Adjusting to Retirement: Challenges and Effective Handling

People enjoying positions of privilege are likely to be maladjusted to their slower paced post-retirement lives
"A workaholic and one who enjoyed considerable clout at work, Rashid  found himself no longer in control of things as he had once been."
"A workaholic and one who enjoyed considerable clout at work, Rashid found himself no longer in control of things as he had once been."Special arrangement

After an illustrious career of 4 decades,   retirement should have been a well-deserved break for Rashid. He had made the right investments, had saved enough and was financially sound; he could look forward to a stress-free life doing things that he had no time for while he was in-service.

But things did not go that way and Rashid found himself unsettled and far from content. He had trouble making new friends, began to shun company and his family found him irritable, indifferent and often forgetful.

What Rashid did not know was that he was showing typical symptoms of Retirement Syndrome — the psychological inability to let go of the position of authority and having problems adjusting to the new role.

A workaholic and one who enjoyed considerable clout at work, Rashid  found himself no longer in control of things as he had once been.

People who have enjoyed positions of rank and privilege and who have to give them up when they hang up their boots are likely to be maladjusted to their slower paced post-retirement lives.

This type of adjustment disorder is now seen in an epidemic proportion; more so since family support and social dynamics are not geared up to help the individual any more. While certain types of personalities are more prone to this adjustment disorder, men are more vulnerable to it.

Why does this happen? This happens usually because they are only geared up to deal with work stress. They have stayed away for too long from family and domestic matters and are unable to make any sense of it or make changes and compromises.

Their social circle was limited to the workplace but post retirement they have to interact with a diversity of people. They feel difficult to forge new friendships/relationships with people who have ‘nothing in common’ with them.

They are no longer the decision maker or the person in command. They are newcomers to an environment that runs efficiently without their inputs. All of a sudden they find they have too much time and very little to do. They find activities like reading, gardening, walking or developing another hobby ‘unproductive’.

Unlike at work, their role in the family is not defined. They find themselves a part of a web that is functioning smoothly without any inputs from them. If they migrate to another city post retirement, that is an added challenge to someone who already has an adjustment disorder.

What to do? Severe cases of retirement syndrome can lead to acute depression and often suicidal thoughts. Therefore, counselling helps them re-orient their identity and responsibilities to accommodate the changing roles.

An understanding family and support from old and new friends greatly facilitates this transition. Wives are not exempted. Retired Husband Syndrome (RHS) is a psychosomatic stress-related illness frequently seen in women whose husbands have recently retired. Their constant interferences and attempts to dominate the domestic chorus can be a cause of stress to the women. 

The questions most people think about before retirement are “How much money will I need?” and “Am I saving enough?” But while financial security is certainly critical, people need to amass more than money for a successful retirement; they need to stockpile their emotional reserves, as well.

Effective post retirement adjustment strategies:

Regular prayers especially in congregation have a positive impact on retired people.

Think of retirement as a journey rather than a destination. You can also align your attitude by focusing on what you are gaining, rather than the things you are losing.

There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to respond when dealing with a major life change, so do not try to oppress yourself into feeling a certain way about retirement. Whether you feel angry, sad, anxious, grief-stricken, or a mix of emotions, by acknowledging and accepting what you are feeling, you will find that even the most intense or uninvited emotions will soon pass.

If we keep on re-reading the last chapter of our life we will never start the new one. Railing against events that you have no control over can be as exhausting as it is futile.

Whatever the circumstances of your retirement, by accepting them you can refocus your energy to the things that you do have control over, such as the way you choose to react to obstacles. Look back at examples where you have coped with changes in the past to remind yourself that you will be able to manage this change as well.

Investing your time and effort to a cause that is important to you can add meaning and a sense of accomplishment to your retirement life, as well as benefit your community. Volunteering and mentoring can help expand your social network, boost your sense of self-worth, and improve your mental health. It can also be a great opportunity to pass on some of the skills you have learned during your professional life—or learn a new set of skills.

If you have  sacrificed your hobbies for the sake of your career, post retirement it is time  to resurrect old interests or nurture new ones.

Whether you want to complete a degree or diploma, adult education classes are a great way to rejuvenate your mind, develop new interests, and set fresh goals for yourself.

Physical exercise is a very effective way to stimulate your mood, relieve stress and strain, and help you feel more relaxed and positive as you grow older. Aim for 35 minutes of activity on most days.

Regularly practising a relaxation technique such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing can help ease anxiety and stress, regulate your blood pressure, and improve your overall sense of well-being.

Take a moment to appreciate the small things in life, whether it is a phone call from a friend, a moving piece of music, or the feeling of walking in the sunshine.

Spending time in eco-friendly zones can relieve stress, put a smile on your face, and deepen your sense of well-being. Try hiking, fishing, camping, or walking in a park, or through woods.

Post retirement, spend your days, learning a new skill, or playing new games, puzzles, or sports, in order to keep you in a state of mental equilibrium . The more active you keep your brain, the better you will protect yourself from cognitive degeneration or memory problems.

Eating a balanced, nutritious diet during the process of ageing can also help you maintain a positive outlook.

Prolonged worrying is a mental disorder that you can learn how to break. By challenging your anxious thoughts and learning to accept unpredictability in life, you can tranquil your anxious mind, look at life in a more balanced way, and delimit the time you spend worrying.

Dr Zubair Saleem is a Senior Geriatric Consultant and Dr Showkat Rashid Wani is a Senior Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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