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How to cope with retirement depression

How to cope with retirement depression

Many of us dream of retiring long before it’s realistically possible - and picture ourselves whiling away the hours seeing friends, going travelling and doing gardening. But when retirement finally arrives - and you say goodbye to your colleagues and your commute - the shift in pace can bring some difficult emotions.

Retirement is a big life change which often means more than just stopping work. It can lead to a loss of routine and an increase in loneliness without the social connections of the workplace. Because of this, it can be difficult to adjust to retirement - and research shows that retiring may lead to low mood or worsen existing symptoms of depression1.

Counselling Directory member and therapist Georgina Sturmer explains: “For many of us, retirement might feel like we’ve hit the jackpot. Being able to spend our time doing exactly what we want to when we want to. However, for some people this rose-tinted vision ends up being something else entirely.

“At the start, we might enjoy the idea of endless lie-ins or duvet days,” she says. “But soon afterwards we might start craving structure or routine - and feel unhappy or hopeless.”

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Work and our sense of purpose

One of the key reasons why retirement can be challenging is because it can make you feel like you’ve lost your purpose or identity. Whether we like it or not, we tend to see our jobs as an extension of who we are - especially if we’ve spent many years forming a career.

"Think about how many hours a week you spend at work, travelling to work, thinking about work. Our career and our experiences in the workplace shape who we are and how we feel about ourselves," says Sturmer.

“"Successes and failures, working towards goals, developing relationships with colleagues, ambition, social interactions - the workplace has it all,"says Sturmer. "When we retire – even if we have looked forward to it for many years - it might feel as if we have jumped off a cliff. We might miss the approval that we received when we were in the workplace, and the associated sense of self-worth."

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Ageing and financial anxiety

Adjusting to a retirement income may also lead to money worries, which can also contribute to depression or anxiety. Retirement might also serve as a reminder that we are ageing, which can trigger worries about our health.

Stereotypes surrounding age and retirement are often negative. However, studies show that treating retirement as a new phase of life with more time for hobbies and travel - rather than the 'final' chapter of life - can actually make us happier and healthier2.

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How to cope with retirement depression

Plan your retirement life

"When you’re preparing for retirement, think beyond the practical and financial implications," says Sturmer. "Think about what you might miss from the workplace, like the social connections, the stimulation, the challenge, the sense of purpose. Start thinking about how you might build this into your retirement life."

This might mean learning a new hobby, joining a book club or even starting a course or an academic degree. It’s your chance to decide what you want to do with your time. If you miss working, you could take a part-time job.

Create a schedule

It’s difficult to go from having a set routine to not having one at all, so it can help to create a new schedule for your day. Create set times when you will do work around the house, exercise or do volunteer work. "Look for opportunities to get outside and to build new connections,” says Sturmer. “Do things to keep both your mind and body active."

Stay active

Exercise is a good way to boost your mood and meet other people. Join a gym, play tennis, try a Zumba class or join a walking group. Local community centres often have ‘meet and greet’ sessions where you can chat to other people and build new friendships.

Work on your communication

"If retirement means a shift in your relationships and responsibilities at home, remember that open communication is key. This avoids any anger, resentment or frustration that might build up," says Sturmer.

Think about your finances in advance

Planning out your money situation before you retire is essential to avoid stress and anxiety. Consider how much you might need for your lifestyle, your retirement income including your savings and any spending adjustments. The charity Age UK can offer advice and support.

Speak to your doctor

If you’re struggling with your mood and it is impacting your life, your doctor can advise on the best course of action for you.

Further reading

  1. Pabón-Carrasco et al: Prevalence of depression in retirees: A meta-analysis.

  2. Ng et al: Retirement as meaningful: Positive retirement stereotypes associated with longevity.

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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