When Retirement is a Challenge

Much is said about adolescence, but little about the changes that result from retirement. In collective ideology, the image of golden retirement persists. However, often this transition marks challenges that really put our mental health to the test.
When Retirement is a Challenge
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 20 December, 2022

Retirement is one of those situations in life that tends to be romanticized. In fact, as a rule, it’s approached in a really superficial way. The first thing that often comes to mind when thinking about it is a long rest on a paradisiacal beach. However, reality often contradicts this idealized vision of a rather complex phenomenon.

There are many people who reach this stage of life in a healthy manner, both emotionally and mentally. They’ve achieved what they dreamed of and are ready to enjoy a rest after a lifetime of work. It’s the kind of rest that doesn’t imply passivity, but having the ability to plan what they’re going to do with their time. For them, retirement is fantastic.

On the other hand, some people find it difficult to take the step from an active working life to retirement. Some manage to get around the situation, even though it’s not without its ups and downs, and find stability. For others, however, a lack of skills or resources to overcome the crisis may end up being the root of a significant clinical entity, such as depression.

Age is only a number, a cipher for the records. A man can’t retire his experience. He must use it.”

-Bernard Baruch-

Senior woman thinking about retirement
Retirement means change. As such, it can lead to a crisis for some people.

Retirement: a significant change

The youngest among us may think that it’s absurd to consider retirement as a problem. After all, it means receiving an income for the rest of our lives, without having to work. This is a dream for many. That said, the reality is often not as rosy.

In truth, retirement marks huge life changes that transform self-perception, lifestyle, and social roles. In fact, it can be really overwhelming.

Retirement is a process. Retirees go through different phases until they reach a new life structure that’s satisfactory for them. The most common path is marked by the following stages:

  • Honeymoon. Corresponds to the first few months after retirement. There’s a feeling of duty having been fulfilled, liberation, and satisfaction for what the individual has achieved. They start to take life more calmly and carry out activities that were previously restricted as they were working.
  • Disenchantment. It takes place a few months or years after retirement. The retiree has achieved what they dreamed of, so now what? They start to feel anguished.
  • Symptomatology. After the above feelings of disappointment, they start to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. Passivity alternates with hyperactivity. They feel bewildered and confused.
  • Reorientation. They start to readjust their plans and expectations, with a more realistic vision of their new situation. They begin to formulate new life projects.
  • Stabilization. They start to really adapt to retirement and build a new life plan that’s satisfactory, without being a panacea.

Retirement as a crisis

These phases of retirement don’t occur in the same way in all people, nor in the same order. However, the process is always similar and involves resetting expectations and building a new life plan. In some cases, it’s not possible to resolve it. That’s when the stage becomes critical.

The following kinds of people are those who are most at risk of entering a critical phase:

  • They lack interests and hobbies.
  • Their work was, essentially, their life.
  • They had retirement forced on them.
  • They have no partner.
  • Their social support network is poor.
  • They have a low educational level.
  • They have health problems.
  • They’re financially impoverished.
Sad senior man sitting
In retirement, a readjustment of expectations and a new life plan is necessary.

What can be done?

Ideally, we should prepare for retirement sufficiently in advance. It shouldn’t only be seen as an administrative process, but also an emotional and personal one. It’s a good idea to keep these variables in mind when planning the transition.

Therefore, before retirement, we should include in our routine some of the activities that we’d like to do later. This will mean that there are different sources of well-being available to us when the time comes and we’re able to forgo those derived from working life. It could be the study of a new trade or profession, the practice of a hobby, or the intention to travel. It’s also important to consolidate a good social support network.

If this isn’t done before retirement, it can be done after. That said, it’s advisable to do it before. After all, forewarned is forearmed.

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  • Almeyda Avalos, C. A. (2018). El trabajo decente: descanso y sobre carga laboral.
  • Potocnik, K., Tordera, N., & Peiró, J. M. (2008). Ajuste al retiro laboral en función del tipo de retiro y su voluntariedad desde una perspectiva de género. Revista de Psicología del Trabajo y de las Organizaciones, 24(3), 347-364.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.