Retirement planning Enjoy retirement

How to prepare for retirement emotionally

Ah, retirement, it’s billed as the awesome years at the end of a long career—and a happy retirement is definitely within reach! But the switch from going to work every day to having more time for yourself can be a challenge for many people.

“I think a lot of people focus on the financial aspect of retirement. A lot of my clients talk about it after. They say they were worried about finances, and in retrospect that they should have done more to prepare for this massive change emotionally.”

Cindy Brcko, a Toronto-based registered social worker who specializes in working with older adults.

There’s no way to know what the transition to retirement will be like emotionally until you go through it. Feelings can range from excitement and relief to sadness or dread and everything in between.

Circumstances surrounding retirement can create an added challenge. For example, people who retired during the pandemic didn’t have the same send-off as what used to take place pre-pandemic. And not everyone retires on their own terms. Some people leave work for caregiving responsibilities or because of a decision or situation at their workplace. These things can create feelings of resentment or even inadequacy.

Whatever you feel during the transition to retirement, it can help to remind yourself that you’re not alone. Try to be patient with yourself as you work through the emotions. Recognize that retirement is a major life change, so it could take some time to adjust. Know that things will eventually settle! We’ve put together some tips to help.

Read more in Renaissance: Lessons learned from life after work

6 practical ways to support your mental health as you prepare for retirement

Think ahead about activities

Make a list of activities you’ve always wanted to try or things you used to enjoy but haven’t had time to do while working. Make a plan to get started with one or two of the activities from your list. This might include looking for programs, including online, and purchasing equipment or supplies.

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Consider all the things that make you, you!

Many peoples’ identities are heavily tied to work—especially in the education sector! But there’s so much more to you than your work, even if it doesn’t seem like it some days. Think about all of the different aspects of your identity outside of work. It might be helpful to write them down. Do you enjoy gardening or cooking? Are you a curious, life-long learner? Are you a member of a faith community? You can ask friends and family for input, too, if you’re having a hard time coming up with ideas!

“Who am I without this 24/7 job? Once I retired, I realized I had nothing to be afraid of – this IS great. It was a lot easier to embrace the identity of retired teacher than I expected.”

Carla Matos, RTOERO member

Talk to other retirees

Even if you’re excited about retirement, you might also feel some fear or uncertainty as you approach your retirement date. It can help to talk with friends who are already retired about what they went through during the transition. You will learn you’re not alone with how you’re feeling. It may also help to have a friend or someone else to confide in about your feelings.

Get on the same page with loved ones

Talk with your family members about your ideas and expectations after retiring. For example, are you hoping to see grandchildren every day? Is your spouse also retiring? What is the expectation about the time you’ll spend together or activities you’ll do together? Getting everything out in the open can help prevent disappointment or even conflict resulting from misaligned expectations.

Expect some discomfort

Recognize that you may feel discomfort through the transition, even if it’s mixed with happiness and excitement. We’ve heard from members who worked in schools that they found the start of the summer after retirement to be very enjoyable but then started to feel challenging emotions as the school year approached because they had been so used to preparing.

This is normal (and if you don’t feel discomfort, that’s okay too!). Try to be gentle with yourself and accept the emotions. Be aware of how much you take on. Sometimes people might fill their schedules to overcompensate for the loss and change.

“I felt empty – like I lost my school family. For me, it was a big adjustment.”

Lise Gravelle, RTOERO member

Remember, you can do hard things! 

Some people might breeze into retirement and never look back. Others will find the transition to be more of a challenge. There’s no right or wrong way or experience. If you’re finding aspects of the transition challenging, it can help to remind yourself of other significant changes you’ve been through. Recall how it felt at the time and how you were able to move through it. Reflect on how the experiences helped you to grow in some way.

When to reach out for help

If feelings of sadness interfere with day-to-day life and persist for two weeks or more, it may be time to reach out for more help. But there’s never a wrong time to see a social worker or psychologist. Social workers and psychologists are non-judgemental. They will allow you to talk and express yourself and help you explore ideas about your retirement.

Social work and psychology services are covered under RTOERO’s extended medical plan. When searching for practitioners, look for someone who works with older adults. Ask your family doctor for referrals, or search online. And you may not need to limit your search to your local area as many clinicians now offer virtual services.

The work you do to prepare emotionally is an essential part of retirement planning, but it’s not usually what comes to mind when we think about preparing for retirement. The good news is you can make YOU a priority in retirement, which may be a welcomed change!