Retirement depression is a real phenomenon with serious consequences.
There’s so much advice on how to successfully retire financially, but not much on how to deal with the emotional and mental aftermath.
And the stereotypical image of retirement is that it’s a time of joy and freedom. It’s definitely that – but it takes a lot of work. And that’s scary.
Without guidance on things like having the right retirement structure, jumpstarting your post-career purpose, or finding ways to be active, healthy, and engaged – for a lot of older adults, retirement can be a time of great sadness and loneliness.
Depression after retirement is more common than you might think. In fact, over a third of retirees in the US develop depression once they settle into retirement.
In this article, we cover the main symptoms of retirement depression and seven tips to help you, or anyone you know, overcome it.
Symptoms of Retirement Depression
Depression is more than just feeling down in the dumps or sad for a couple of days. Major depression is a serious mental illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act.
According to research on depression among older adults, there are a number of symptoms you should be aware of:
- Persistent sad, anxious, “empty”, or irritable mood
- Lack of focus
- Sleep problems
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Memory problems
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and hopelessness
- Changes in appetite
- Body aches and pains
- Difficulty making decisions
- Loneliness or isolation
Retirement depression is very real, and if you’re not careful, it can sneak up on you.
Sadly, a vast majority of depressed people never reach out for help, and they just try to deal with it on their own.
Know that retirement depression is treatable. If you’re persistently feeling several of these symptoms, please reach out to a professional for help.
Retirement can be amazing, but only if you’re healthy and happy.
To overcome any symptoms of retirement depression, try our six proven strategies.
6 Proven Strategies for Adjusting to Retirement Depression
#1 Do Things You (Used To) Enjoy
Remember that retirement is an opportunity to pursue new interests, rekindle old ones, and connect with loved ones in ways that weren’t possible while working.
Even if you don’t feel like it, getting out and doing things you enjoy is important. Whether it’s going for walks, volunteering, or visiting friends and family, getting out of the house is a key part of staving off retirement blues.
A recent study investigated the link between a person’s ability to regulate their mood, the so-called mood homeostasis, and their history of depression. The researchers found that there is a clear connection between the two factors.
People with a history of depression tend to be less able to stabilize their mood through positive activities. This means they’re more likely to experience dips in mood, and find it harder to lift themselves out of these negative states.
The good news is that it can be achieved naturally by engaging in uplifting activities. And, of course, the first step is always awareness.
By becoming aware of the problem, you can learn to recognize when your mood is dipping and take action to bring it back up. You can learn to identify the activities and situations that lift your spirit and make them a priority in your life.
And you can also learn to let go of the negative thoughts and behaviors that keep you stuck in a cycle of depression.
Mood homeostasis is within your reach – all it takes is some awareness and effort. As soon as you feel an onset of depression symptoms coming up, get up and move. And if you’re not sure where to start, here’s a list of 101 things to do in retirement to inspire you.
#2 Reinforce Your Physical Health
Your body is going to change as you age. You might not be able to do all the things you used to do as quickly — that’s just a part of normal aging. Although, you can if you focus on prioritizing your stamina, strength, and physical health (just look some of these inspiring late bloomers).
Regardless of your physical fitness level, retirement depression can creep in if you don’t take care of your health.
So it’s worth supporting your mental health by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Primarily focus on:
- Getting enough sleep — sleep plays an important role in mood regulation and cognitive function. A new study has found that lack of sleep or oversleeping is linked to a nearly two-fold increased risk of depression
- Eating a nutritious diet — just three weeks of a healthier diet can alleviate depressive symptoms
- Staying physically active — exercising for just 30 minutes reduces depressive symptoms for at least 75 minutes post-workout and it also amplifies the benefits of therapy
- Limiting alcohol consumption — this helps you manage your emotions in a more constructive way instead of “drowning your sorrows”
A healthy body leads to a healthy mind, which brings us to tip #3…
#3 Support Your Mental Health with Mindfulness
It can be easy to let your mental health fall by the wayside in retirement. Especially if you’re used to putting everyone and everything else first. But it’s so important to focus on your own needs and to make your mental health a priority.
Try to stay in the present moment as much as possible and be mindful of your thoughts and feelings. This will help you identify any negative patterns and work on making positive changes.
One of the most powerful ways to practice mindfulness is meditation.
If you’re new to meditation, or just out of practice, you can try simple guided meditations in the apps like Calm and Headspace, which may even be covered by your insurance plan (that’s how beneficial meditation is).
Even if it’s literally only 5 minutes, try to make it part of your daily routine to eliminate any stress and anxiety. You’ll be amazed at how much it can help improve your mood and overall mental health, especially when you allow the cumulative effect to work its magic.
#4 Find Your Purpose
It’s easy to feel like you’re not doing anything useful when you retire. All of a sudden, your days are free of work responsibilities and there’s no set schedule or routine to follow.
It can be tempting to spend your days watching TV or sleeping, but we all know that won’t make you feel any better in the long run.
Instead, try to focus on your Retirement Purpose and to also find meaning in the little things. Think of it as the butterfly effect. By doing and appreciating something small and seemingly insignificant, you can make a big impact.
And if you want a fun quick way to discover your Retirement Purpose, check out this 3-minute Retirement Purpose Quiz.
New research suggests that there are simple things we can do to boost our happiness levels. According to the study, the things that make us the happiest are relatively small and inexpensive:
- a chocolate bar
- a long soak in the bath
- a nap in the middle of the afternoon, or
- a leisurely stroll in the park
In other words, it’s not fancy vacations or expensive gadgets that make us happy; it’s the little things in life. The same goes for your sense of meaning and purpose in retirement, so start by impacting just one life.
Whatever it is, find ways to add purpose to your days. These small acts can help you feel useful and fulfilled, and they’ll make retirement feel less like an eternal vacation and more like an intentional new chapter in your life.
#5 Set Small, Manageable Goals
Our fifth tip today is to set small, manageable retirement goals. A lot of people make the mistake of setting retirement goals that are either way too big and unmanageable or, even worse — they don’t set any goals at all.
It’s too common for older adults to think that retirement is this huge thing that they need to accomplish when really it’s just a series of small goals and steps or, as we like to call them, mini-goals and micro-steps.
According to a recent study, people with clinical depression tend to have more generalized personal goals than those without the condition. This means that their goals are less specific and therefore more difficult to achieve.
The researchers believe that this lack of focus can create a downward cycle of negative thoughts, as it becomes harder to see any progress being made.
What’s the fix? Try to make your goals SMART — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.
For instance, instead of setting a goal like “I want to lose weight”, a SMART goal looks more like, “I want to lose 10 lbs in 4 weeks by committing to an alternating cardio and strength daily exercise regimen.”
The key is consistency – start small and gradually build up from there. By setting micro-steps and taking daily action consistently, you’ll be surprised at how much you can achieve.
#6 Spend Time With Supportive People
Sometimes you might feel like you need some extra ‘me time’ and space to just hide out and recoup. Self-care is definitely a must, just be sure it’s not too isolating.
Too much time alone can actually make retirement depression worse. It’s important to spend time with people who make you feel good and encourage you to get out there and achieve your goals.
When it comes to preventing depression, social connection is key. That’s according to a recent study, which identified social connection as the strongest protective factor against depression.
The study looked at a wide range of potential risk factors for depression, and found that social connection was significantly more protective than any other factor.
So what exactly does social connection with supportive people entail?
According to the study, it largely boils down to confiding in others and spending time with loved ones. In other words, building close relationships and maintaining a strong support network are crucial for protecting against depression.
As we like to put it, spend more time with people in your Circle of Influence (those who support your growth and meaningful goals) and less time with people in your Circle of Concern (fear-based thinkers and gossipers who stay in their comfort zones).
Whether it’s your spouse, kids, grandkids, friends, or even a pet, spending time with those you love can help you feel more connected and appreciated. So if you’re feeling the retirement blues, make an effort to reach out to the people who make you happy. It’ll do wonders for your mental health.
Create a Retirement Life You Love
While it’s normal to experience some sadness after retirement, if these feelings persist or interfere with your daily life, please reach out for support and consider seeking professional help.
Just because it’s invisible, doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous — retirement depression is a real thing.
Here are our six proven strategies to overcome retirement depression:
- #1 Do things you enjoy — as cliche as it may sound, focusing on enjoyable activities elevates your mood
- #2 Reinforce your physical health — take care of your body and feel (even immediate) benefits for your mind
- #3 Support your mental health with mindfulness — practice gratitude and mindfulness to alleviate depressive symptoms
- #4 Find your purpose — find happiness and contribution in the little things and bring more purpose and meaning into your life
- #5 Set small, manageable goals — micro-step your way to happiness
- #6 Spend time with supportive people — surround yourself with uplifting people and reap the positive effects of social interaction
If you want to short-path your way to a retirement life that you love, that’s exactly our mission and what we do best — just book a free 1-on-1 Breakthrough Session here.
The world is your oyster, and retirement blues is an obstacle totally worth overcoming — there’s greatness on the other side of your effort and hard work.