In a well-planned retirement, you wake up most days to an optimal blend of leisure and rewarding things to do.
Let the pandemic be your guide to the unplanned retirement. With too much unstructured time, you could end up unfocused and unhappy. “The pandemic showed us how boring retirement can be,” said Mike Drak, a retired banker who has co-written a book called Retirement Heaven or Hell: Which Will You Choose?
Mr. Drak said the sudden move to physical distancing at home in the pandemic and retirement are similar experiences – we’re cut off from many of the daily routines that give our lives structure, meaning and joy.
If you’re experiencing feelings of depression and anxiety in the pandemic, that’s another similarity to what can happen in retirement. Mr. Drak cited a British study from 2019 in which 23 per cent of retirees said they suffered from depression or anxiety. He foresees a higher incidence of this as a result of people moving prematurely into retirement as a result of job losses in the pandemic.
Mr. Drak uses the term “retirement shock” to describe the adjustment to life after leaving the work force. “It hits people hard – they just sit there, they’re mopey and they waste a few years,” he said. “Not everyone goes through it, but I did, and my father did.”
A first step in drawing lessons from the pandemic for retirement is to prepare for “the dip,” which is his term for the adjustment period after you retire. You’ll have a lot of newfound free time, just as you did when the economy was locked down to fight COVID-19. How will you fill it?
As shown in the pandemic, there can be a short-term golden period where you enjoy the novelty of sleeping later and not commuting. But, as we’ve learned in the pandemic, this luxury of extra time becomes a burden after a while.
People have found relief from the stresses and boredom of pandemic life by tapping into their network of friends and family members, and the same can work in retirement. Are work friends a big part of your current circle? “You find out that when you leave work, these friends don’t come along with you,” Mr. Drak said.
He added that the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of intergenerational support in a way that should resonate with people looking ahead to retirement. Parents have financially supported young adult children who lost jobs or income, and families have helped care for aged parents who might otherwise have been in a long-term care home.
In a more interconnected family, a retiree might find a balance between involvement in care for grandchildren and then, later on, benefiting from family help in managing day to day living.
Another retirement insight from the pandemic is the importance of health. Underlying health conditions that make you more vulnerable to COVID-19 can limit your ability to enjoy retirement life to its fullest. Mr. Drak stressed the importance of building an exercise plan into your retirement routine and eating right. “With increasing longevity, it’s so important to take care of your health,” he said.
Mainly, retirees need some purpose in life – something to replace the gravitational pull of working full-time. In the pandemic, people threw themselves into activities such as cooking and home improvement projects. In retirement, you’ll need to identify some activities that satisfy you in roughly the same way as working.
“If you don’t have a purpose, so many people end up sitting on the couch watching TV and surfing social media,” Mr. Drak said. “It catches up to them, health-wise and mentally too. You’re an inactive spectator and you’re not challenging your brain.”
Finally, Mr. Drak said the pandemic showed us what life is like without travel, without events such as concerts and festivals, and without socializing at restaurants and bars. If any or all of these activities would bring meaning to your life in retirement, make sure you’re saving enough to enjoy them.
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