By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
When it comes to retirement and empty nest planning, many people focus on their financial future and health care. While those are important, planning for mental and emotional health is important, too.
Change is stressful — even good changes, such as wrapping up a satisfying career, acquiring more free time and watching the children achieve their goals. But this phase of life causes a void — the loss of pleasure. These changes can cause some people to feel lost, confused, and depressed.
“A lot of people think about retirement as a vacation,” said Audrey Berger, PhD, the life coach at Turning Point Life Coaching in Rochester. “It’s really important to plan for the emotional and social aspects of retirement. A vacation for a time-limited period is nice, but an unlimited vacation is not so nice most of the time.”
People accustomed to structure in their lives struggle facing seemingly endless open hours. Lacking that structure can make them feel bored, frustrated and adrift.
Retirement and an empty house also means they lose the social connections that help support their emotional health. Berger said that although many people don’t view work as a social outlet, most say that they’ll miss their coworkers even if they’re ready to leave the work behind.
While their children live at home, parents’ social circle includes the parents of their children’s friends, teachers, coaches and instructors. But once the children leave home, those relationships likely fall by the wayside. People who downsize and move once their children leave home also lose relationships with neighbors.
“If they retire and they’re living alone, they’re potentially isolated and if married, they see one person all the time, unless they make extra effort,” Berger said. “It’s different where going somewhere every day is natural social environment.”
Going to work also gives many people a sense of purpose. Consider when introducing themselves, people provide their names and professions. After retirement, the identity shifts.
“It’s a sense of affiliation,” said Lynette Loomis, a master’s trained certified life coach, certified business coach and owner of Your Best Life in Rochester. “We need work friends, social friends and romantic relationships. It’s harder to make friends after retirement because we’re not in an environment where we meet people where we have someone in common.”
Planning for what to do after retirement should start long before the final day at work. The process starts with accepting retirement as a new phase of life that doesn’t have to mean no longer working.
Susan M. Larson, who has a master’s in education, is a nationally certified counselor. She operates Open the Door to Your Future, a life coaching business in Rochester.
“We used to think retirement was leaving work and almost like shutting a door,” Larson said. “Now we know that between 70 to 80 percent of people 50 and over continue to have an income stream and be engaged in meaningful work full- or part-time that may be paid, unpaid or both.”
She said that staying active in some type of occupation provides a sense of fulfillment and purpose.
She encourages clients to pinpoint what value their careers brought them and then they work together to find other ways to obtain those elements such as socialization, mental challenges, recognition and more.
But it’s okay to not work.
“Rather than going back into the corporate world, explore yourself,” said Karen Spaiches, a life coach in Rochester. “It’s not selfish. In the end, you’re you. It’s the life you’ve been given.”
Brainstorming, journaling, talking with trusted friends or a life coach may help guide provide guidance. Spaiches asks clients “why” when they make suggestions so she can dig down to what they’re looking for. Then they discuss if the reason is compelling enough to continue forward in that direction.
She also asks clients to list what they tolerate in their lives so they realize what aspects of their employment aren’t acceptable. That helps ensure they don’t form a plan that doesn’t pan out.
Assessing values, such as the importance of serving others or the need to receive recognition can also help determine what to do next.
Michele Lee Perticone, licensed massage therapist and owner of The Center for Body Wellness in Irondequoit, has clients think back to early memories of things they loved to do.
“Most of us put on a back burner and almost forget about unfulfilled dreams and aspirations,” Perticone said. “You’ll likely never become a ballerina at 67, especially if you never were one. But maybe you can help children dance or learn a different style yourself.
“You can still take initial passions and morph them into things that match our physical abilities.”
Continuing to learn should represent an important aspect of retirement. College classes — for credit or audit — can provide a means of learning, along with adult enrichment classes.
“New experiences keep you growing and broadening your perspectives and keep your brain connections growing and expanding,” Loomis said. “That’s why classes are so important.”