You were so excited to retire. You did it all right and saved and planned and saved and planned. And you’ve taken full advantage so far. You’ve been on numerous cruises in the past few years, your garden last summer was bursting with produce, and you’ve never been so caught up on house projects.
But the honeymoon phase has come and gone and now something just seems … off.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. And you’re not alone. Mental health issues have skyrocketed for everyone, including retirees, during the COVID-19 pandemic. But even prior to the pandemic, about one in 10 (11%) adults age 65 and older report depression or anxiety based on the 2018 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey.
So what can you do about the post-retirement blues? Here are five tips for staying fulfilled and mentally and emotionally healthy during retirement after the novelty wears off.
1. Keep to a Schedule
Most of us start school around age 5 or 6. If you retired around age 65, your mind and body were used to a routine for close to 60 years. Getting a short break from that can be nice, as we all get during holiday and vacations and as you got during the beginning of retirement. But getting back into a schedule is what you’re used to and can be a great way to combat depression.
Getting up at a regular time, eating regular meals, and scheduling other daily activities is a good place to start. Then look at weekly and monthly things to do. Maybe you could start having a standing coffee date with a friend each week or joining a book club that meets each month. Get a calendar and make sure you have a fun variety of things to look forward to throughout your week and month.
2. Dive into a Hobby
Even with a schedule, boredom can sneak in and make any day bluer. Your career gave you a sense of purpose, and you may have lost that in retirement. Finding a hobby or diving into something you’ve always wanted to do or learn – from playing guitar or writing a book to upcycling that cabinet you bought eons ago or cooking up a storm – can help keep you busy, give you something fun to do, and make you feel accomplished.
We’ve all read stories about the grandma who earned her Ph.D. or the 80-year-old man who climbed Mount Everest. Whatever your thing is, find it and pursue it.
3. Go Volunteer
Studies show several physical and mental benefits of volunteering for older adults, including lower rates of depression and anxiety.
It doesn’t have to be formal volunteering either where you sign up and do a whole day or a whole weekend. You could do one-off projects for a neighbor down the street, work the polls on election days, or decide to volunteer a few hours each week.
In addition to having a hobby, serving others can give you that sense of purpose in addition to something to look forward to. Plus, there’s always a little bit of a dopamine rush when you help someone (or a pet) in need, which can help relieve stress.
4. Consider Part-Time Work
I know, I know. You retired so you wouldn’t have to work anymore. But some of us aren’t built to never work again. And that’s OK. If that is you, you don’t have to go back to the daily grind. Instead, you could pick up a temporary, seasonal, or part-time gig to keep your mind and hands busy, give you somewhere to go, and people to socialize with.
You could find something in an area you enjoy but has nothing to do with your career. Have you always been a weekend carpenter? Maybe work at a hardware store. Prefer to sell your own crafts? Try a crafts store or local art/farmers market. And there’s always food delivery and ride share if you’d prefer to make your own hours.
5. Stay Active
When your body is active, your mind is healthier. So get moving whether that is signing up for a yoga class, going golfing, or simply finding a friend to join you at the end of the block for a nightly stroll.
You may even consider getting a pet. A dog, obviously, you can take on walks. Other animals will help you stay active even within your own house, especially during the winter, by requiring regular feeding, water, love and attention.
Retirement is What You Make It
When it comes down to it, retirement is like anything else in life—you get out what you put in. Even the greatest career, the greatest partner, or the greatest retirement plan require our participation to make it work favorably.
Of course, it’s always beneficial to think about how you’ll spend your retirement ahead of time, since that helps you estimate your income need. But what fulfills you in the beginning might look a lot different in the end, so remain flexible and open to explore new interests, patterns, and opportunities along the way.