna Behavioral Health. In fact, the psychological adjustments that accompany this major life event can catch people by surprise.

“Retirement isn’t easy for everyone,” Un says. “For some people, it’s like jumping into a new life. You may have had authority at work because you were the boss. Or you may have felt very fulfilled by the work you did every day. Then you retire. Once you get over the thrill of not having to go to work on Monday morning, you may be overcome with the unsettling feeling that you’ve lost your identity.”

For someone with a chronic condition that limits their choices in retirement, there can be an added stress to the transition. Un suggests finding ways to stay active, socially, physically and mentally. “Many times individuals isolate themselves and start to lose hope in a relatively short period of time,” he says. “If this sounds like you, reach out for some help. If this sounds like someone you know, take a few minutes to check on their emotional health.”

We use work and what we do as a source of social identity and a way to organize our lives. When we stop working, we lose the routine.

Plan for emotional security in retirement

Un suggests that people take stock before they retire to prepare for this major life event“Finding your own meaning in life can make all the difference in being happy once you retire,” he says.

For one person, that may be volunteering at the local elementary school. For another, it may be traveling or finding a new hobby or moving closer to grown children and their families.

If retirement is on the horizon or already underway, Un offers a few key questions that can help you boost your emotional security in the years to come:

  • What makes me feel good about myself? How can I keep doing it even though my routine and perhaps some of my resources have changed?
  • What do I want to accomplish in this next part of my life? Have I thought about how retiring will change my life?
  • Who are the most important people to me, and how can I keep our relationship going or make it even stronger without the structure (and restrictions) that work brought with it?
  • Do I have a strong support system around me to help me if I need their help?
  • What are the things I’ll stop doing in retirement? Will I miss them? If so, what will I do instead?
  • What have you always put off because of other demands of work and family? How can you make it happen now?

For more resources check out the Dept. of LaborAARP and the American Psychological Association,