After working for years, retirement can be a shock to the system.
You go from having a set schedule and what seems like a million obligations to suddenly having endless possibilities to fill your time.
It can be both exhilarating and a little bit scary, all at the same time.
And normally, the only thing retirees prepare for is the financial part of it.
It’s no wonder retirement is such an emotionally turbulent transition.
The good news is that you’re not alone in feeling this way. In fact, retirement usually follows a pretty predictable emotional arc.
Today, we bring you the typical five emotional stages of retirement, along with some tips on how to adjust to your new life.
But first, how long does is the retirement adjustment period?
How Long Does It Take to Adjust to Retirement?
Retirement is a huge life transition, and it can take a while to adjust – as in, weeks to years.
And of course, every situation is unique and there is no set time frame for how long it takes to feel settled into retirement. For some people, it takes a few months. For others, it can take a year or more.
The important thing is to be patient with yourself and allow yourself the time (and effort) you need to adjust.
According to research, the length of time it takes to adjust to retirement is directly related to the resources available during the transition.
And it’s not purely financial resources. This includes factors like having a strong network of family and friends, good mental and physical health, a sense of purpose, and a retirement plan that meets your needs.
The more social and psychological resources you have, the easier it is to make a successful transition into retirement.
Specifically, the study recognizes three possible patterns:
- Quality of life remains the same if the total resources do not change significantly after retirement
- Retirees’ well-being deteriorates if their resources decline (e.g., loss of social connections or health problems)
- Retirees will show an improvement in well-being if they acquire additional resources after retirement (e.g., making new friends or taking up new hobbies)
So, what does this mean for you?
If your retirement is accompanied by a significant change in resources, it may take a bit more effort to adjust.
But, if you have a retirement plan that includes resources like meaningful activities, social engagements, and a sense of purpose, you’re more likely to make a smooth transition into retirement.
Now, let’s take a look at the five typical emotional stages of retirement to get a better understanding of what you may be feeling.
The 5 Emotional Stages of Retirement
#1 Pre-retirement Phase: Time to Plan
Retirement is nearing and you’re feeling antsy with excitement (sometimes anxiety). This is the phase where retirement is still off-in-th-distance enough that you can’t wait to retire and you start making plans for your date.
In the five to ten years leading up to retirement, you start seriously thinking about retirement.
You might feel like you can’t wait to retire, but at the same time, you might also feel a little anxious about what retirement will actually be like.
Pre-retirement planning is often thought of as a financial activity, but new research suggests that it may be just as (if not more) important to focus on your emotional and social needs. The study found that people who took the time to plan for their retirement were more likely to report higher levels of well-being after they retired.
If you’re approaching retirement, take the time to think about what you want your life to look like beyond finances to set yourself up for success.
What to Do During the Pre-Retirement Phase?
The pre-retirement phase is a critical time for setting yourself up for success in retirement, so you don’t “wing it” and fall into a typical retirement rut, where your lack of a plan, structure, and retirement routine leave you aimless.
There are a few key things you can do during this phase to set yourself up for a happy and fulfilling retirement:
- Imagine your ideal retirement — what are your goals and dreams for retirement? What activities do you want to pursue and how do you want to grow? By getting a clear picture of your ideal retirement, you can start making plans now to make it a reality.
- Take stock of your health — retirement can be a time when health problems start to crop up, so it’s important to get a head start on maintaining your health. This means eating right, exercising regularly, and staying up-to-date on preventive care.
- Get your finances in order — your income will change in retirement, so it’s important to make sure your spending and saving habits are aligned with your new budget. This may mean downsizing your home, getting rid of debt, or increasing your retirement savings.
- Build a support network — as you approach retirement, take some time to sociallyl engage, reconnect with old friends and make new ones. A strong social network is a key ingredient for a happy retirement clear of loneliness.
- Decide when you’ll retire — let these 4 signs you need to retire guide you in making the right decision
By taking care of these things during the pre-retirement phase, you can set yourself up for a retirement that’s both enjoyable and sustainable.
#2 The Honeymoon Phase: Freedom
The honeymoon stage of retirement is when everything is still new and exciting and can last anywhere from weeks to a year.
You’re finally free from the grind of work and can focus on letting go of pressures. And start enjoying your life. You may feel like you’re on vacation at first and have endless possibilities ahead of you.
It’s a time to rest, recuperate, and do whatever the heck you want without having to report to anybody. It’s a beautiful thing, but like all things in life, nothing lasts forever.
It can also be a time of anxiety and uncertainty. And frankly, some people just don’t like the idea of an eternal vacation – that may feel purposeless.
It’s like when you’re working hard and the idea of a vacation sounds thrilling – but you know you couldn’t really live that way day-in and day-out.
Eventually, the novelty of retirement wears off and you start to think about how you want to spend the rest of your years.
What to Do During the Honeymoon Phase?
The honeymoon phase is a great time to travel, try new things, and enjoy your freedom. But it’s also important to start thinking about your long-term goals, so try out the following tips:
- Embrace the change — this is a time of transition, so it’s normal to feel some uncertainty. Remember that you’re designed to grow, learn, and overcome challenges at all life stages. Try to focus on your growth and all the new opportunities retirement brings.
- Create a new routine — retirement can be a great time to try new things and establish some healthy habits that are aligned with your authentic self and retirement purpose
- Find ways to stay active — whether it’s joining a gym, taking up a new hobby, or spending time outdoors, keeping your body and mind active helps you adjust to retirement life.
#3 The Disenchantment Phase: Now What?
According to a recent 2022 survey, more than half of retirees think their lifestyle in retirement is about what they expected it would be before they retired. But a staggering 21% of retirees rate their quality of life as worse than expected.
And this likely happens in the disenchantment retirement stage.
You start feeling worn out because you aimlessly try to fill your time with anything that will keep you occupied. You may find yourself feeling restless, bored, and unfulfilled (even if you’ve got a long unchecked to-do list).
This can be a tough stage to get through because it’s easy to feel like you’re just going through the motions.
The biggest mistake most retirees make is blindly following recommendations from friends, family, or the internet without considering internally what they actually want out of retirement.
This is how you can end up filling your time with meaningless activities that don’t make you happy or fulfilled. So don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to spend your retirement a certain way just because that’s what others are doing.
In this stage, it’s important to find your own North Star and redefine what success looks like for you. Finding clarity and doing the introspection work – to connect with your authentic self and discover your retirement purpose – are critically important.
With the right mindset, tools, and support system in place, you can achieve anything you set your mind to in retirement.
What to Do During the Disenchantment Phase?
There’s no sugarcoating it: the disenchantment stage of retirement is tough. After years of planning and saving, many retirees find themselves facing a period of disillusionment and disappointment.
And sadly, this often means depression and anxiety. In fact, over 2 million American adults over age 65 suffer from depression (but there’s likely more when you consider the measly 38% who believe depression is even a health issue).
But just because this stage is challenging doesn’t mean it has to be a negative experience that you can’t overcome. To set yourself up for success during the disenchantment stage and make the most of your retirement years:
- Have realistic expectations — retirement is a major life change, so it’s important to manage your expectations. Don’t expect retirement to be perfect – there will be ups and downs and a lot of opportunities for growth.
- Be proactive & get help — don’t wait for retirement to happen to you – make your ideal life happen. Plan ahead, consult experts, and get the right support to figure out how to best use your time and energy.
- Set life goals — once the honeymoon phase is over, you’ll need something purposeful to focus on. Retirement can be an opportunity to finally accomplish those things you always said you would do but never had the time for, as well as explore new experiences.
Be patient and keep exploring until you find something that feels right for you. And always be growing.
#4 The Reorientation Phase: The New You
After years of working and juggling different roles, retirement offers a huge chance to really focus on who you are (authentically at the core) and what you want out of life.
The next retirement stage is all about reorienting yourself to your new life. For many people, their job is a central part of their identity, which makes retirement feel like a loss of self. The reorientation phase is a time to take stock of your life and reassess your priorities.
While this can also be a time of uncertainty — as you may no longer have the same sense of purpose or routine that you did during your working years — it’s important to prepare for retirement by promoting other aspects of your life. Associate with people outside of your job, develop and maintain outside interests, and cultivate your individuality beyond your career.
In other words, you need to dig deep to find clarity and self-reflect on what you want to do with the rest of your life. The reorientation phase is a great opportunity for self-discovery — if you’re ready to do the inner work.
(P.S. here are 7 key non-financial retirement questions you should ask yourself)
What to Do During the Reorientation Phase?
It’s no secret that the later stage of retirement can be a challenging time for many people. Without the structure of a full-time job or the direct responsibility of children, it can be difficult to find a sense of purpose.
But this is also an opportunity to try new things, find new hobbies and rediscover your passions in life. If you’re feeling lost, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success:
- Take inventory of your life — this is a good time to reflect on your life and what’s important to you. What do you want to change? What do you want to keep the same? If you didn’t have to worry about money or fears, what would you do in life?
- Reach out to your network — to avoid being lonely, make an effort to stay connected with your friends and family. Join social clubs or groups, volunteer, take classes, and meet new people.
- Connect with your authentic self — retirement is the perfect time to explore new hobbies, activities, people, places, and adventures. The answers to your best life will always come from the inside.
- Focus on lifelong learning — never stop learning, growing, and striving for excellence. The more committed you are to lifelong learning, the better for yourself and those around you.
#5 The Stability Phase: Retirement Routine
The final retirement stage is all about finding stability and routine. After the initial excitement, shock, and highs and lows of retirement have worn off, you may find yourself settling into a new normal.
If you’re in this stage, you’ve accepted your retirement identity and created a daily routine that works for you. You may find yourself filling your days with more meaningful activities and hobbies that you enjoy, and spending more time with family and friends who energize you.
What to Do During the Stability Phase?
This is the retirement stage where you can finally feel like you’re on the right path and be excited about your journey ahead. To become less worried about the unknown, and more confident and self-trusting:
- Protect your retirement purpose — you’ve done all the work to reinvent yourself in retirement and discover your new purpose and passions. Stay focused on meaningful activities by prioritizing daily micro-steps that align with your retirement purpose.
- Prioritize self-care — the more you connect with your authentic self, take care of your mental and physical health, and heal, the more profound your retirement experience.
- Embrace challenges — amazing experiences exist outside your comfort zone. Continue to embrace challenges and look forward to gleaning important life lessons along the way. If things don’t go your way, trust that you’ll figure it out.
- Focus on growth — it may take some time and effort to find your groove, but there is a solid way to dig deep and uncover some amazing growth and possibilities. The more consistent and focused you are with your personal growth, the more rewarding your retirement.
- Be fully present — whether it’s meditation, exercise, or journaling, grounding yourself in awareness in the present moment is everything. May you savor the most profound experiences in your daily life from little to large.
Easing Into Retirement
Retirement is a process — feeling great about your new phase, of course, doesn’t happen overnight.
Give yourself the time to go through the 5 emotional stages of retirement:
- #1 The pre-retirement stage — you start thinking about retirement and making plans
- #2 The honeymoon stage — you enjoy your newfound freedom and retirement lifestyle
- #3 The disenchantment stage — you start to feel restless, aimless, and even bored as you purposelessly fill your time
- #4 The reorientation stage — you start to redefine yourself and find new purpose in retirement
- #5 The stability stage — you grow and become content with your new identity in retirement and find a new equilibrium
You may not experience all of these stages and they could be out of order.
But knowing that these typical stages exist can help make your transition smoother.
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