How To Cope With Retirement Depression

Reviewed by Rashonda Douthit, LCSW

Published 01/07/2021

A mental health condition that can affect the way you feel, think, and behave is depression. It's a common and global mental disorder that affects more than 264 million people (both young and old) in the world as estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO). Depression is often characterized by feelings of sadness and the loss of interest in things you once enjoyed.  Other common symptoms of depression that you may experience when suffering from it may include sleeping problems, changes in appetite, increased fatigue, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating, and suicidal thoughts or thoughts of death.

“Retirement" is a word that may have positive connotations of relaxation and enjoyment to several individuals. However, it can sometimes be seen as a transition into a difficult life which may trigger feelings of depression. Different factors can be responsible for depression that sometimes occurs during retirement and there are various ways to deal with it.

What are the Causes of Retirement Depression?

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When you begin to notice that depression is interfering with your normal life, you should see a licensed mental health professional (you can also try this online diagnosis for depression to get some potential clarity on the symptoms you’ve been experiencing). Your diagnosis will help your therapist decide on the most appropriate course for treatment. For your treatment, one important thing to know is the cause of your condition. Identifying the cause or reason will help to know what to focus on. For retirement depression, different factors can be responsible. The following are the potential sources of retirement depression:

  • A sense of worthlessness and purposelessness: Purpose, for most people, is a vehicle that drives them daily to put in much energy into what they do. In other words, working in a specific place gives you both a sense of purpose and usefulness. This sense of purpose and usefulness is associated with the desire to cater to your family, to achieve some certain goals, and to contribute tremendously to the growth of society directly or indirectly. However, retirement can trigger a sense of loss which may make it difficult for you to understand your essence and worth
  • Feeling bored throughout the day: There are different interesting things you do your everyday while working (your relationships with coworkers, meeting different people, or making new friends). However, retirement stops all these. So, staying at home all day can make you bored which may lead to depression.
  • Stress from a fixed or limited income: When you retire, you may be placed on a fixed or limited income which may not incomparably meet what you were earning. Many individuals may become distressed thinking about how to cope with such income which may lead to depression.
  • The household dynamic changes: Empirically, it is observed that when partners spend more time together at home, it may lead to more conflicts in a relationship. This is mainly tied to the changes in the dynamics. Probably, it may be that before retirement, one or both spouses went out for work on working days and only get to be together for the whole day during weekends. But after retirement, both parties may be spending the whole time of the day together at home. These may lead to role changing and a need to make decisions together which may be different from how it's formerly done. This may result in various conflicts at first before each of them adjusts to the novel situation. This may lead to depression, especially in men.
  • Fear of aging or death: After some number of years, retirement can indicate that you're aging and you need to relax from your long years of hard work. To some, the word retirement may trigger the fear of death and sickness. At first, you may strongly experience this phobia but over time it fades away. Sometimes these fears may result in depression and persist until you seek mental health treatment.

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How to Cope with Retirement Depression

Generally, depression can interfere with different aspects of your life if not dealt with on time. Fortunately, just like other contributors to depression, depression that occurs during retirement can be treated. The following are ways you can cope with depression after you retire:

  • Find a new way to restore the sense of purpose: Living a life of purpose is what keeps most people busy. After retirement, to restore the sense of purpose that you had when working, you can find a new way that can make you feel useful or give your life an expected meaning.

Many people believe that doing something brings a sense of purpose to them. However, what brings purpose to your life is determined by you. So, even when you retire, you can do something new that will make you feel useful just like before.

Moreover, you shouldn't let retirement depression overwhelm you because of the sense of purpose you attached to your formal work. To get a new sense of purpose that will help you physically and emotionally. Getting a new purpose such as spending time with your family, helping people around you, or volunteering can make you feel happier and healthier which will reduce your risk of death. Volunteering, for instance, offers higher levels of life satisfaction, help reduce the symptoms of depression after retirement, and increase your mental well-being.

  • Strengthen your family ties and social relationships: Some people are very close to your heart that can easily influence your feelings of mood. These people include family members and friends. After retirement, in other to cope with depression, you can try to spend interesting time with your family, friends, and your community — visit your children or babysit your grandchildren, develop a keen interest in activities with friends, visit your community center/ local club (such as a coffee club to meet with friends for a cup of tea and conversation every day), or make a friend at your church.

Some organizations or gatherings go in line with your passion. Joining them will help you cope with your condition by making you feel great and lively about yourself.

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  • Say active physically: "Sitting" is empirically observed to have negative effects on your physical and emotional well-being. However, when you engage in physical activities that can make you active. To help keep both your body and mind active, you can take a fitness class, engage in volunteer work, or participate in sporting activities. These activities may not compulsorily make you sweat or involve physical or mental efforts. Just make it simple and gentle. For instance, if you have a garden, you can make time to work there often— this will help move around. Also, try to have a schedule for exercise with your friends— this encourages you to have a sense of accountability.

Also, you can engage in your hobbies that make you happier and healthier or develop a passion for something new that can keep you mentally and physically active

  • Get your dreams fulfilled: "There is time for everything". Before you retire, you might have something in your plan to get done, but because there wasn't time for them, you had to keep them waiting till you would have time for them. After retirement, you have time to fulfill your dreams. Your dream may be to learn a musical instrument, or to visit a place— this may be the perfect time for that.
  • Develop a new schedule: After retirement, it's good to have a new routine or plan. This is because, before retirement, you used to plan the whole day around your job, but now the story is new. You need to set up a new time or plan for exercise, doing volunteer work, or when to work around the house.
  • Get a pet: Getting a pet may help with depression. Pets offer emotional and physical support and can be especially helpful to those suffering from mental health challenges or disabilities. A dog will help you with exercise (when you walk it).  Maintaining outings/a routine with meals for the dog gives you purpose and meaning from taking care of it, strengthens your relationship with others (taking your dog out may call for attention from other people who love it— some will even come around to speak to you about it), and provides companionship and love (dogs are seen to be "men's best friends"— they are loyal companions).

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  • Be mindful of your financial means: Your spending must be planned— you shouldn't spend extravagantly. This is because, after retirement, your income may be different. Know your budget and make your plans accordingly. You can try to assess your monthly income and how you spend it that month, to "cut your coat according to your cloth". With this, the levels of your feeling of worry about finances which may lead to depression may be reduced.
  • Look for ways to ease into your retirement: An abrupt transition can be overwhelming. It can be a shock to you that your days of a full-time job have come to an end and that you are left with working zero-hours every week. To reduce the risk of being affected too much by retirement depression, you can try to look for a way to slide into retirement.

Some employers offer phased retirements. If this opportunity is available, you may want to consider it before retirement. Phased retirements are a process where employees can reduce gradually their working hours for a few years before finally retiring. A study by Mo Wang, Ph.D. (University of Florida) reveals that those who accepted post-retirement had better physical and emotional health than those that retired abruptly.

  • Find simple and enjoyable Work: You can make your situation just like "learning" which never ends. From a clear standpoint, it may sound contradictory to be working after retirement — technically, your primary reason for retirement is to avoid work. However, working again if you're still medically fit can be very appropriate and beneficial for your mental well-being.

You derive purpose from work because through it you will be able to properly handle some responsibilities. Also, work helps stimulate you mentally which makes it good for your mental health. From different reports, it has been shown that retirees who are gainfully employed have great levels of life satisfaction, well-being, and health compared to those who have not retired. Also, working retirees rate more positively in their workplace than employees that are not yet retired.

Notably, the work may not be strenuous, but one that gives you sense of purpose and satisfaction.

When do you Need to See a Mental Health Professional?

Depression can be a "thorn in the flesh" negatively influencing your life in general. However, it's good to know that it's treatable. Seeking mental health assistance may be very important when you begin to see some severe symptoms. You can talk with a licensed therapist who can recommend effective coping techniques for you— this is because your treatment options may be decided by your past experiences and personality.

In the United States, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) can greatly be of help. SAMHSA offers a helpline you can call anytime for mental health assistance.

Also, there are retirement coaches who can also be of help. If you have trouble with the way to manage things after retirement, you can seek the help of a retirement coach. Incredibly, retirement coaches work as a motivational speaker, consultant, therapist, and rent-a friend. They can open your eyes to the opportunities of retirement which can have great effects on your mood.