8 Surprising Ways that Retiring Can Stress You Out – And How to Conquer Them

When you think about what your retirement lifestyle will be like, what comes to mind? What adjectives would you use to describe what you hope your life will be like?

I’ll bet one that’s high on your list is “stress-free.” Like practically everyone else, I’m sure you hope that your retirement years will be more relaxing and less stressful, since you will no longer have to deal with work, your kids will be grown, and you can spend your time doing what you want to do.

Ultimately, it should work out that way, but I’ve got some bad news for you. The transition into retirement might be one of the most stressful times of your life. Let’s look at why.

Fortunately, if you are wise enough to see these challenges coming and take steps to prepare for them, you can head off many of these stressors and start enjoying your fabulous retirement faster.

What causes stress?

The pressure of deadlines at work, competing priorities at work or at home, financial issues, relationship problems, and fear of almost anything – all of these can cause stress.

But any life change or any change to your surroundings and your routine can cause stress. Even positive and welcome changes, such as going off to college, starting a new job, getting married, or moving into a new house, can cause stress.

The time when you end your working career and enter retirement may be the period in which you experience more changes happening at the same time than at any other time during your life.

Timex alarm clock

What will be changing?

1. Your daily schedule

You may relish the thought of not being rudely awakened by your alarm clock. You may look forward to easing into each day with a leisurely cup of coffee and breakfast. You will certainly not miss your commute.

But with this comes a loss of structure. You may find that you miss not having meetings to attend at designated times throughout the day. You may find that you get less done without having deadlines to answer to.

You may find that it’s already dinner time, you accomplished little and you have no idea where the day went. While that may seem appealing at first, before long this will bother you.

Personally, I looked forward to having less structure. I still had calendar events for organizations I belonged to, but otherwise, I got up when I wanted to and did whatever I wanted to with my leisure time. That sounds great, but soon I found that I wasn’t accomplishing many of the things I wanted to do for myself (including work on this blog and on my next book). That bothered me. At the start of 2015, I decided to put more structure into my life.

2. The people in your daily life

You’ll probably see many fewer faces during the day. Even though many of the people whom you come into contact with each day may be strangers or merely acquaintances, there is pleasure in human contact and interaction.

Your relationships with the co-workers whom you regard as your friends will change significantly. Despite everyone’s sincere wishes to keep in touch, work-based friendships will fall away quickly. You will no longer have the common bond of the shared work experience. Your familiar channels of communication, whether in person or via company email and instant messaging, will no longer be available.

3. Your job title

Depending on how career-focused you are, your title may mean a lot to you. If your title contains words such as “senior,” “chief,” or “vice-president,” that title brings a certain amount of prestige, status, and empowerment.

Regardless of whether your title is fancy or not, your job title embodies your professional identity. When someone you meet asks what you do, and you reply “architect,” “teacher,” “librarian,” “dentist,” or “air conditioning technician,” your title reflects the knowledge and skill you have and the value you offer to the world.

When you retire, you lose this identity, at least in the present tense. You’ll always be a “former” or “retired” something, but that probably won’t provide the same level of fulfillment or validation.

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4. Your physical surroundings

Unless you already work from home, your physical surroundings will change. While your cubicle, workstation or vehicle may not have been luxurious or even comfortable, at least it was the place where you delivered the knowledge and service that provided your income and your sense of purpose. Your workplace was your “home away from home,” for better or worse.

At my last employer, I worked in the same cubicle for 13 years. That’s longer than I have lived in any house or apartment during my adulthood. I actually felt sad to move out of that cubicle when my department was moved to another building.

While you may have a beautiful and comfortable home, spending your entire day there, day in and day out, may bring isolation and “cabin fever.”

5. Your relationship with your spouse

No matter how much you love your spouse (and anybody you live with), suddenly finding yourself in constant contact with that person may bring stress. You may need to talk candidly about how much time you wish to spend together vs. how much time you want to have for individual pursuits. You may also need to renegotiate your daily routines and your division of household duties.

If your spouse is still working, then rather than having to deal with seeing him or her all the time, you’ll have a different challenge: You’ll be alone for large amounts of time. The same is true for single people. Rather than being surrounded by co-workers, you’ll now be home alone.

Money in ribbon

6. Your relationship with money

Even if you have saved adequately for retirement or you have a pension that will pay an amount that you can comfortably live on, your relationship with money will change. You’ll need less money for things like commuting, work apparel, and perhaps eating out for lunch. However, with more time on your hands, you may find yourself spending more on activities, hobbies, classes, eating out, or shopping as an excuse for something to do.

If you’re like most of us, you will have to adjust to spending less than you have been accustomed to.While you had a steady work income you probably allowed yourself a certain amount of frivolous, “no-brainer” spending. After retirement, you will probably find yourself evaluating each expenditure a little more closely.

It may be unsettling to no longer see those automatic deposits appearing in your bank account from your paycheck.

If you relocate concurrently with retiring or soon thereafter, you will introduce even more disruptive changes into your life.

7. Your friends

Your relationships with friends will change. While today’s communication technology allows us to stay in touch more than ever, there’s still nothing like in-person contact. You’ll need to start making a new set of friends in your new location.

8. Familiar places

The places you are accustomed to visiting will change, as well. You’ll need to seek out and discover new stores, restaurants, theatres, doctors, repair companies, etc.

If you have moved at any time during your life, you have experienced these changes and you know that you can deal with them. But dealing with all this at the same time you deal with all of the previously-mentioned issues may compound the level of stress in your life.

The more things change at once, the greater the cumulative impact of the changes. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We can deal with one or two changes at a time pretty easily, but when a lot of things change at once, the result can be overwhelming.

What can you do to minimize and alleviate all of this stress that retirement may bring?

You may be tempted to avoid this stress altogether and just keep working! But fear not; with a few simple strategies, you can take all of these changes in stride and pave the way for a much smoother journey into your fabulous retirement.

1. Start by acknowledging and identifying everything that is changing.

When you can clearly identify and define a problem, you are halfway to solving it. Many people stress out when they retire simply because they don’t realize how disruptive the transition from work to leisure can be. They are blindsided by all the changes.

2. Look for ways to spread the changes out over time.

If you’re planning to move when you retire, you will probably find it much easier to delay the move for six months to a year.

If you are expecting your money situation to change, try living on your retirement budget for a year before you stop working. I often suggest this to people who are still working and trying to plan their retirement budget. It’s a good reality check for whether you have accurately estimated your living costs for your desired standard of living.

If you are planning to start a new business after you retire, see how much you can prepare and start on while you’re still working. You’ll hit the ground running, and your new endeavor will already be a part of your life, so it will be something that remains constant rather than another thing that will change.

Man in row boat3. Give yourself some breathing room.

You may have a long list of new activities and pursuits you want to add to your life as soon as you retire. Perhaps you want to play more golf, join a bowling league, start volunteering with an organization, take a long vacation, remodel your house, start writing a book, etc. You may be eager to get started on all these things that you’re been looking forward to. You may think that filling your schedule full of activities will prevent you from becoming bored.

But you’ll only be adding to the amount of change that is taking place in your life. Taking on too many new things all at once will add stress, not alleviate it. So, spread the new activities out. Believe me, things will come along to fill your days soon enough. You’ll know when it’s time to start adding new things into your life.

Speaking of taking a long vacation, it’s not a good idea to do that immediately upon retiring. You might be dreaming of celebrating the end of your working career by hitting the road in your RV to explore the country, or taking a lengthy cruise or a two-month trip through Europe. But you’ll find that there’s a lot of paperwork to tend to in the weeks following your last day of work. Your health insurance coverage may change, there will be paperwork related to starting to draw money from your investments and/or pension, and there will be other loose ends to tie up. Being gone a week at a time won’t present a problem, but a lengthier absence will.

Deep in conversation4. Talk!

If you are married or partnered, talk to your spouse about your concerns. Talk about how your daily lives will change. Share your preferences and desires for when you’ll get up, how often you’ll eat out, how you’ll divide household tasks, and how much time you’ll spend together. Your spouse may have his or her own ideas about how you can spend all of your new-found free time – ideas that may involve tackling that long list of to-do items that has grown over many years.

If you have friends who have already retired, talk to them about what their transition was like. Ask them how their actual retirement compares to the preconceived notions they had before they stopped working.

If you are counting on other people to be more available to you after you retire, talk to them too. If you have kids, talk about how much they will want you to visit. Don’t assume that your working friends will be available to get together with you more often now that you have more time available to you.

What about you? How will your life change when you retire?

If you’re in your last few years of working and you can see your retirement approaching, take a few minutes to write down, in as much detail as you can, what you envision your day-to-day routine will be. Write down what activities will be part of your new leisure lifestyle. How much is different from how you live now? How will you manage these transitions? What fears or uncertainties do you have?

Please share your thoughts in the comments. If you’re already retired, how was your transition? What did you encounter that you didn’t expect?

© 2015 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.

Photo credits:
Stressed eggs: Bernard Goldbach
Timex alarm clock: Sonja Langford
Money: Nicole Mays
Man in row boat: Michael Quinn
Deep in conversation: sea turtle

4 Responses

  1. April says:

    My journey into retirement was interesting. The first step was to sell my business which I operated for 22 years, this was a 2 year process in itself. Since my business was attached to our house the prospective buyers wanted to buy both the business and house. So the closing date arrived and we still had not found a house to buy so we moved into a hotel and all of our furniture and belongings went into storage. We ended up having a house built and we moved in 9 months later. My husband and I are now feeling settled after being in our new house for 1 year. The whole process was overwhelming at times because it was so much change all at once. I feel very fortunate with the way things worked out and I’m starting to fill my days with activities that I enjoy!

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi April,

      Thanks for sharing your story! I’m glad things worked out well in the end and you have a house you enjoy. That must have been disruptive, especially considering that it was over a prolonged period of time.

      I would imagine that living in a hotel for 9 months with most of your stuff in storage probably illustrated how much of our stuff we could live without if we had to.

      Thanks for your comment,

  2. Kenny says:

    My wife voluntarily left her job last year. While not retirement, there is not a plan yet for what is next, and for now she is simply enjoying homemaking, for lack of a better description. And she started out with an enormous list of things she wanted to do, and to her credit has done much of it, and added on as well. But she is starting to have more of those ‘where-did-the-day-go’ days now that you describe, and it is starting to bother her… 🙂

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Kenny,

      I admire your wife for actually accomplishing a lot of the things on her “to-do” list! I haven’t done so well. 🙂

      It sounds like she is reaching the point where she will want to start adding new things to her life – things that will be fulfilling in one way or another.


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