The number of Americans ages 65 and older will more than double over the next 40 years, according to the Urban Institute.
This means a lot more retirees will be navigating the leap from work to leisure.
Jim Raines, PhD, has worked with many people through this transition in his role as manager of Adult Outpatient Psychiatry for Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento. He shares what he has observed and learned on the topic.
Raines likes to start discussing retirement with his patients 5 years before they plan to make the change.
That’s because there are big topics to tackle, with the top 2 being finances and health.
“I encourage patients to talk to a financial advisor as well as stay informed about their health, which may actually influence their retirement timeline,” he said. “I also advise them to reach out to their network to learn more about the reality of retirement.”
In therapy, Raines said the topic of retirement evokes everything from elation to anxiety.
He likes to frame discussions around opportunities. “Having more free time changes the dynamic,” he said. “I ask my patients, ‘How do you envision your retirement?’”
While many say they look forward to vacationing and “doing nothing” when they retire, Raines cautions against romanticizing this stage of life. Most people will not be traveling constantly. And becoming too passive is unhealthy.
“The happiest retirees I know have some type of structure. This could entail getting up at the same time every day, going to the gym or for walks consistently, or even having your week structured like a Monday through Friday workweek.”
Retirement can be a time for new goals and long-forgotten dreams, ranging from a daily yoga practice to earning a new degree.
Whatever the plans, Raines said that all of the general advice for living well still holds — get enough sleep, eat healthy food, exercise regularly, don’t smoke, and get professional help if you aren’t feeling well.
Retirement can be the joy of new pursuits, but it can come with loss, too.
“For many, their identity and self-esteem is tied up with their work,” Raines said. “If you take that away, they can really feel it. What do people ask you when you meet them at a party? It’s not who you are. It’s what you do.”
A large part of the workplace is social, too. Raines recommends reconnecting with friends in order to fill the void, while not automatically accepting unwanted family obligations such as full-time childcare.
Volunteerism, classes, and getting out on a daily walk can keep retirees energized.
“The way we are built as human beings is to move forward,” Raines said. “If we don’t, we start to struggle psychologically.”
While many embrace the new freedoms of retirement, some of Raines’ patients experience “poor expectations,” meaning that retirement was not as fun as they had envisioned. “We all like to take a vacation, and some can view retirement as the ultimate vacation. But a vacation is a break from your job. Retirement is every day.”
“We talk about how you have got to be flexible,” he said. “Sometimes people liked their work more than they realized, so they go back to contracting, or take a lower-paying job they love and maybe feel that they can now afford to do.”
One of the ways that retirement has been made easier is in online information, where retirees can learn anything from how to build a birdhouse to which Greek island to visit.
“Many people fantasize about winning the lottery. With retirement you actually do win the lottery of time because you don’t have to go to a job now,” Raines said. “The idea is being smart about it by building a structure, network, and support for the life you want to live.”