Mind Matters -- February 2005
Written by Ron Sterling, M.D. and Published in Northwest Prime Time Magazine

Retirement Repercussions
by Ron Sterling, M.D. -- February 2005

    Dear Dr. Ron:

      I was forced to retire early a few years ago due to downsizing of the company for which I had worked for 27 years. I was 62. I found out the hard way that such an unexpected retirement like mine can be stressful and difficult. Can you give your readers some information about the psychological aspects of retirement? -- Signed: Recovering From Retirement.

    Dear Recovering:

      Thank you for writing! Believe me, many people can relate to how difficult it is to retire. Lee Iococca, the legendary former Chrysler Corporation Chairman, put it this way: "Everybody says you've got to get ready financially -- no, no, you've got to get ready psychologically!" Although retirement is a complex subject and it generally means something different to almost everyone, I think it is possible to discuss a few of the most significant aspects of retirement in this short column.

      How much of a detrimental psychological impact retirement has on any particular person has a lot to do with the circumstances of retirement. Is it forced? Is it due to a disability? Or, has it been planned? A forced retirement that is unexpected and unwanted, can result in feelings of hurt, resentment, anger, and jealousy, which will greatly complicate a retirement.

      As much as we all more-or-less dream of retirement as a time of relaxation and no one telling us what to do, the reality of retirement can be feelings of loss, lower self-esteem, boredom, social isolation and, often, more complicated relationships with spouses who may not have seen so much of us while we were employed. However, in spite of the many retirement challenges, studies have shown that the effect of voluntary retirement as compared to a group of similar but still employed people was mostly positive -- the retirees had lower stress levels, exercised more, and reported less alcohol use.

      Even though studies show that those who have retired generally feel less stress and are healthier by many measurements, 69% of respondents in a 2002 United States AARP survey indicated they would work past retirement age and, in 2003, 45% of AARP respondents stated they were likely to work into their 70s and 80s. In a very significant way, "retirement" is now thought of as a part-time or partial. Very few people desire the traditional definition of retirement -- playing or doing next to nothing full time.

      There is more to this desire to only partially retire than just financial security -- people have learned that staying active and involved and pursuing goals that are meaningful and emotionally rewarding allow them a level of satisfaction and mental wellness that a traditional retirement may not. One of the easiest ways to stay active and involved is through employment. The other methods for staying active and involved are through volunteer work, community service, and life-long learning. Recent books that reflect the new retirement attitude have titles like "Don't Retire, REWIRE!, "The New Retirement," and "The Psychology of Retirement."

      Although there are many mental wellness principles that can assist in making the transition to retirement less stressful, it appears that the number-one principle is "gradual change is less stressful." So, consider reducing work hours gradually, rather than just stopping work suddenly. This option may not be available to all employees, so think about finding part-time work similar to what you are doing at the time of your planned retirement. If part-time work is not available, seriously consider volunteer work that you feel would be useful to both you and the organization for which you may be volunteering. I often recommend starting meaningful volunteer work before retirement so that there is a "bridge" into retirement.

      I hope this is helpful. For more information about the principles of mental wellness related to retirement, please visit MentalWellness.ws. -- Best wishes, Dr. Ron.

        Author Bio:

        Ron Sterling, M.D. is a 64 year-old General and Geriatric Psychiatrist with a private practice in Seattle. He invites you to e-mail him at with any questions about mental wellness or emotional, relationship, or aging concerns. He is the only person who reads e-mail sent to Dr. Ron. Please be assured that your questions and identities are completely confidential and protected. For more information about Dr. Ron and for resources related to senior mental health, please go to SeniorMentalHealth.org. The content offered through Mind Matters is for information only and is not intended for medical, psychiatric, or psychological diagnosis or treatment. Never disregard professional advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read in this column. Read our Disclaimer. If you wish to understand more about Dr. Sterling's potential biases in health care advocacy, please check his Conflicts of Interest Disclosure Statement

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