Retirement is supposed to be a time of freedom and happiness. You’ve worked hard all your life, saved appropriately, and now will have the time you’ve always dreamed of to relax, travel, or spend quality time with family. So why do so many people get the blues once they do stop working?
Like most, Robert Delamontagne, Ph.D., initially approached retirement with feelings of excitement.
“I had been running a software company. I founded it—and I was the CEO and Chairman for 25 years. It was a very fast-paced life,” he says. “I was looking forward to retirement. I was 63 years old, financially independent, and I thought I was ready. But after a month or two, I started having a lot of weird emotions I couldn’t explain. It got worse—I didn’t know if it was depression or what. But I woke up each morning and found that nothing particularly interested me.”
Delamontagne’s feelings are not uncommon. In 2013, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) published a report detailing some of the negative health outcomes involved in retirement. They found that while retiring gives many an initial boost in health and wellness, with time, it can actually drastically reduce one’s mental and physical health. The study authors found that those adverse effects also increased with the length of retirement. Most shocking, the authors found that retirement could increase the risk of clinical depression as much as 40 percent. Delamontagne, a psychologist, wanted to explore this phenomenon more—he says that most people don’t talk about this “darker side” of retirement. Even he, at his lowest, said he replied very positively to any questions about how he was enjoying retirement. The fruit of that investigation was his book, The Retiring Mind: How to Make the Psychological Transition to Retirement.
“For many, including myself, you work hard, you enjoy your work, you are successful and get satisfaction from your work—it’s the only life you know for many, many years. And then it all stops,” he says. “It’s almost like going into a withdrawal. For me, I was used to going a thousand miles an hour. And after retirement, I went to zero miles a minute. It was hard to find something to motivate me.”
For many, Delamontagne argues, finding more satisfaction in retirement comes to understanding why you have the blues—are you missing an important project to occupy your time? New problems to solve? The attention and prestige you get from achievement? Lots of stimulation? By practicing some self-awareness, he argues, you can find something that can take the place of your work and lead to more life satisfaction.
But, that said, he also says that some individuals may need to seek professional treatment to help get them back on even ground, psychologically speaking. There may be other medical conditions that are contributing to feelings of depression and anxiety — or a psychological or psychiatric condition that was present before retirement that may have been somewhat masked by the busy-ness of daily life.
If you feel that feelings of sadness, irritability, or sleep problems are interfering with activities of daily life, see a physician immediately. It may be a medical issue beyond just dealing with life’s next phase—and there’s no reason to suffer needlessly.
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