How to Adjust to Retirement for Men

Monday, April 07, 2014 @ 1:15 PM

What are the effects of retirement?

Effects are probably as varied as the individuals involved. Most continue to live in their own homes well after retirement. They also enjoy family, travel, hobbies, a vocation, sports and an active love life.

Difficulties in adjusting are especially acute for those that have loved their work. There are those who, according to Dr. Robinson in his book Work Addiction, are especially prone to feeling the loss of their work. These people are more apt to become depressed.

Perhaps, this is more likely to occur for men than for women. That is not to say that women are not employed for years before retiring. They may miss their work, also. However, women who are mothers are more apt to continue to have fulfillment in their relationships with grown children and grandchildren. But, mothers can have the “empty nest” syndrome, especially when children have moved to distant locations. Also, a growing number of women face retirement without a partner.

What are some practical solutions for these problems?

One solution is to continue working. More are continuing to work after retirement age, myself being one of them. Others pour themselves into a vocation or other activities. For others, who do not want these solutions, a change of mind is necessary. Perhaps the kind of grieving process in which one gradually says goodbye to the past enjoyments and fulfillments of work, and says hello to a new lifestyle. Any lifestyle requires the fulfillment of basic needs.

According to Mark Terrell and Roger Elliott, Directors of Uncommon Knowledge, these needs include:

  1. The need to give and receive attention- Attention is a form of nutrition and without the right quality and quantity we will suffer mental and even physical distress and illness. It's vital to understand the importance of how much and of what quality attention we give and receive in life, if we want to feel happier and have the space in our minds to focus on long term dreams and goals.
  2. Physical needs- such as nutrition, sleep and exerciseWe need to move a lot, eat simple nutritious foods (not grains and sugar) and sleep a fair amount too. If you physical needs are not met properly, you won't feel right emotionally.
  3. The need for purpose, goals and a meaningful life- We all need to feel life has meaning and that we have purpose. Some activities (such as ones that help others and/or develop new skills) will feel inherently more meaningful than others (such as hours of TV watching or doing work that doesn't inspire you).
  4. A sense of community and making a contribution- Research (1) (2) has found that social connection is a boon to both physical and emotional health. We need to connect to others and be part of a group. Low self esteem and anxiety may prevent us from connecting to groups until we stop feeling like that.
  5. The need for challenge and creativity- We all need to feel stretched (rather than stressed) because when life becomes too easy or repetitious then it loses meaning for us (see need number 3). Creativity can be mis-directed as when people misuse their imaginations to worry.
  6. The need for intimacy- We need to feel there is at least one person who accepts us and cares about us unconditionally "warts and all". To truly feel close to someone is a huge life enhancer. Physical intimacy (not just sex) is important for health and happiness too. Some people need to learn to relax with intimacy so they can start to fulfill this need.
  7. The need to feel a sense of control- When we feel powerless to make a difference and to influence at least some events, we become vulnerable to all kinds of fears, anxiety and also depression. Knowing how to feel more in control and how to relax during the times when all you can do is wait and see is a vital emotional strength - a strength that can be developed.
  8. The need for a sense of status.- Status is important (it even affects our hormonal levels). It's not that we all need to feel better than others; rather it's important for physical and mental health, to feel we have a recognizable, valuable and valued role within a community. Shyness, lack of confidence, self destructive habits can all block us from attaining a healthy status in life.
  9. The need for safety and security- We all need to feel safe in our environment so we can enjoy life and grow. Our environment may be safe but if we don't feel safe on the inside (because of panic attacks, phobias or trauma from the past) then this vital need will still remain uncompleted until we learn to feel safer on the inside.

Research References

(1) The toxic effects of loneliness are confirmed by insurance statistics and numerous scientific studies. For example, one study of 972 Johns Hopkins medical students used results of personality tests to classify the students into one of five types. Thirty years later, when they checked health status, they found that students classified as 'loners' had sixteen times more cancer than people who vented their emotions to friends. Study after study has shown that feeling connected with other people is extremely important for physical and mental health. Suicide, alcoholism and mental illness rates are much higher among people living alone.  

(2) Researcher Oscar Ybarra and his colleagues at the University of Michigan explored the possibility that social interaction improves mental functioning. In a series of related studies, they tested the participants' level of cognitive functioning, comparing it to the frequency of participants' social interactions. They found that people who engaged in social interaction displayed higher levels of cognitive performance than the control group. Social interaction aided intellectual performance. ‘Social interaction,’ the authors suggest, ‘helps to exercise people's minds. People reap cognitive benefits from socializing.’ They speculate that social interaction 'exercises' cognitive processes that are measured on intellectual tasks. ‘It is possible,’ the authors conclude, ‘that as people engage socially and mentally with others, they receive relatively immediate cognitive boosts.’”

Take a look at the above needs. If any are not fulfilled, develop a plan for meeting that need. If you need help in meeting a need, reach out to others. If there are problems that you and/or your friends and family cannot help you meet, do not feel afraid to seek professional help.

Charles Rice PhD