Embracing retirement: preparing emotionally and psychologically

Retirement is a significant milestone and marks the beginning of a time filled with potential for personal growth, relaxation, and the pursuit of long-held interests.

Much discussion about retirement focuses on financial aspects and it can be easy to overlook that it is equally important to prepare emotionally and psychologically for the changes that retirement brings.

Ceasing employment can bring challenges like reduced income, increased loneliness, higher risks of bereavement, and declining health.1,2 These can take a toll and most people take time to adjust.3

But by thoughtfully planning for both the emotional and psychological aspects of this stage of life, you can help ensure a more fulfilling and joyful retirement.

The emotional landscape of retirement

Retirement is a unique journey for each of us but there are common emotional reactions that many people encounter, from relief and a sense of freedom to anxiety and feelings of uncertainty. These feelings naturally arise from the significant life change that retiring represents and the diverse ways in which we each came to retire.

An initial honeymoon phase of retirement can soon give way to more complex emotions as we adjust to no longer having the purpose, routines, and sense of self-worth that come with work. Anxiety, stress, and boredom can sometimes result.

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For couples, adjusting to retirement can bring its own challenges, especially where ideas do not fully align.

Some experts4 identify distinct stages common to many people’s retirements.

At first, it is about the freedom to sleep in, relax, catch up with friends, and travel. Indeed, this is what many pre-retirees think retirement is supposed to look like. But this phase typically lasts only about a year before questions arise about whether there should be something more to life than leisure.

Next, disenchantment sets in as retirees start to miss the sense of identity, purpose, and routine that came from work. This phase can bring fear and anxiety.

At some point, most seek a new path, finding ways to contribute and discovering new activities that replace their lost sense of purpose, until finally, purpose returns, often through activities that are meaningful and provide a sense of accomplishment.

Whether these stages resonate with you or not, it’s important to think about how your life will progress. After all, many Australians will spend a third of their entire lives in retirement – and it is essential to make the most of all those years.

Planning: goals and aspirations

Planning for retirement is often confined to financial matters – figuring out whether there is enough money in the superannuation account and deciding how best to take an income stream.

But thinking through and discussing with loved ones what you want from retirement – and how you will cope with the emotional challenges of retirement – can help you adjust to your new lifestyle.

Setting clear, achievable goals for what retirement looks like can provide direction and a sense of purpose. This might start by reflecting on the activities that bring you joy or the dreams you set aside during your working years, which may include travel, learning new skills, volunteering, or even starting a business. Part time work is another option for many retirees.

Establishing a new routine

Creating a new daily or weekly routine can replace the structure you were used to from years of working.

Here are some suggestions for activities that can be incorporated into your days:

Physical activity: Regular exercise and keeping active is an important part of keeping your mind and body healthy and can provide important social connections as well. For people aged 65 and over, experts recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a day.5 This can be through joining a gym, participating in fitness classes, walking, jogging, or playing sport.

Hobbies: Partaking in hobbies can improve your quality of life by stimulating your mind and providing opportunities for community connection. Hobbies can be a continuation of something you enjoyed while working or something entirely new.

Part time work and volunteering: Picking up work or volunteering in your community can be a powerful way to stay connected and provide a deep sense of purpose and satisfaction.

Social activities: Remaining connected with your friends and family should be a cornerstone of your routine.

Education: Retirement can be a good time to pick up new skills or deepen your knowledge of the areas that interest you. Universities, TAFEs, community colleges, and online providers offer a range of free and paid courses, many of which are specifically designed for seniors.

Maintaining social connection

Loneliness and social isolation are well-recognised health concerns, with evidence relating them to poorer health outcomes and shorter lifespans.6

Contrary to stereotypes, Australian studies show older people are among the least likely to experience loneliness, indicating significant resilience in sustaining social connections.

But active maintenance of those connections is critical.

Retirement can see the loss of the built-in social structures that come from work, and, as we age, loneliness can be exacerbated by the loss of loved ones, increasing mobility and health issues, failing eyesight and hearing loss, and the possibility of having to move to a retirement or aged care community.

Combatting this comes in two parts – maintaining longstanding relationships and pursuing new connections.

Engaging in community activities, joining clubs, or participating in groups aligned with personal interests can all provide opportunities for staying connected. Education is also a good avenue for connection, as is part time work and volunteering.

By actively cultivating these kinds of activities, retirees can mitigate the risks associated with loneliness. You can find activities and events in your area by checking your local council website. State government websites can also offer information on community activities.8

Coping with loss and change

Retirement can unfortunately coincide with the reality of losing loved ones and friends, which can deeply impact our sense of wellbeing. As we age, the frequency of losses naturally increases, which means we need to develop strategies to manage grief.

Although the prevalence of mental illness decreases with age,9 the emotional toll of losing close relationships can be intense and bring sadness, loneliness, and a sense of isolation.

Grief has no set pattern and is often experienced differently for people of different cultures.10 It can affect physical health and change the way we experience life.

Effectively coping with grief is an important part of ageing. While you may always feel some sadness at a loss, the most painful feelings gradually subside over time.

Experts say it is important to allow yourself to grieve. Live one day at a time and avoid making major decisions shortly after the death of someone you love. Look after your health and try to do something for yourself each day like walking, mediating, listening to music or relaxing.

Talking to someone you trust, your doctor, or a support group can help. The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement offers online services for grief alongside an Australia-wide counselling service. Griefline provides free and confidential counselling and support to people experiencing grief and loss across Australia.

If you have started considering what retirement might mean for you or if you are working on a plan for a great future, we can help you to understand what you need to think about.
As we age, the possibility of requiring aged care services becomes an increasingly important consideration and one that you need to prepare for financially.
Superannuation may be a ubiquitous part of the Australian retirement landscape but its role in an individual’s retirement is profoundly personal.

1 https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/0ec5c782-8ef0-4c4a-a7af-e25a3beb59d7/aw15-6-4-mental-health-of-older-australians.pdf.aspx
2 https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2024/04/loneliness-grows-as-we-age/
3 https://hnb.dhs.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcpdf.nsf/ByPDF/Retirement_issues_to_consider/$File/Retirement_issues_to_consider.pdf (no longer online)
4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMHMOQ_054U
6 https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2024/04/loneliness-grows-as-we-age/
7 https://www.aihw.gov.au/mental-health/topic-areas/social-isolation-and-loneliness#experience
8 Some examples include: https://www.nsw.gov.au/community-services/seniors/what-to-do-when-youve-retired/volunteering-and-social-activities/expand-your-social-network; https://www.seniorsonline.vic.gov.au/get-involved; https://www.qld.gov.au/seniors/recreation-staying-connectedhttps://www.sa.gov.au/topics/family-and-community/seniors/seniors-health/community-sport-and-leisure;
9 https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/0ec5c782-8ef0-4c4a-a7af-e25a3beb59d7/aw15-6-4-mental-health-of-older-australians.pdf.aspx

10 Content in this section drawn from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/grief-loss

Things you should know

The article was prepared by BT. BT is a part of Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141, AFSL and Australian Credit Licence 233714. This information is current as at 1 July 2024. This article provides an overview or summary only and it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon as such.

This information does not take into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs and so you should consider its appropriateness, having regard to these factors before acting on it. This information may contain material provided by third parties derived from sources believed to be accurate at its issue date. While such material is published with necessary permission, no company in the Westpac Group accepts any responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of, or endorses any such material. Except where contrary to law, we intend by this notice to exclude liability for this material. Any tax considerations outlined in this publication are general statements, based on an interpretation of the current tax law, and do not constitute tax advice.  The tax implications of super investments can impact individual situations differently and you should seek specific tax advice from a registered tax agent or registered tax (financial) adviser.