Managing Stress in Retirement

I have been reading a lot over the past year about the leading causes of stress in retirement and how stress directly affects your health. One thing that has become clear is that stress is not just a young person’s problem. Although financial stress peaks for most people in their 40s, other types of stress become more prevalent in later years. We like to think of retirement as a time when you get to relax, travel, and bask in your accumulated wisdom. However, new concerns, such as managing health issues, making your money last, and dealing with “loss” are part of aging.

Good vs. bad stress

It is important to distinguish between good stress and bad stress. Good stress drives us to expand our comfort zone, take chances, and accomplish new things. Successfully dealing with pressure builds confidence, which is why athletes, emergency responders, and astronauts purposely incorporate stressful situations into their training. We should not always seek to be comfortable. The reality is we frequently cannot control the timing and type of stress that shows up in our lives. The goal should be to: 1) minimize stress that is chronic or severe whenever possible, and 2) learn to deal with stress in healthy ways.

There is no doubt about it, stress can be harmful. Severe or chronic stress can lead to sleep disorders, alcohol or drug problems, high blood pressure, and increased likelihood of heart attack or stroke. However, a study conducted at Stanford University found that embracing stress can be more important than reducing it.

How do you embrace stress?

Psychologists have found that the ability to embrace stress requires a tolerance for uncertainty. Often, the same thoughts run through our heads in a continuous loop. This is not productive. Try to let the thoughts go (visualize a butterfly flying away with the thought) and let the feelings be. This is easier said than done, but you must feel the feelings or else negative health consequences are likely to manifest. Acknowledge the feelings and let them wash over you like a wave. Just like you can’t stop a wave from crashing, and you can’t avoid feelings. The key is to get yourself back on track.

Best Ways to Manage Stress in retirement

  1. Write: There is something incredibly helpful about getting thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Write down the causes of your stress and some possible short-term solutions or ideas.
  2. Read: Sometimes it’s better not to focus on your story but someone else’s. Read a biography or fiction.
  3. Meditate and Be Thankful: The benefits of meditation are indisputable. It is also easier than ever to learn to meditate. You can find guided meditation classes in every major city or download this app and do it at home for free: Headspace.
  4. Take Care of Yourself: Exercise, Nutrition, and Sleep.
  5. Get a Pet: Pets offer soothing comfort and unconditional love to their owners. Several studies have shown that pet owners live longer.
  6. Leave the house: Spending time on your computer or smartphone typically does not help (other than reading this blog, of course). Go to the gym, the mall, a coffee shop, bookstore, etc.

Now that we have covered what to do, one point about what not to do: Excessive use of stimulants (e.g., caffeine) or depressants (e.g., alcohol) exacerbate the effects of stress. So, don’t go there.

Final Thought:

It is always difficult to accept that two seemingly opposite things can be true at the same time. Yet going through something stressful can bring up negative feelings, and it can also make you stronger, more compassionate, and more resilient over time.

I hope your holidays and new year are filled only with good stress. Have a great week.