Whether you're thinking about retiring or have already made the leap, the sudden change in routine can leave many of us feeling lost. Here's our advice.
You may have noticed that time seems to be speeding up as you get older, and even if you still feel as if you are in your prime, you're now hurtling headlong towards retirement age (or the age at which you are expected to retire.)
Knowing that this milestone is looming will ideally prompt you to start thinking ahead about how best to spend the next 20, 30 or even 40 years of your life. But not everyone has that luxury.
"Many of us are catapulted into early retirement due to redundancy, ill health, or caring responsibilities that we hadn't foreseen," says Maggy Pigott, vice-chair of Open Age (openage.org.uk) and author of 'How To Age Joyfully' (£12.99 Summersdale).
"That can be a shock. If you had a career you loved, there can be a sense of loss if it's suddenly taken away from you. But, more surprisingly, even if you knew retirement was coming, and have been looking forward to it, you may experience the same loss of identity, purpose and value.
"Retirement is a chance to reinvent yourself and do something completely different with your life. And many people love their new-found freedom from day one, and never look back. But for some the change can be tough – and it may take time to adjust and find your purpose." The 'retirement blues' are not an uncommon problem.
Few of us like change, and retiring is going to make a big difference to your life. How can you be sure you're ready to make that leap into the unknown? Preparing for retirement is certainly about more than just figuring out your pension.
"Start with a bit of soul-searching," says clinical psychologist Dr Sarah Woods (nepsychology.co.uk). "What is behind your decision to retire? Are you struggling to cope with your current pace of life? Do you need to shift down a gear? Is your working life causing your sleep or health to suffer? Do you feel as if you've achieved all you can in your career? These would all be good reasons to leave work – but it can still be stressful when you do."
It's never too soon to plan for the future. If you haven't retired yet, do think ahead and make a retirement plan. The more serious thought you've given to your life in retirement, the better your transition from full-time work to full-time leisure is likely to be.
"If you have a job you love and which you can carry on doing, don't give it up," says Maggy. "Instead, consider working more flexibly (going part-time for example) – while you build up the activities that will occupy more of your time when you're a full-time retiree."
A golden rule for retirement is not to let your days become unstructured. The pandemic lockdowns showed many of us how different – or even dull – life can be when we don't have the usual routines and rituals to anchor us.
"Lack of activity is demotivating: the less you do, the less you want to do," says Maggy. "Retirement is an opportunity to learn new skills and try new things. I've now got time to write, and volunteer – and I've taken up dancing and sculpture. It doesn't matter that I'm not talented. I'm enjoying myself!
"We're more likely to be contented in later life, and less likely to be competitive – and those are huge gains in retirement. Research shows that happiness increases with age; on charts, happiness levels are at their lowest during midlife (in our 40s to 50s) but then keep on rising right into our 80s. As an extra bonus, studies have found that a positive outlook can add seven and a half extra years to your life."
Retirement is an excellent opportunity for exploring new and old hobbies.
Don't neglect your health
Maintaining or even improving your heath is vital in retirement. "It's what keeps you from feeling as if your life is going downhill," says Maggy. "That means knowing what to eat and what to avoid, sticking to a healthy weight, and being physically active. It's been said that we don't stop walking because we've grown old – but we do grow old if we stop walking!
"Diet and exercise both feed into your mental wellbeing, too. But you will further help your health by keeping up social connections, or making new friends. Losing the companionship that you had in your workplace can be difficult, and research now suggests that loneliness is as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. With this in mind, you may need to rethink that plan to move away to a rose-arbored cottage in the country. Retirement is much more joyful when you have friends and social activities on your doorstep."
Adjust to a slower pace of life
"Even if you crave a slower pace of life, you may need to proactively work at adjusting to it," Sarah says. "Practising mindfulness can help. Try focusing on tastes and textures when you're eating, and make an effort to get out into nature as often as you can; it will help you cope with stress."
Be true to yourself
"Take time to reflect: what did you like doing when you were younger and had more time to yourself? Is there a 'default you' waiting to make a comeback? Prioritise the things that matter to you, and make decisions that are driven by your values. Nurture your relationships, but give yourself space too. It's good to have more quality time with your partner but you don't have to be together 24/7. You also need time out to do your own thing."
Go with the flow
"Accept that your transition into retirement won't always be easy. Any big life change is stressful. If things start to feel uncomfortable, remember that what you're experiencing is normal. We do better when we acknowledge our feelings instead of trying to suppress them."
Give yourself a pat on the back
"Introduce activities that supply the sense of achievement you may be missing now that you're no longer working. Even a cycle ride can do this."