Posted on 28/04/2017
“When I grow up, I want to be…” – it’s an iconic phrase that captures how we’re completely defined by our careers.
So, when the time comes to step away from work and transition into retirement, and the entirely new lifestyle that goes with it, it can be met with a mixture of emotions from excitement to trepidation.
In fact, poor transition into and poorly planned retirement can lead to mental health issues, most commonly depression and anxiety.
“Everyone’s transition into retirement is entirely different,” Kate Cooper, psychologist, who works with SuperFriend, said.
“I meet people excited at the new opportunities and time available once they leave the work force, others may be retrenched and forced to give away the job they love, while some leave work due to family or health reasons.
“Either way the family of the retiree, especially adult children, can play an important role in helping them experience a fulfilling retirement.”
So, how can you ensure that your parent’s life continues to flourish in retirement? Here are Kate’s four key pieces of advice.
1. Having a plan is vital
Kate said encouraging your parents to plan for their retirement before the transition is one of the most vital steps for a happier and better adjustment.
“Having a plan in place will help them start thinking early about the transition,” she said.
“This will also make them feel they have control over their future. Some retirees end up having to retire earlier than expected, perhaps for health reasons, or needing to care for a family member or retrenchment.
“In these situations they may have had little say over retirement timing. Having a plan already in place takes away some of the stress, reduces decision-making in a difficult time and increases feelings of control.”
Kate suggests that adult children encourage their parents to include goals in their plan.
“Setting goals for retirement are great so your parents have something to look forward to.
“I’ve heard of people having the goal of learning a new language and then travelling to that country. Another retiree I know did a cooking course and now does part-time catering, an unexpected and really positive outcome for him.”
2. Manage physical and mental health
Kate said those who adjust better to retirement try to maintain good physical and mental health.
“We need to remember that retirement means adjusting to a new way of life and any change like this can be stressful,” she said.
“For some there can be an impact on their mental health and the two most common mental health issues retirees experience are depression and anxiety.
“After working for many years, the prospect of not having a regular routine and facing days that are no longer routine or planned out can be daunting for your parents.
“Failing to adjust to retirement can lead to an increase in anxiety or self-isolating behaviours – where they may no longer want to socialise with friends. You could see them give up activities they used to enjoy.
“Those who have no connections, no activities to fill their day, often find it harder to adjust.
“Suggest to your parents that they have a ‘bridge job” – part-time work that is taken up prior to full-time retirement. This may be a paid or a volunteer position.
“This option can also be a great way to smooth the transition and keep your parents engaged as they gradually find other avenues to fill up the time now available to them.”
Kate said mental health issues could stem from physical health issues.
“At work, your parent’s career might have kept their mind off any health complaints, but when they’re retired there is more down time and they may ruminate over their health.”
Kate said your parents being involved with others who can support them and be a friendly ear, and having regular activities can take the place of these worries and put things into better perspective.
“I find those who retire and have hobbies and activities in place will have a better start to maintaining good physical and mental health,” Kate said.
“They are already playing tennis once a week, or swimming, in a walking or book club. This makes the transition easier as the links with friends and healthy activities are already established. Sometimes networks in social groups and clubs can take a year or two to start feeling connected so being in these groups pre-retirement is a bonus.”
Physical health can also be supported even in small ways; a short walk every day is a good start.
3. Encourage involvement
Your parents may already enjoy the Saturday round of golf or the weekly art class. Doing more of the things they love will help them flourish in retirement, but so will finding new activities that will throw up different challenges and provide opportunities to meet new people - so encourage them to branch out.
“Involvement in the community through volunteering at the local hospital, with a land care group, animal welfare, learning a new skill or taking a photography class – any opportunity for contact with others makes for a happier retirement,” Kate said.
“I have known retirees to get on committees, to teach migrants English, to volunteer in the court system – opportunities to contribute are diverse and interesting. It’s also been noted that those who volunteer are often more satisfied as it feels like they are making a valuable contribution to society, which can help replace the self-esteem they gained from work.
“Show an interest in what your parents are doing and sometimes you could even take part in activities with them.”
One of your parent’s greatest supports is their family – you. Retirement can provide the ideal opportunity to spend more time with their grandchildren.
“Many retirees enjoy spending regular time their grandchildren, perhaps also volunteering at the local school they attend,” Kate said.
4. Open conversation
Kate said some adult children have expectations of what their parents will do with their time.
“These assumptions could be around how much time they will spend looking after grandchildren or how many holidays they will take,” she said.
“The key to overcoming this is to engage in regular open conversations.
“Don’t be afraid to talk openly not only about plans that work for everyone, but also about how they’re coping physically and mentally with their new lifestyle.
“The main takeaway message to share with your parents is that retirement should be seen as an opportunity, a positive transition and providing the time to really enjoy things they have been looking forward to.
“Your parents have so much to contribute in their retirement and have a lot of wisdom to pass on. We would find it much more difficult to manage as a community if we didn’t have them to contribute.”