Understanding and Overcoming Retirement Anxiety

senior executive overwhelmed by thought of retirement

Welcome to my two-part post about overcoming retirement anxiety. After working for nearly two decades to help lawyers and other professionals retire from intense careers, I am keenly aware of how many people quietly suffer with anxiety at the thought of an impending retirement.  But we have a proven approach to overcoming retirement anxiety and can help you make the most out of the next chapter of your life or help a friend or loved one to do the same.  In this first part, we will help you understand what retirement anxiety is, how it can manifest, and what some of the risks and misconceptions are that stem from it.

Understanding Retirement Anxiety

The following will help you to understand what retirement anxiety is, evaluate the true risk of decline in retirement, recognize misconceptions about retiring, and obtain other crucial information that will help you to overcome retirement anxiety.

Retirement anxiety is a common issue. For those who have dedicated their lives to their careers, the impending loss of a professional identity can seem as daunting as the loss of life itself. The good news is that lots of people feel this way, and while it is common to experience retirement anxiety as you consider the end of your professional life, there is just as much to look forward to.  In fact, this next chapter offers many people their first opportunity to prioritize what matters to them most.

What is retirement anxiety?

Retirement anxiety is a normal and natural reaction to facing an undefined future after the end of an intense career. Common concerns focus on the fear of losing:

  • purpose
  • energy
  • professional identity
  • day-to-day life structure
  • relevance as a citizen of the world
  • the sense of making a difference

Most intense career professionals experience varying degrees of anxiety as they approach retirement. In fact, the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress inventory rates the event ‘Retirement from Work’ as the 10th most stressful event one can experience in his or her lifetime, ranking above ‘Pregnancy’ and ‘Taking on a Mortgage’.

How can I tell if someone I love is at risk of experiencing decline in retirement?

There are a number of warning signs that someone you know or love is at risk of decline in retirement, including:

  • Avoiding the activities necessary to prepare for retirement
  • Feeling “blocked” when attempting to generate ideas for future engagement
  • Pushing a retirement date out, even after committing to a date
  • Working as hard as ever right up to the last day
  • Refusing to tell clients, colleagues and friends about an impending retirement
  • Expressing concern about financial security, despite ample resources

What are the risks and dangers of retirement anxiety?

Retirement anxiety can negatively impact one’s life both before and after retirement. Unaddressed, retirement anxiety can evolve into a rapid decline in both mental and physical well being.

Common problems that occur during retirement by those experiencing acute anxiety include:

  • Depression
  • Loss of energy, due to a sense of ‘stagnation’ within their lives
  • Feelings of isolation, since the workplace often provides people with a healthy amount of social stimulation
  • Reduced self-esteem and loss of confidence, due to the paranoia that they are no longer contributing to society
  • Strained personal relationships
  • Isolation
  • Over-reliance on a spouse or a spouse’s social network
  • Increased dependence on substances
  • Increased risk of illness or early morbidity

What are common misconceptions about retirement anxiety and retirement?

I’ll just figure it out. In our experience, this approach at best wastes valuable time and at worst risks a spiral of depression that makes forward progress even harder. When you engage in some intentional planning and then get into specific action, you enjoy the sense of control and empowerment that comes along with defining and shaping a new future.

I must be the only person who feels this way. Almost everyone retiring from a substantial and demanding career feels some sense of loss and anxiety with this important life transition.

I am supposed to look forward to the end of my career—what is wrong with me? Nothing is wrong with you. Society sends two wrong messages about retirement that cause confusion: (1) the only planning I need to do is financial and (2) this is the beginning of the end.

A life of leisure should be enough on its own. While this sounds like it should be true, humans require a balance between leisure time and meaningful work to feel most fulfilled and alive.

I cannot feel fulfilled without a full-time occupation. In our work, we open the mind to embracing a variety of new experiences, activities and engagements that are now possible with the freedom this new chapter of life brings.

My most important and impactful years are behind me now. This could not be further from the truth.  Your most impactful years should be ahead of you, where all your accumulated wisdom, experience, relationships, and resources can come together to make a difference like never before. You can now decide what to do based on what’s most fulfilling for you.

Be sure to check in next week for the second part of this discussion about overcoming retirement anxiety, where I will share some of the most powerful ideas we have developed about how to deal with overcoming retirement anxiety and build toward a satisfying life after an intense career.

Overcome Retirement Anxiety

The retirement coaches at Encoraco work with highly successful lawyers and business professionals to navigate retirement anxiety and provide a roadmap to a satisfying retirement.

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