Why a retirement plan is pivotal to protect your mental health

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I’ve seen up close and personal the complications that can occur when an individual retires without a plan. We were shifting, for my work, from up Newcastle way back to Melbourne. Halfway down the Hume Highway, Margie, my wife, announces she’s going to retire. 

No surprise there, she’d been mulling over the decision for quite some time. She was a diversional therapist in aged care and, to her mind, the industry had become over-regulated and restrictive to the point where she spent more time at her desk than on the floor with residents (the part she enjoyed most).

“So, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

That uncertainty lasted for about 15 months. It took her that long to work out who she was and what she wanted to do in her retirement. It was as if she was lost and without direction. It frustrated her.

She now has an active, involved, creative and enjoyable retirement. And she allows me to tell her story whenever I think it will help others. This is one of those times.

Anxiety and depression
I asked a clinical psychologist friend what she thought could be the major problem for those who retired without planning. “Anxiety and depression,” was her immediate answer.

Of course, there would be anxiety if retirement were merely a black hole. Where do you start? How do you negotiate this with your partner, if you have one? What will you do with the next 20 or 30 years of your life? It takes time to work through issues such as these.

This could easily lead to depression. I had seen anxiety and some depression in Margie –along with the frustration of not knowing who she was or what she was meant to be doing.

Good transitions need good planning
Retirement is a major life transition. Actually, getting to retirement means you have already gone through several life transitions. These can include: home to school; high school to the workplace, a trade or university; marriage; divorce, perhaps; children, and so on.

At retirement, we’re already experienced ‘transitioners’. That’s a bonus, but the transition to retirement is easier when it’s planned. Nancy Schlossberg, in her book, Too Young to be Old, points out that the transition to retirement brings changes in your “roles, relationships, routines and assumptions.”

Assumptions? Yes. You don’t really understand what parenting is like until you experience it. And you won’t really understand your retirement until you actually get there, but planning for it helps give it structure.

“It can be difficult, even painful, to experience change,” writes Professor Schlossberg. “But avoiding it is not an option…. The basic question is how you embrace your transitions.” That’s more than a ‘what will you do’ question, it’s also a mental health question.

Planning puts you in control
Tim Carey, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Charles Darwin University, says “psychological distress is experienced when people feel unable to control their thoughts, actions, emotions or some other aspect of their day-to-day living.” 

He suggests that “control over life circumstances reduces chronic stress and has favourable biological effects.”

Crucial to the notion of control is the ability of people to lead lives they have reason to value. “What is important is not so much what you have, but what you can do with what you have.”

Planning your retirement gives you control and helps to make it your retirement. It’s personal – and it should be.

Living on purpose takes planning
Purposeful living is important for a successful retirement. That’s the finding of Michael Longhurst in his book, Enjoying Retirement. It comes from his Retire 200 study, an in-depth study of 200 Australian retirees.

“It makes sense that those who keep themselves busy will fare better emotionally than those who lie around doing nothing,” he says. And, if an activity has a purpose, it will prove to be more rewarding.

In a sense, you take your purpose with you into retirement, but changes come with your new status. It’s best to think those things through before you get there, so you can hit the ground running, while being flexible when needed.

In writing Life on Purpose, Victor Stretcher found that “the strength of one’s life purpose – which involves a combination of living according to your values and goals, and striving to make a positive difference in the world – can be measured … it correlates highly with psychological wellness.”

Your plan needs to be your plan
As a child, you may have tried wearing a parent’s shoes and they would have slopped around or tripped you up. It’s fun to play like grown-ups as a child.

As an adult, it’s time to be who you are. You would make a poor someone else.

Gustavo Razzetti, on the Psychology Today website, says, “No one knows yourself better than you do. No one but yourself can choose how you live.”

He warns that it’s too easy to lose control of our lives through social pressure and envying other people’s ‘perfect lives’. That simply leads to frustration because you aren’t being true to yourself.

Mr Razzetti advises: “You are in charge. Love your life. Accept the worst and hope for the best.”

The WHO on mental health
According to the World Health Organisation, “mental health is a state of wellbeing in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Note the four elements to mental health here: realising your own abilities, coping with the normal stresses of life, working productively and making a contribution to your community.

As you look at your retirement, you could ask how well you’re planning in these areas. Then you could work out how you will make sure you have this kind of balance in retirement.

Is it too late for me?
If you haven’t planned for retirement and it’s only a few weeks or days away, or you’ve just had it thrust upon you, what can you do?

First: Don’t panic. You can still create something great in your retirement.

Second: Take the time to create a plan. Don’t just settle on a lounge in front of the TV. This is time for pen, paper and thinking.

Third: Think about this time of life in bite-sized pieces. Start with planning the first six months (that’s usually quite easy). Then think about the first year. Finally, when you’re ready, the first five years.

It’s never too late to plan your retirement, but the earlier you start, the better – for you and your mental health.

Bruce Manners has a PhD in sociology and ‘retired’ at the end of 2014 after working as a commercial fisherman, church pastor and magazine editor. He has written several books, including Retire Ready? and operates the retirement website retirenotes.com.

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Written by Bruce Manners

15 Comments

Total Comments: 15
  1. 0
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    The retirement plan is pivotal for the health concerns of the man. The changes in retirement and https://www.assignmenthelper.com.au/do-my-assignment/ are accessed for the formation of all goals. The path is filled for the retirement for the man. His health is weak for issues and certain items for the field.

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    I retired in 2014 having planned it with due regard to Centrelink and government rules/ regs etc.
    But then the LNP govt (Morrison, Abbott and Hovkey et al) moved the goal posts and adversely changed the assets test which resulted in a $16K reduction per year in our income.
    So much for planning your retirement. What a load of bullshit.

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      Yes, a similar thing happened to us. Should not happen. Why should the upper level have all they want and keep while still getting a full, better than average, pension ?
      The asset levels are too low for the once working public. And if they raised the income levels more pensioners would be happy work a little to help them live a better life. Why would anyone work to loose half of it after that small allowed amount. Its shameful how they treat the old, once hard working people !!!!!

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      Agree rina1213. What irks me is that so many seem to think it’s okay to expect those with modest assets to live off their savings, while the wealthy take $500,000++++ in superannuation tax concessions over their work life, plus a high tax-free income in retirement, and pensioners get over $1 million in handouts to fund their retirement. How it okay for the lower middle class savers, who accrue maybe half a million per person in savings, to get virtually NOTHING from the taxpayer either by way of tax concessions while working or by way of pensions in old age? It’s time the scales were properly balanced with a system that ensures fairness across all sectors of society.

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    For most people the workplace is a team effort and each member of that team relies on the other to make the workplace function. On retirement that feeling of being in a team is missing and a sense of worthlessness can creep in causing depression. We filled that need by volunteering locally and the sense of being in a team and therefore being needed was returned even though our volunteering does not involve a lot of hours or days.

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    By all means you definitely need to plan the money side of things in preparation for retirement but as for the lifestyle there is nothing wrong with having some ideas about how you are going to fill your time but it also needs to be flexible. I have changed from what I thought I would want to do in retirement to some other ideas. The basic outline is to do activities that keep your body and mind healthy and happy. Try activities and friendships out but don’t worry if they don’t work out or you don’t enjoy them as much as you thought you would. Just move on to something else. COVID-19 has certainly curtailed my international travel but there is no point in getting down about it as there are so many other things you can do. It has taken me a couple of years to work out exactly what I wanted to do but I am now really enjoying myself. Flexibility and a positive attitude is really all you need. There are a multitude of things to rewardingly fill your days and they don’t necessarily cost a lot of money. You just need to look.

  5. 0
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    So much for planning and organising your retirement when constant government changes throw any planning out the window.

  6. 0
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    I have read this article before. How many times do they re-hash these articles?

  7. 0
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    When I retired I had a rough plan in that there were already things I already wanted to spend more time on and a few others I wanted to explore – and that has happened but the biggest thing about retirement for me was the amazing sense of freedom from the tyranny of the clock and work hours spent under the control of others. Some were ok but not all and as we get older that becomes more an issue as I at least am aware my years are limited. The freedom is the best though – change is always hard but my words for all those that suffer (unless its health issues or extreme poverty) is just hang in. It gets really good.

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    Well there is a lot of pissed off people out there on government changes and who gets taxed and who doesn’t. I am about 18 months from retirement, not rich not poor. But I have planned & Marigold has convinced me that time will be the most thing I look forward to. And yes the above story with so many different scenarios is such rubbish. Hardworker made a lot sense in regards to health which is the most important thing we value. Thommo and supporters should know that the assets and deeming rates should be seriously looked at in regards to the pension area and changes to assets test were not supported by me! but if Shorten was our Prime minister today, I think our country would be in a more dire straits position. Bank interest is approx 1.5% Super balanced could average 4% in the next 5 years, there fore put pressure on retirees relying on income from investments. So pressure is just beginning. Not to mention China and crime if unemployment keeps climbing. So to finish I am not pissed off , worried yes, BUT looking forward to retirement.


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