Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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...Happy Retirement to You...



... Happy Retirement to You...

A Chatham County reader thought it would be helpful to provide a few pointers for retirement living. Most articles and books focus on financial planning which, although important, does not guarantee happiness. Awareness of life risks in senior living and thoughtful preparation are crucial steps toward peace and contentment in retirement.

Most people look forward to retirement for the "honeymoon" period. You can turn off the alarm, play golf or rev up your RV for travel. Life is great, but this phase does not last, often turning into disillusion and sometimes depression. Planning is imperative to avoid this down phase. Not all your planning must be done prior to retirement and, in fact, ongoing planning is necessary to keep your life vital and satisfying in areas other than economics: marriage/family; social networks; productive activities/work; physical health; mental health.

Your marriage will change when you spend more time in the home. Plan for this because you will need to improve communication with your spouse and/or set up your own schedule and space at home. Husbands and wives may find themselves at home together 24/7 for the first time. This new togetherness must be discussed and new interaction plans must be decided. For example, spouses may each have their own room, "office", to avoid potential conflicts and schedule activities and "dates" with their partner.

Without social groups at work, retirement may generate an unexpected sense of loneliness. Women may already have social groups, but men may find it harder to seek out companionship. Research has validated the importance of friendship and social networks for health and emotional well-being. Other retirees are an obvious possible social group, and you can seek out companionship in your neighborhood activity center or class. Spirituality can be very important in the senior years, and social support can often be found in church groups.

After the honeymoon phase, you'll likely find that you have a problem filling your hours and feeling like a productive citizen. Life may feel empty and hollow without a purpose. Many retirees seek out vocational activities to keep them feeling productive, paid or volunteer. For example, retired executives can provide managerial consultation (for example in the organization SCORE) or retired teachers can provide tutoring to children.

Age 65 does not automatically bring illness or infirmity, but health prevention and treatment are more important than ever to keep these years "golden." Good nutrition and exercise are crucial of course, and health information can be invaluable, for example from the Life Extension Foundation, a nonprofit group, at www.lef.org.)

Paying attention to the advice described above will also contribute to mental health, although depression and anxiety may nevertheless be issues even when other areas of life appear to be in balance. Seniors are definitely not too old for therapy or marriage counseling. In fact, individuals with Medicare and a medigap policy will find their mental health appointments are usually covered 100% by therapists who accept assignment. Self-help information provides suggestions to decrease stress and marital conflict. Even if you were not born with a positive disposition, life skills can be learned to increase happiness and optimism. This type of information can also be found in the Reading Room section of this website.