Ann Corbett worked for more than 20 years as the principal of a Catholic school. Her days were filled with leading children in morning prayer and other faith-based activities. After she retired, Corbett, who lives in Bethesda and worked in Washington, D.C., had difficulty maintaining the daily connection to her faith.
“My job was the way that I stayed connected to my faith and people who shared my faith,” she said. “I think I took it for granted because when I retired, I lost all of that. I was no longer leading prayers and teaching children about their faith. When I retired, I really struggled to regain my footing and feel grounded in my spirituality.”
While financial planning is often associated with retirement preparation, emotional preparedness is equally as important, but often overlooked, say mental health professionals. Like other significant life transitions, retirement can require an emotional adjustment, and even those who feel ready to leave the workforce can feel caught off guard by the adjustment to it.
“Most people are thinking that they need to save, save, save and have a comfortable nest egg before retire and that’s important, but they don’t realize that they’re going to experience social and structural voids after they retire,” said Alexandria psychotherapist Monica Kleinman, Psy.D. “If you think about it, most of our interpersonal connections and social opportunities revolve around our jobs. Going to work every day give us structure and a predictable routine.”
Kleinman adds, “Those who are thinking about retirement or know that retirement is in their near future should ask themselves, ‘How will I spend my time?’ ‘What will my daily routine look like?’ ”
A person’s identity and sense of self-worth is often connected to their job, says Kleinman. “That might not be healthy, but it’s a reality for a lot of people,” she said. “Our jobs give us a sense of purpose, and for some people, their job is a status symbol. When you go to a party, think about the number of time times you’re asking what you do for a living.”
Volunteer work is one way that marriage and family counselor Tiffany Grimm suggests retirees maintain a sense of purpose. “If you were an attorney, you can volunteer with an organization that allows you to offer legal services to people who can’t afford an attorney. If you’re a teacher, you could volunteer with a learn-to read type program or teach English-as-a-second language type classes,” she said.
Retirees often experience loneliness, says Kleinman who suggests developing a strong social network before retiring. “Loneliness and isolation can be a killer,” she said. “Before you retire, reconnect with old friends and develop new friendships outside of work. Go out and socialize in ways that are not connected to your job. Invitations to events that are tied to your job tend to dry up when you leave, so it’s very important to socialize frequently outside of work and to keep doing that after you retire.”
Kleinman also recommends building and maintain strong relationships with family members “One way to combat loneliness and the shock of retirement is having a connection with family members, especially your adult children and your grandchildren,” she said. “Think about taking your grandchildren to the park or a museum or on a vacation with you and spending uninterrupted quality time with them. Have lunch or dinner with your adult children.”
Engaging in activities with groups, like social or religious clubs help retirees avoid feelings of isolation, says Grimm. “Whether it’s a stamp club or weekly Bible study group, you have to be connected to groups of people in a regular, consistent and predictable way, just like you were when you worked,” she said. “It’s important to our overall wellbeing to be connected to a wide variety of people and personalities in a positive way. Think about things you enjoy doing or any hobbies that you have or would like to have, and join groups with people who share your interests.”