Retirement Depression: 9 Tips for Combating this Very Common Syndrome

Retirement depression — feeling sad or lacking energy and focus after retiring — is surprisingly common.
retirement depression
A study published in the Journal of Population Ageing found that those who were retired were about twice as likely to report feeling symptoms of depression than those who were still working. And, research from the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs found that the likelihood that someone will suffer from clinical depression actually goes up by about 40% after retiring.

The result is that roughly 25 percent of adults aged 65 or older have some type of mental health issue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More alarmingly, suicide rates for men are highest among those age 75 and older, according to other data from the Centers.

Why Do You Feel So Bad When You Have Achieved the Lifelong Pursuit of Retirement?

On the NewRetirement Facebook page, a recently retired reader asked us about why she felt so incredibly depressed:

As soon as I retired after 43 yrs of being an R.N., my back got as worse as it could get and my hubby got sick. The first year of retirement sucks. We don’t have a lot of money, just comfortable. But I feel so lazy and depressed.

Guess I thought retirement was the end all be all. My husband has limited mobility, we still go to movies, out to eat, family parties and such. But I can’t find the motivation to get out of bed some days. Help! Please tell me people out there have been where I am. How did you get out of it? I pray, go to church and talk to God a lot. But I know he helps those who help themselves. I think I need someone who can be my drill sergeant, but nicely.

I know I need a routine. I am not a morning person, only was due to work. But now if I sleep too late, the day is gone. My hubby is too nice, he says it’s okay, take a relaxed day, like do nothing, read, go on Facebook, watch TV, but I feel no purpose.

This reader beautifully and intuitively answered her own question, lacking a purpose is the main reason so many people feel depressed after retirement! In her case, it is a particularly dramatic transition, she went from saving actual lives for 43 years to not having any real daily goal! That is a massive life change.

Missing the social and intellectual stimulus of work are other common reasons for retirement depression. Losing the schedule and structure of work can be another emotional blow.

When Does Retirement Depression Happen?

A 2012 study in the Journal of Happiness Studies by Elizabeth Mokyr Horner, PhD, of the University of California, Berkeley, found that retirees experience a “sugar rush” of well-being and life satisfaction directly after retirement, followed by a sharp decline in happiness a few years later.

Other people like the former nurse are hit with depression immediately and strongly.

How to Get Help for Retirement Depression…

Whether you are preparing for retirement or already there, here are 9 ways to get help for retirement depression:

1. Seek Help

Depression is real. It is debilitating. And, it is treatable. There are resources to help you — many of which are covered by Medicare.

If the following tips don’t help you shake your depression, please seek professional help.

SAMHSA: SAMHSA is the US government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. They offer a helpline that can help you find the services you need. They are open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. Call: 1 800 662 HELP (1-800-622-4357).

Your Doctor: Your primary care physician is also a good starting point for finding help. Group or individual therapy or even medication may be warranted to help you get back into a positive groove.

Retirement Coach: The first time Newsweek wrote about life coaches, they defined the profession this way: “Part consultant, part motivational speaker, part therapist and part rent-a-friend, coaches work with managers, entrepreneurs and just plain folks, helping them define and achieve their goals–career, personal or, most often, both.”

A retirement coach is all of these things, but they are really focused on the challenges and opportunities of retirement. Retirement is a big deal and it can be a hugely different lifestyle from what you experienced while working. Learn more about retirement coaches.

2. Find Purpose

Probably the most important thing you can do to avoid retirement depression is to find a purpose. Having a reason for living is critical to your emotional and physical well-being. Beyond feeling happier with purpose, did you know that having purpose is proven to make you healthier? Research from Patrick Hill and Nicholas Turiano found that people who have a sense or purpose or direction in life outlive their peers. In fact, people with a sense of purpose had a 15 percent lower risk of death.

From books to hiring a life coach, here are 4 ways to find meaning and purpose in retirement.

3. Develop Your Own Routine and Schedule and Stay Social

Finding purpose is great, but that can sometimes feel like an overwhelming task.

An easier starting place for fighting retirement depression is simply to create and follow a schedule. You need to get dressed, get out of the house and see people.

Get out your calendar and write down places to go and people to see on a regular basis!

  • You might consider starting a coffee club where you meet up with friends every day for a cup of something warm and conversation.
  • Visit the library — set a specific day of the week to find a new book. It is a free resource full of ideas and inspiration.
  • Take a class in anything at all you are interested in. Your local college may allow for free auditing of classes.
  • Start a book, cooking or travel club to discuss ideas with friends.

In some ways, it doesn’t really matter what you do, it is just important to do something (anything). Odds are that by doing something, you’ll find a new passion or purpose.

4. Slide into Retirement, Don’t Make it an Abrupt Transition

Going from a full time job and not enough time in the day to working zero hours per week can be a massive shock.

If you are not yet retired, consider ways to ease into it instead of making an abrupt transition. Some employers offer phased retirements, where employees can gradually reduce their hours over the course of a few years until they’re fully retired.

A study led by Mo Wang, PhD, of the University of Florida, found that people who pursued post-retirement bridge employment in their previous fields reported better mental and physical health than those who retired fully.

5. Volunteer

A study in the Journal of Aging and Health led by Eva Kahana, PhD, of Case Western Reserve University, found that people living in retirement communities reported higher levels of life satisfaction and fewer depressive symptoms if they were involved with low to moderate levels of volunteer work than those who weren’t.

A similar finding by Carnegie Mellon University psychologist Sheldon Cohen, PhD, and graduate student Rodlescia Sneed found that older adults who had volunteered at least 200 hours within the prior year reported greater increases in psychological well-being than those who did not.

According to Encore.org, a nonprofit that advances “second acts for the greater good,”more than 25 million Americans ages 50 to 70 are eager to share their skills, passions and expertise in encore careers that address social needs.

Here are 6 tips for volunteering in retirement.

6. Work

Work? Huh? Didn’t you retire to avoid work?

Working after retirement may seem like an oxymoron, but it is increasingly common and can be enormously good for your mental health.

Work gives you purpose, a schedule and lots of mental stimulation — all things proven to be beneficial to your mental health.

The Working in Retirement report found that employed retirees report levels of health, well-being and life satisfaction on par with those who have not yet retired — despite age differences. The report also found that working retirees tend to rate their workplaces more positively than those not yet retired.

It doesn’t have to be nose to the grindstone, without the pressure of having to earn a paycheck, you can find work that is enjoyable to you.

Here are the best jobs for seniors and 14 reasons why retirement jobs are the best.

7. Do What Makes You Happy (it Might Not Be Relaxing)

Yes, you have worked hard your whole life and you deserve some rest and relaxation. And, if that is what really makes you happy, go for it!

However, many people find rest and relaxation boring and unfulfilling. If this is you, it is imperative that you get off the couch and find activities that give you purpose, engage you mentally and physically and keep you social.

Explore 120 ideas for what to do in retirement.

8. Stay Physically Active

Research suggests that sitting is as physically damaging as smoking! And, physical activity is often “prescribed” as a cure for depression. Get up and move.

  • You could enroll in a fitness class — giving you physical activity as well as adding to a schedule.
  • Exercise doesn’t have to mean extreme sweating and exertion. Studies suggest that the healthiest retirees are ones who have developed a routine and hobbies that keep them gently physically active. Gardening is a great example –you are moving around over longer periods of time, caring for something.
  • Try making exercise something you look forward to instead of something you have to do.
  • Schedule exercise with friends for more accountability

9. Get a Dog

If nothing is working, maybe consider getting a dog! A dog forces onto your life many of the things that heal depression.

You:

  • Get exercise when you walk the dog
  • Maintain a routine with meals and outings for the dog
  • Get meaning and purpose from caring for the animal
  • Might find it easier to meet people if you take your dog to the dog park
  • Find love and companionship and “someone” who will empathize with you no matter how you feel

Here are 50 more tips on a happy, healthy and wealthy retirement…

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