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Retire person, lonely and divorced. (Photos.com)

Retire person, lonely and divorced.

(Photos.com)

Psychology

Thrown into retirement? The psychological changes are as important as the financial ones Add to ...

Many people start planning financially for retirement well in advance of their last day on the job.

But few plan for the social and psychological changes that retirement will bring, say two experts who specialize in retirement coaching. They say it’s as important to have a plan for those aspects of retirement as it is to have a financial strategy.

“Retirement is one of the biggest transitions we go through, yet it’s one we are the least prepared for,” says Mariella Vigneux, whose Owen Sound-based life coaching company, Crabapple Coaching (http://www.thecrabapplegroup.com/), provides workshops and coaching to individuals, corporations and non-profit organizations. “There are very little in way of life planning and supports for retirement, unlike those that are there when you have a baby or get married.”

Even though retirement can span 20 to 40 years, most people are ill-prepared for the loss of identity or sense of purpose they may feel, or the loneliness or depression they may suffer if they haven’t taken the time to map out a plan that considers their interests, values and strengths and how they can use those to create a fulfilling post-work life.

“The reason most of the [retirement] focus has been on money is that we looked to our parents’ generation and that generation went through the Depression. Their belief system was that if you had a good enough job, everything else would fall into place,” says Kate Dack, a clinical counsellor and social worker who is founder of Retirement Coaching Canada (http://www.retirementcoachingcanada.com/) in Victoria.

But boomers, who are wealthier and healthier and thus living longer than their parents, have been shaped by factors such as the women’s movement and social equality.

“They got a taste of being involved in making a difference and that has stayed with them,” Ms. Dack says.

Ms. Dack and Ms. Vigneux say new retirees go through a “honeymoon” period of up to three years where they may be happy not to set the alarm or do much of anything. Ms. Vigneux says it’s perfectly fine to sit back and relax for a while.

But “after the honeymoon period, they have the itch to create something, to have relevance or use the skills they spent their lives developing,” Ms. Dack says.

Some people don’t have the luxury of choosing when they’ll retire. Ms. Vigneux says a 2008 RBC Ipsos poll revealed that 51 per cent of the respondents had retired for reasons outside of their control, such as illness, downsizing, reaching mandatory retirement age or because they were out of touch technologically.

“The transition can be really rocky if suddenly you are thrust into retirement – people may be disoriented and may get depressed,” she says.

Depression is a common problem, agrees Ms. Dack and says the “grumpy old man” or “grumpy old woman” syndrome is actually a sign of depression. It could be time to consult a doctor.

“I see a lot of the vacuum of retirement when people don’t have a plan, don’t know themselves or don’t know what they want,” Ms. Vigneux says. “They enter a vacuum that needs to be filled up. They are frightened so they let it be filled up with other people’s needs. They do committee work, they follow their spouse around, or end up back at work because couldn’t see a way to fill the vacuum.”

“Men in particular seem to derive their primary identity from work,” Ms. Dack says. “I also hear from a lot of women coming into retirement who say, ‘I don’t know who I am.’”

Ms. Vigneux says preparing for retirement should start up to a decade in advance. People can look at the things they loved to do when they were children to see if they’d like to try those pursuits again. “Retirement presents a chance to really look at ourselves and what makes us happy and discover what we’re good at.”

It’s also offers the opportunity to experiment with new skills and interests, Ms. Dack suggests. “I had a client whose wife joined 10 different clubs. She was going to try them all and whittle down to what she really enjoyed, but that takes a lot of social courage.” Ms. Vigneux has a female client who wanted to try stunt driving.

Sometimes couples may find that they have differing needs and expectations.

“Just as a relationship doesn’t give you everything earlier in life, it’s the same in retirement – you can’t expect one person to meet all your needs,” Ms. Vigneux says.

That’s why it’s important to have ongoing discussions with your spouse to discuss each other’s hopes and expectations for retirement.

Ms. Dack says people also have to consider that illness might affect their plans or that their dreams may change. “One couple thought they’d like to be ex-pats living in Costa Rica. They tried it out for a month and talked to other people doing it, but they realized it wasn’t for them as they’d miss their grandchildren.”

Get ready to retire

– Start mapping out a plan six to 10 years before you plan to retire. Read books on retirement transitions, attend a seminar or workshop or arrange for private coaching, which can be done in person, online or by phone.

– Realize that your dreams and goals might change in retirement. Perhaps you wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro but it may not be feasible due to injury or health issues; living on a tropical island might be too isolating and you’ll miss friends and family.

– Get physically active. It will help combat depression, help prevent pain and chronic illness, and provide a sense of confidence and vigour.

– Have ongoing talks with your spouse and family prior to retirement to see if their expectations align with yours and how you can make it work.

– Don’t make too many changes at once. If you’ve lost your spouse, wait until you get back on your feet before you leave your job.

– Consider the PERMA model, developed by psychologist Martin Seligman, to create lasting well-being. Its five elements include Positive Emotion, Engagement, Positive Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.

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