If you're approaching retirement, chances are that you've been finishing work projects, reviewing your finances and making some big decisions, such as whether to stay in your current home or downsize. But don't overlook your mental health — the dramatic lifestyle change that retirement brings could affect your mental well-being.
It's easy to find information about living on a fixed budget and homes for retirees, but learning about mental health and retirement is also worth your time. Here's what you need to know about keeping your mental health strong during retirement.
The Relationship Between Mental Health and Retirement
Recent studies suggest that staying positive and maintaining mental health in retirement depends on several factors, such as your activities, the length of your retirement and your marital status.
A 2018 study commissioned by the Gerontological Society of America found that volunteering benefits retirees' mental health. The study surveyed more than 11,000 participants aged 51 and older and found that formal volunteering correlated to higher cognitive functioning over time.
A 2019 study published in The Journals of Gerontology found a sharp improvement in mental health in the first three years of retirement, especially when respondents had retired from poorer working conditions. And, according to VoxEU, researchers found that the mental health of married people, and especially married men, improved during retirement. Single men, however, experienced a decline in their mental health.
While some retirees might be relieved to leave work and its stressors behind, some might struggle without the identity, social life and routine their careers provided. Understanding the risk factors that affect your mental health — such as a family history of mental illness, stressful life situations and having few friends or few healthy relationships, the Mayo Clinic says — can help you make plans and pursue activities that can help you stay positive.
Take Time to Yourself, But Maintain Balance
Are you looking forward to some "me time" during retirement? If your typical workday was filled with demands from colleagues, support staff, clients and customers, the idea of days without emails, phone calls and meetings is certainly enticing. Taking some quiet time for yourself is a great idea, but doing too little — or on the other hand, too much — can actually wear down your mental well-being.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, doing too little in retirement can cause the same effects as doing too much, and those effects can include anxiety, depression, appetite loss, memory impairment and insomnia. The trick is to balance activities that draw you in and stretch you out. Scheduling a couple of activities each week that keep you engaged but aren't overwhelming will keep your retirement experience positive.
5 Tips for Staying Positive During Retirement
It's important to think about your lifestyle and any risk factors that could affect your mental health during your retirement. Although everyone's situation is different, you can begin boosting the quality of your retirement and mental health by following these five tips:
- Create a daily routine or schedule — and block off time for social activities, projects and relaxation.
- Look for a volunteering opportunity in an area that you'd find interesting and challenging.
- Schedule at least one activity outside of your home every week to stay active and remain part of your community.
- Participate in social events with friends and family, especially if you're single.
- Ease into retirement by reducing your work hours or by working as a consultant, or by taking on a part-time job to provide the daily routine, social interaction and mental stimulation that your full-time work life offered.
Understanding and identifying the benefits and challenges of retirement and how they could affect your lifestyle can help you be proactive about protecting your mental health and enjoying your retirement to the fullest. Get started with these tips today!