It’s so easy to think of retirement as all sunshine and rainbows. No more grinding commute. No more bosses telling you to “have that report on my desk before noon tomorrow.” No more waking up at 6:00 am (unless that’s your thing). No more strategizing the next step in your career trajectory. It’s definitely nice to imagine leaving all of that behind and just kicking back and relaxing at home.
But the truth is, there can be some psychological pitfalls when it comes to mental health and retirement. So, we’d like to take a quick look at some of those, then suggest some tips that may help bring those bright, sunny skies back to your mental health.
Here are some of the factors that can lead to poor mental health in retirement
In some cases, poor mental health can extend to more than just a bad day; it can extend into a clinical depression, which is nothing to take lightly. While it doesn’t always have a particular cause, depression, or poor mental health in general, can be caused by several factors when you’re retired:
- Health problems and medication: Illness, disability and chronic pain can be factors, and even some prescription drugs that are meant to help you physically can harm you mentally. So, make sure you’re aware of the side effects of your medication.
- Loneliness and grief: It’s an unfortunate fact that loneliness can be part of aging, whether it’s due to friends or family living far away or passing away, or your own difficulty getting around to visit people.
- Financial troubles: Making sure you have enough money to get by in retirement can be a major source of anxiety.
- Lacking a sense of purpose: For many people, success in life is largely defined by their career. And even if you place less emphasis on your career, going to work gives you a daily routine and some measure of self-worth. When that’s gone, it can leave a big hole in your life.
How do you know if you’re depressed?
It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of depression, because many people figure that feeling down is simply a part of aging, when it really doesn’t have to be.
According to Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), these are some things to look out for if you think you or an older adult you know might be depressed. They might:
- Not bother getting dressed
- Not answer the phone or the door
- Lose interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Express feelings of being worthless or sad
- Cry, become agitated or angry, or show little emotion, in ways that are unusual for them
- Sleep poorly or too much
- Eat more or less than usual
- Complain about physical symptoms that don’t have an obvious cause
- Lack energy, often feeling tired
- Seem confused
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Have trouble with their memory
- Have trouble making decisions or following through with plans
- Spend more time alone than usual
Even physical symptoms from a pre-existing condition like arthritis or headaches can be a sign of depression at retirement age, if they worsen.
What steps can you take to overcome depression in retirement?
While there’s no magic solution to overcoming mental health issues, there are some things you can do to help yourself feel anywhere from a little bit better to a lot better.
- Consult your doctor: If you feel like you have signs of depression, speak to your doctor. If you are clinically depressed, there are medications that can help, and your doctor may advise you to speak to a psychologist or psychiatrist. CoverMe® Health & Dental plans come with access to the Akira by Telus Health app at no extra charge, which allows you to text and video chat with health care professionals, about your mental health or any other health issues, from the comfort of your own home. You can also find online mental health services.
- Find ways to connect with people: When you’re feeling down, it’s so important to know that you’re not alone, that there are people out there who want to help you, connect with you, or even who you can help. That could mean something as directly helpful as a support group. Or, volunteering to help others can make you feel valuable. Joining a club can help you feel a part of something. Even a quick lunch with a friend or family member can make a world of difference.
- Get out of the house: Whether you do it alone or with someone special, go to a park, get your hair done, go to a movie or play, or visit a museum.
- Find a hobby: That old adage that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” simply isn’t true. It’s never too late to learn something new. So, take guitar lessons, learn how to paint landscapes, take up cross-stitching, build model airplanes. Whatever it is, find something that will engage your mind and give you a sense of purpose and satisfaction.
- Laugh: There’s more truth to the old adage, “laughter is the best medicine.” A good laugh can increase, then decrease, your heart rate and blood pressure, giving you a relaxed feeling. Put yourself in situations where there’s a strong chance of a good belly laugh. Binge your favourite sitcom, trade jokes with friends, relive funny memories, watch stand-up comedy specials, or google “the funniest books of all time” and read the whole list.
- Fall in love with a pet: Whether you’re a dog person or a cat person, or maybe a gecko or budgie is more your style, having a living thing to care for, talk to, or snuggle with can give you a major mood boost. Walking a dog can even give you a chance to get exercise, fresh air, and meet new people. An amazing 97% of doctors in a recent survey claimed they saw an improvement in their patients’ mental health when they owned a pet.
- Travel: Near the top of just about every list of things people like to do in retirement is travel. Unfortunately, travelling is less of an option these days, but hopefully we’ll get back to it soon. When that time comes, whether you visit a new part of the world or rent a cabin for a weekend, it can feel great to get away from your everyday life and see some new sights. And when you do travel, you can consider the valuable protection of CoverMe® Travel Insurance.
- Treat your body right: Diet and exercise are so important not just to your physical health, but your mental health as well. For exercise, it doesn’t have to be a high-impact workout; even a short walk or tending to your garden can do the trick. Plus, with Manulife Vitality, you can earn rewards for your workouts! As for your diet, minimizing sugar and refined carbs, while adding proteins, complex carbs and healthy fats can all help.
- Catch more z’s: As you age, getting good, quality sleep can be difficult, so this isn’t an easy one. Try to get 7 to 9 hours if you can. Set yourself up for success with a consistent sleep schedule, a dark, quiet room, and by avoiding alcohol and caffeine, especially at night.
Hopefully these tips will help keep your mental health strong and your retirement in sunshine and rainbows!
Plans underwritten by The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company (Manulife) and First North American Insurance Company (FNAIC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Manulife.
The Vitality Group Inc., in association with The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company, provides the Manulife Vitality program.
helpguide.org, “Depression in Older Adults: Signs, Symptoms, Treatments,” October 2019.
camh.ca, “Depression in Older Adults.”
mayoclinic.org, “Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke,” April 5, 2019.
ontariospca.ca, “Benefits of pets for our mental health,” January 31, 2018.