How to Prevent a Retirement Identity Crisis

What do you do for work?

It’s the icebreaker question of all questions. After all, we spend most of our working years focused on our careers and building a life that works within the confines of employment.

In contrast, the prospect of retirement often feels tantalizing. You might expect this time to feel meaningful and fulfilling. Retirement planning may even seem silly- what’s there to plan for when you’ll have nothing but time?

And yet, most retirees experience some retirement anxiety, uncertainty, and even depression as they enter this new phase. Here’s how you can prepare for this major transition in advance.

Understanding the Five Emotional Stages of Retirement

Although stages of retirement can certainly be subjective, it may be helpful to have a general framework for what to expect during this transition. Keep in mind that all major transitions come with numerous emotional stages. It’s normal to feel a combination of intense emotions at any given time.

Pre-retirement: This refers to the stage just before actually retiring. In a planned retirement, it can last anywhere from 5-10 years. At this time, you start thinking about what your future will hold. You consider how you will spend your time and may start considering your new routine. In an unexpected, last-moment retirement, this phase usually doesn’t exist.

Honeymoon phase: Many retirees enter the honeymoon phase just after retiring. At this time, there’s a sense of excitement and wonder. You feel free and relieved, and you begin imagining all the exciting things ahead. The honeymoon period can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.

Disenchantment phase: This phase can sometimes feel like a crash. The emotional high of the honeymoon phase has subsided. Your reality may feel very different from your ideal retirement experience. This can be disheartening, and you may even experience regret or anxiety. You might also question if you should return to the working world. This can happen if other aspects of life feel stressful, such as issues with family, money, or health.

Reorientation phase: At this point, you start building your new identity and creating your new retirement routine. This phase is critical, as it allows you to move forward with your journey. During this time, people may try new routines, hobbies, or roles. You may feel like you’ve lost part of yourself, and that’s common.

Stability phase: This is the final phase, and it’s where you integrate this major life change into your identity. You may still experience turbulent feelings, but there’s a general sense of acceptance for trusting the path you’re on.

How to Avoid Losing Yourself in Retirement

Many people consider the logistics before they retire. Do they have enough money? The right healthcare? But your emotional needs matter just as much right now.

Although not everyone has this privilege, the retirement process often feels more enjoyable (and less overwhelming) when you can plan for it in advance. But even if retirement happens unexpectedly, it’s possible to embrace this new journey.

Here are some strategies that can help you cope with this significant change.

Consider Retirement as a Pivot

Many people think of retirement as this ‘final stage’ in life. That mindset, however, may encompass a sense of existential dread, particularly if you have health concerns or worries about aging and mortality.

Instead of thinking of retirement as this dramatic end, consider it a pivot. The retirement years will bring forth something new. What do you hope to achieve? What would you like your retirement routine to look like? What will more freedom bring to your daily life?

This is the time to really expand your thinking! What new hobby do you want to try? Which friends would you like to spend more time with? What parts of your new identity most excite you?

Enjoy the Honeymoon Phase (While Accepting Its Limitations)

The honeymoon stage of retirement can be euphoric. If you’ve felt burnt out at work, there’s nothing quite like letting it all go and settling into your new life.

That said, not every retiree experiences the honeymoon period. For one, if you were forced into retirement due to a layoff, health concern, or another logistical issue, this time may feel more riddled with anxiety than joy.

In addition, everything is fleeting. It’s impossible to stay excited the entire time. Part of the honeymoon phase comes from the allure of what you don’t know. It also comes from the projected desires of what you hope to feel. So, once you see retirement for what it is- as just a new stage in life- it may no longer seem as magical.

Experiment With Retirement Early

As much as possible, try to make a conscious effort to start a retirement plan before you actually quit your full-time job. Maybe this means living on your projected retirement income for a few months- just to see how it feels. Maybe it means starting new hobbies a few months before quitting to see what that new lifestyle feels like.

Regardless, don’t dismiss structuring pre-retirement to help you cope with the actual changes associated with a phased retirement.

How Therapy Can Help With Retirement Planning

No matter what you expect retirement to look like, life never quite goes as we intend. That isn’t a bad thing, but it’s important to shift into new circumstances with a sense of acceptance. Social connections, meaningful activities, and staying grounded in a daily routine can all help you feel fulfilled.

Therapy can also help you prepare for your transition into this next chapter. Together, we can review the different stages of your new reality. We can focus on letting go of your working days and moving into this next phase.

Contact me today to get started.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

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