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6 Common Sources of Retirement Stress

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While many believe that retiring relieves much of the daily stress we all deal with, retirement brings an additional set of stressors not faced by those still in the workforce. It turns out the transition to a life free of long commutes, meetings, and annoying co-workers isn’t all walking on the beach at sunset holding hands while sipping Aperol spritzes, as ads and commercials would suggest.  

What’s creating stress for retirees, and how can they reduce stress in retirement? Here’s what experts have to say. 

1. Fear of Running Out of Money 

An early 2022 survey from the American Psychological Association revealed that money is a significant source of stress for 64% of Americans ages 58 and older. At the heart of this for many is fear of running out of money in retirement, says financial advisor James Valenzuela of Foothill Financial & Insurance Services. “People tend to live longer. While that’s great on the one hand, it also increases the risk you could outlive your savings,” he says.

He recommends consulting with a financial planner to create what he refers to as a “lifetime income stream” that will ensure you have money regardless of how long you live. That plan might include a deferred or immediate annuity with a long-term care rider, being strategic about when to claim Social Security benefits, optimizing investments, and considering a home equity conversion mortgage, more commonly called a reverse mortgage.

2. Changes in Routine and Relationships

A job—even one you don’t like—offers daily structure and workplace relationships. While leaving all that behind can be a source of joy at first, it can also create problems once the newness wears off.

“When work ends, we may experience a sense of loneliness with the loss of these daily connections,” says Carrie Ditzel, a clinical geropsychologist with Baker Street Behavioral Health. She adds that retirement often means spending more time with significant others at home, as well. “This can change relationship dynamics and may magnify previous issues that went unnoticed with the hustle and bustle of daily working life,” Ditzel says.

Anticipate and plan for these changes, so you aren’t blindsided, she advises. Be thoughtful about how you will connect with others and spend your days. For example, reach out to friends and family on a regular schedule rather than waiting for them to call you. And Ditzel adds, “Recognizing and repairing problematic relationships that have come to light after retirement is important for a successful transition.”

3. Boredom 

A major source of stress that catches some people by surprise is boredom, cautions Joe Casey, author of “Win the Retirement Game: How to Outsmart the 9 Forces Trying to Steal Your Joy” and host of The Retirement Wisdom Podcast. If you haven’t thought in advance about how you’ll fill your days, every day can seem the same, and not in a good way, he says.

“At first, it’s thrilling to discover that every day is Saturday in retirement. But after a while, you feel differently, realizing that every single day is Saturday,” Casey says. He recommends identifying what you’re curious about, then learning more about it.

“If you’re curious, you’ll be more willing to explore new pursuits and try new things. We don’t stop growing when we retire. Taking up new things can take us out of our comfort zone, where we learn and continue to grow,” he adds.

4. Loneliness and Isolation 

Without a job to go to where they find purpose and connect with others, some retirees—especially those who live alone—can feel isolated and alone. “Becoming suddenly isolated from co-workers and having 50-plus hours per week to fill has led many to have second thoughts about retiring,” says John Tholen, a retired cognitive psychologist and author of the recently published “Focused Positivity: The Path to Success and Peace of Mind.”

Aware of this potential when he retired five years ago, Tholen replaced work with writing, group bicycling tours, and card games. “I also see my siblings who live nearby at least once a month, regularly visit an old friend who suffered a recent medical crisis, have breakfast each week with a retired colleague, and attend a weekly meeting of guys who met long ago through our children’s sports activities,” he says.

Look for enjoyable activities you can do with others, whether it’s joining a book club, RVing, or volunteering for a charity or political campaign so you meet people and develop friendships, he advises.

5. Lack of Purpose 

Employment contributes significantly to our sense of purpose, so we need to find something meaningful to replace it. “In retirement, people need to matter to someone,” says Steve Lopez, author of “Independence Day: What I Learned About Retirement from Some Who’ve Done It and Some Who Never Will.” Find your purpose again, he advises, by mentoring, volunteering, or developing a new hobby.

“You need to create meaningful ways to occupy your time and give you a sense of self-satisfaction and joy,” adds social worker Iris Waichler. She echoes Lopez’s recommendations while also suggesting reconnecting with friends and family in ways that strengthen those relationships.

6. Fear of Losing a Partner

According to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, a long-standing stress self-assessment tool, death of a spouse tops the list of 43 stressful life events. It’s a devastating emotional and lifestyle loss for those who don’t already live alone.

Medical challenges that might lead to death are hard to avoid completely as we age, but working to stay as healthy as possible can help reduce the stress that comes from worrying about what’s to come, says Waichler. Work with your partner to pay attention to nutrition, get enough sleep, stay active, and schedule regular wellness checks.

Other types of problems arise, too, if the spouse or partner who dies is the primary caregiver for the other. Who will take over when that happens? Many times, it’s a family member, notes Valenzuela. “This can become a financial burden to the caregiver if they can no longer work or can only work part-time as a result,” he says.

The solution? Valenzuela suggests long-term care planning that might include purchasing a long-term care insurance policy or a hybrid life insurance policy with a long-term care rider attached.

Anticipating potential stressors in retirement and crafting a plan that addresses them will go a long way toward creating a less stressful and more rewarding lifestyle in the second half of life.  

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