Friday, February 13, 2009

My mom retired and I'm miserable!

Dear Dr. Josh,

My mom just retired after a career in education that lasted 30 years... She was happy at first but now she seems lost.  I hate seeing her this way.  What can I tell her to help?

Many of us look forward to a time when we won’t have to deal with the stresses and strains of work, but retirement can bring a new set of challenges, particularly for those who were forced into early retirement

The lifestyle changes that come with retirement often catch people off guard. Think about it, you have the same work routine for 20 to 30 or more years and then it stops. That kind of abrupt change can be tough for some people.

Now, here’s the dilemma. On one hand, you want retirement to be a time of freedom, a time to do what you want, when you want. But on the other hand, you don't want to be caught so far off guard that you're left without a sense of purpose during this important part of your life.

One way to handle this problem is to have a plan or strategy for transitioning into retirement. Here are some actions that will help you develop that plan.

First, stop and take stock.  Whether you've retired, or are about to retire, spend some time thinking about all of the things you've wanted to do and make a list. Write down everything -from a second career, to volunteering, to traveling, to doing nothing. Look at the list and start figuring out what is doable and what isn't. If you have a significant other, share that list with them.

Next, make sure there is some structure to your day. Create a schedule of activities that you do on a regular basis - maybe a daily walk, or some time for reading or other activity.  Research has shown that adults who maintain structure in their day have a more satisfying retirement.

Be sure you don't isolate yourself.  Whether you have a significant other or not, you need to interact with people. Local church groups or book clubs can be great for this.  Also, keep in touch with family and friends.  If visiting others is an option for you, great.  If it’s not, try writing letters, emailing, or calling the people you care about. 

Retirement is also a great time to pay attention to your health.  You are going to have time now. So when was the last time you saw your physician? Go get a check-up and make sure you are ready to do the activities you have planned.

Finally, challenge your mind and body.  Research shows that if you stay mentally engaged and get regular exercise, your mood, sleep and mental abilities will all improve. So take a look at that list you made and get started doing some of the activities. 

Retiring is a wonderful accomplishment, but it also is a big life transition. With just a few strategies, you can make that transition a smooth and rewarding one.

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