How to Prepare Your Mind for Retirement

The Adjustments Aren't All Financial

Preparing yourself emotionally will ease the transition. Hero Images/Getty Images

When it comes to planning for retirement, there's no shortage of advice from financial advisors and investment counsellors.  But what about the psychological aspects of preparing for this major life change?

Even if older adults have looked forward to the leisure time they expect retirement to bring, leaving work entails closing a significant chapter of our adult lives.  In fact, negative health effects have been discovered which coincide with retirement, leading the authors of a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology to describe early retirement as a risk factor for death by any cause.

Their research revealed that delaying retirement by an extra 5 years was linked with a 10% drop in mortality.

Emotional adjustment of retirement: There are many aspects of retirement that older adults can find challenging: a loss of routine or structure, a diminished social circle, a loss of power, authority or prestige, and sometimes greater friction with family members with whom there was conflict prior to leaving work.

But there's hope: organizations like the American Psychological Association (APA) cite research that people who don't quit work cold-turkey - but maintain some part-time employment or other activities upon retirement - describe themselves as more satisfied with life as they age. The APA and other experts advise older adults to plan for the emotional upheaval associated with a departure from work, along with the financial shift retirement can bring.

Here are some tips to get you to, and through, your own second act.

Before you retire: In the years and months leading up to a planned retirement, explore your future options:

  • Stay current with new technologies
  • Take a course on a subject outside of your own area of expertise
  • Continue to seek new challenges; this will build your confidence and optimism that you can weather change
  • Pursue hobbies that you can continue to explore once you have left work
  • Examine the aspects and conditions of your current job which are most satisfying to you
  • Foster strong relationships with family and friends to solidify and broaden your support network

Closing in on retirement: 

  • If possible, don't leave work altogether
  • Plan to have a reduced schedule in your current workplace
  • Explore the option of consulting in your profession
  • Consider a part-time job in an unrelated field
  • Investigate a course or certification on a subject that interests you
  • Offer your time as a mentor
  • Look into opportunities to volunteer in a cause that's meaningful for you

What if you don't know what you want to do with more leisure time?  This is a common challenge.  Try starting with small actions to learn something new and get out of your comfort zone.  Think back to your younger years for clues about which activities appealed to you and why.  Were they artistic, with a performance aspect?  Did you enjoy writing, or were your hobbies creative, or sports-related?  

Since we're often better at seeing what other people might do to improve their situation, consider buddying-up with a supportive or creative friend who's planning a transition of their own.

Brainstorm together about which small steps you could be taking for your "reinventions".  Give each other a timeline, and homework, to keep you moving forward.

What if I can't think of anything?  Many people opt for a "gap" job to bring in some extra money.  Don't worry if it's not an assignment you can picture staying with long-term; the APA advises that even a job that works just for now, is still a way of exploring new horizons and job conditions.

Bottom line:  If you retire from work at age 60 or 65, you could have another 25 or 30 years of active life in the future. Recognizing that an emotional adjustment is part of the retirement process can make the transition to your second act more enjoyable.

 Work on building your optimism, foster a positive expectation of your future, do what you can to lead a healthy lifestyle and stay physically active to maintain mobility, energy and enthusiasm - along with resilience - in the years ahead.

Build Healthy Habits for Lasting Health:


Bamia, C, Trichopoulou A, and Trichopoulos D. "Age at Retirement and Mortality in a General Population Sample: The Greek EPIC Study." American Journal of Epidemiology. 2008;167:561-569.

Hempstead, Katherine A and Phillips, Julie A. "Rising Suicide Among Adults Aged 40-64 Years." American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2005. Published online February 27, 2015.

Life Plan for the Life Span: APA Committee on Aging. 2012. American Psychological Association (APA) Public Information Sheet. Accessed March 11, 2015.

Thinking About Retirement? American Psychological Association (APA) Public Information Sheet. Accessed March 7, 2015.

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