Retirement: Tending to Your Psychological & Emotional ‘Portfolio’

March 15, 2016   |   NO COMMENTS

transition to retirementWhen planning for the transition to retirement, the primary focus is generally finance-related: questions and concerns about portfolios, benefits, budgets and savings constitute the majority of discussions. Yet while financial security is an essential element of ensuring a secure and stable retirement, it is not the only significant consideration. A different type of personal “portfolio” is equally vital when planning for retirement: psychological.

While most retirees understand the need for financial planning, many overlook the critical importance of the psychological ramifications and effects of retirement. Because retirement involves enormous adjustments, which range from the loss of career identity to the replacement of previously established support networks, it is often precipitated and accompanied by profound feelings of anxiety and depression. Most retirees will have psychological issues, with varying degrees of impact, and these emotional concerns are further exacerbated by the societal expectations of retirement. Cultural norms have long implied that retirement is synonymous with the ‘good life,’ marking a period free of any constraints and obligations: but the impact of such a major event almost guarantees psychological repercussions.

Furthermore, for many retirees, the loss of the traditional career-oriented work role can severely fracture and traumatize identity structure, as professional jobs often form a large component of selfhood. Moreover, the transition can reactivate identity issues that occurred earlier in life. The process of reinventing and recreating one’s identity—an integral component of a successful retirement—is analogous to diversifying a financial stock portfolio. Having an identity composed of several roles, rather than one single source, can sustain many people during the transition. Diversifying roles and interests prior to retirement can also help redefine identity as the work/life structure diminishes, ultimately replacing it with a retirement/life structure.

While research indicates that most retirees, regardless of age, experience a “sugar rush” upon the transition to retirement, these positive feelings are soon followed by a sharp decline in happiness. Studies have established that a viable option to counter depressive symptoms is practicing altruism: findings have revealed that volunteering generates increased levels of satisfaction and psychological wellbeing, while reducing depression and anxiety. Statistics have also found a correlation between volunteerism and blood pressure; older adults who volunteered 200 hours throughout the year were found to be at a lower risk for hypertension than non-volunteers.

Moreover, to mitigate all of these potential difficulties, strategic and rational planning and preparation are critical. People must invest as much time focusing on their psychological portfolio as their financial circumstances, in order to find what makes them happy and gives their lives meaning and value: the principal key to maintaining wellbeing and contentment. Carefully planned, organized efforts during the years preceding retirement can optimize happiness and productivity, in addition to reducing apprehension and enhancing feelings of inner control.

Transitioning to retirement must include not only an awareness of the inherent psychological and emotional aspects of the process, but also an attempt to embrace and understand these effects. While most, if not all, retirees feel a certain amount of nostalgia, it does not obviate the need for a meaningful and purposeful life in the present.

Those with a positive worldview, a robust and diversified identity, and involvement in meaningful activities will experience smoother, easier transitions to retirement. Yet altogether, more research is needed on how to maximize people’s happiness: specifically, the causes and factors of the crash, and the ways that the sugar rush can be prolonged.


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