Retirement can be an exciting phase in your life, with your schedule now open to activities that you may not have had time to do during your work life.

But for some people, retirement can feel overwhelming. They may feel lonely, bored and somewhat lost.
“The transition between work and retirement is a big change,” explains Director of Prevention United, Dr Stephen Carbone. “For some people it’s a positive, but for others it means a certain level of loss.”

There are actions you can take prior to retirement to help stay mentally healthy. For example, research tells us transitioning into retirement in a positive, well-planned way is helpful. There are also many things you can do to stay well during this next stage.

Connect

One of the major differences between working life and retirement is that social interaction changes. Carbone says: “People who are lonely or feel socially isolated are often at a higher risk of developing depression. Having that social support network is just as important at 65, 75 or 85 as it is at any other time in your life.”

Building new community connections is important, as is continuing to foster strong relationships with family and friends. Trying new activities by joining like-minded groups is one way of staying socially active.

Be active

There are strong links between physical health and mental health, so being active – in ways that work with your lifestyle and abilities – is vital.

This can be challenging for some. “As you get older, physical health problems can start to kick in and we know that these can increase the risk of experiencing depression and anxiety, particularly when the person is in pain or the condition is causing a loss of independence,” says Carbone.

However, it’s important to do what you can. “Looking after your health in general is good for you – eating well, regular physical activity, adequate sleep – and looking after your mental health is just as important,” Carbone says. “Stay stimulated, challenged, involved, connected; these things help reduce stress, prevent loneliness and decrease the risk of depression and anxiety.”

Take notice

Self-awareness and mindfulness are powerful tools in staying mentally well, helping with your emotions, sleep and self-esteem. These strategies include being present during your day and purposeful about the actions you take, which can help you plan activities and interactions you enjoy. “Anything that gives you a sense of satisfaction, stimulation, relaxation or purpose is the stuff we need,” says Carbone.

Taking notice of how you’re spending your days is also a good way to decide what you want to do. “Retirement can be overwhelming if you have all this time and you’re not sure what to do with it,” Carbone says. Finding your purpose within retirement will help you feel happier and increase your mental wellbeing.

Keep learning

You actively learn through all stages of life, and retirement is no different. Learning new skills and adding to your current skillset and interests can be done formally, with courses or schooling, or informally as you take part in activities you enjoy. 

It’s possible there are things you’ve always wanted to try, but never had the time for, so consider those things, too. This can help you have goals to aim towards and give you a sense of achievement. “Retirement is a sizeable chunk of your life, so it’s good to figure out what you hope to do,” Carbone says. “Some people find that change in identity a challenge,” he adds.

Give

Research shows giving back to your community increases your community connection, helps increase self-worth and can teach you new skills. All of these things are great for your mental wellbeing.

Senior Australians contribute the highest number of volunteer hours of any age group, with nearly three million people over 65 taking part in voluntary activities.

When looking for ways to volunteer, consider your own abilities, skills, interests and personal goals, in addition to community needs.

This write-up was adapted from an article by Australian Catholic Superannuation’s workplace mental health partner, SuperFriend. Learn more at superfriend.com.au.