Battling the retirement blues: How to find meaning of life after work

Dec 05, 2019
Take the opportunity in retirement to follow your dreams without being held back by the restrictions of a job. Source: Getty

Retirement marks one of the biggest stages in a person’s life as you move from paid-employment and embrace a new-found freedom where you can do whatever you want, whenever you want.

It’s an exciting time full of possibility, without a demanding work scheduling dictating your every move. While some are able to embrace the change and jump head-on into retirement, it’s not unusual to feel a little lost.

While mental illness is more prominent in younger people, it’s still present among older Australians. Clinical geropsychologist Nancy Pachana says even for those who have felt mentally-stable throughout their lives, the transition to retirement can be a trigger for depression and anxiety.

According to Beyond Blue, between 10 to 15 per cent of older people experience depression and about 10 per cent experience anxiety. This number increases among the elderly in residential aged care to around 35 per cent.

The stigma surrounding mental illness is ever-present, making it difficult for people to speak out when they’re struggling.

So how do you find that meaning of life in retirement that drove you to succeed throughout your working life? And how can you embrace the new opportunities in this next stage?

Understand fear is normal

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re struggling to find direction in retirement. Fear and uncertainty are completely normal and it takes time to adjust to a new lifestyle.

In fact, according to a recent study,, which in turn impacts their overall wellbeing. A change in daily routine, loss of income and no longer socilaising with colleagues are all contributing factors.

“These changes take time and as a result a person’s experience of adjustment may fluctuate depending on factors such as the nature of a person’s work when employed, their general health and wellbeing, their financial standing, their work exit conditions and their networks of support,” the study published in the Social Issues and Policies Review explains.

According to Pachana those who make a sudden move from paid employment to retirement have the most difficulty getting used to their new-found freedom because there’s no period of adjustment or time to slowly move away from a set schedule.

“All of the research shows it’s best to do a step retirement so you go from full-time employment to some kind of part-time work before you stop completely,” Pachana says.

“You’re more likely to feel bored and dissatisfied in retirement and often people want to go back to some kind of work. However, this can prove difficult as you may not be able to find the exact job you want, or the salary you’d like to receive.”

Put structure in your day

After years of waking up at the same time each day, getting ready for work and returning home to cook dinner and complete any other daily jobs, it can be hard to move to having no schedule whatsoever.

Instead of throwing routine out of the window altogether, Pachana says there should still be some type of schedule in place – just perhaps not as restrictive as it was during your working life. She suggests including physical activity in your routine to keep your body healthy and take up hobbies to keep your mind active.

It could be as simple as going for a walk every morning and tending to your garden.

“Retirement planning goes beyond the financial aspects of savings and super,” Pachana says. “You shouldn’t just retire and plonk yourself in front of the television.

“You need to stay mentally active, especially if you had a challenging job – take up hobbies and activities that you enjoy and that are mentally challenging. This will help you stay involved in the community and stop you from becoming socially isolated.”

Set goals

While you don’t have to have everything figured out before entering retirement, it’s useful to compile a bucket list with goals you’d like to achieve. They can be fun things like travelling to a place you’ve always dreamed of visiting or being brave and going skydiving. Or they could even be more practical goals around retirement savings or buying a new property.

Even if your retirement doesn’t go exactly as planned, it doesn’t mean you can’t aim high and work through bucket list items at your own pace.

Dr Gabrielle Parle, a lecturer in finance at the University of the Sunshine Coast, says it’s a good idea to have a plan for every scenario – best, worst and in-between.

“Our working lives tend to focus on pursuing things that have a clear and measurable economic value,” she says. “Whatever our job, we work for someone else, such as clients or our employer.

“And money, accounting and finance are the rules of the game. But retirement gives us the opportunity for a complete re-set.”

Make connections

Depending on what your job was, you probably spent a lot of time around people. And while you may keep in touch with your colleagues, it will be far less than the amount of time you saw them at work every day.

Feelings of social isolation are common among new retirees, as they struggle to find your identity away from work. A good way to build new friendships is to volunteer at a local organisation or charity group.

According to the Social Issues and Policies Review study, belonging to a group can provide a sense of meaning and purpose during the life change.

“The negative effect of retirement fears on adjustment is significantly reduced when respondents feel strongly connected with other retirees,” the study explains.

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