Adjusting to Retirement
Retirement often is heralded as the ‘golden’ period of our lives. The idea is that after a lifetime of labor, we have earned the right to take it easy for the rest of our lives. Parents may say, “At long last, after raising my family, I can finally relax!” Masons may recount their years of hard physical labor with a smile, as they remember with pride the various jobs they worked on, and their efforts at making a particular building project stand out above all the rest and become a testament to the dedication and expertise of their skills. And, retirees may look forward to the time when their children and grandchildren will gaze in wonder and awe at the craftsmanship of a generation of union masons - masons who often labored hard in bad weather, at precarious heights and under challenging situations to carry out their work. Retirees and their families need only glance to see that the fruits of a lifetime of labor surround and embrace them in the schools, libraries, hospitals and business centers that comprise the very heart of the community in which they live.
It’s easier to transition to retirement when we feel good about what we have already accomplished in life. Giving ourselves credit for what we have done well also provides confidence that we can equally enjoy the next phase of life – the golden years of retirement. We can also give pause to consider our hopes and dreams, and whatever gives us a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Retirement heralds a time when we can relinquish the hurried pace of our youth to leisurely pursue activities we enjoy. Whether it be relaxing with family and friends, becoming more involved in spiritual activities, doing volunteer work for a local charity, spending time at hobbies or just sitting idly watching the hum of nature or children at play, retirement affords ample opportunities to consider and become a part of the things in life that matter most.
Tips for Making a Healthy Adjustment to Retirement
Just as teenagers experience “growing pains” as they adjust to physical, hormonal and emotional changes that come with adolescence, retirees must also cope with a myriad of changes that accompany their retirement. In fact, each phase of our life brings its own unique challenges and special joys. Paying close attention to our emotional, mental and physical health helps to insure that the transition to retirement continues to be a happy, productive period of life.
Monitoring Mental Health
Experts have long recognized that while a majority of retirees adjust well to retirement, many have a particularly difficult time. In fact, retirees who fail to adjust to their new lifestyles are especially vulnerable to experiencing severe clinical depression. And, because many retirees suffering from depression have no prior history of emotional problems or mental illness, they may not recognize when they are becoming clinically depressed. Another concern is that many retirees confuse physical health problems with depression. For example, depressed retirees may complain about physical ailments, such as an upset stomach or arthritic knee, while neglecting to mention emotional distress. And while some retirees are embarrassed to talk about anxiety or depression, many simply do not recognize their symptoms as being associated with emotional illness. Retirees often confuse common symptoms of depression with other illnesses. For instance, retirees who experiences difficulty sleeping may assume the problem is related to their arthritis, or mistakenly attribute their sudden lack of appetite to problems with their digestion, when, in fact, these could be symptoms of depression. Finally, many may be surprised to learn that men over the age of 70 are among the highest risk for committing suicide, even when they have no prior history of having had depression.
The good news is that when properly diagnosed, depression is a treatable illness. Traditional “talk” psychotherapies, in which the retiree meets privately with a licensed mental health professional, have been proven extremely effective in helping retirees recognize and resolve problems adjusting to retirement. In addition, medication therapies target chemical imbalances in the brain to help heal depression. Newer “anti-depressant” medications not only are safe, but also are non-addictive and often have few, if any side effects to taking the medication.
Keeping physically fit and mentally strong
In proof of the old adage emphasizing the need to “use it or lose it,” retirees who remain physically active feel better and live longer, healthier lives. This is especially true when comparing active retirees to their “couch potato” counterparts. While some retirees experience health problems that interfere with or preclude certain forms of exercise, a variety of options remain for keeping physically fit. The retiree who no longer can play tennis, for example, may transition to playing golf, or give up traditional calisthenics for “water aerobics.” It is also important for retirees to discuss their exercise options with their family doctor to insure they are making a wise choice and to learn about other fitness opportunities of which they may be unaware. Many community centers now sponsor free or low cost exercise programs specifically designed to fit the needs of retirees.
Another tip for keeping physically fit is to remember to complete an annual physical, and to stay in regular communication with one’s family physician regarding any changes to one’s health. It is also important to complete recommended health screenings that help prevent minor health concerns from becoming major illnesses. In addition, routine health screenings also identify potential health problems early on, at a stage when they might be easily corrected.
Keeping fit also involves staying connected to the world around us by avoiding becoming too isolated in our own homes. Isolation and boredom not only contributes to depression, but also prevents us from receiving mental stimulation necessary to staying mentally strong. Retirees who spend time with their grandchildren, socialize with friends, attend church, volunteer or pursue social clubs related to a favorite hobby will encounter new people and ideas to help keep them continue feeling young. Housebound or disabled retirees might consider using the telephone or Internet to connect with other people.
Eating right and taking medications
Many health problems, including high blood pressure and diabetes, can be prevented by eating right. For most of us, this means enjoying a nutritious, low fat diet while avoiding certain foods that either may harm our health or aggravate existing health conditions. Overweight retirees might consider asking their family doctors for a referral to a registered nurse dietician, who can tailor a weight loss regimen specific to their individual needs. Another advantage is that in the spirit of prevention and promoting wellness, many insurance companies now pay the costs for retirees to receive such services. Medicare also provides 80 percent coverage for referrals to dieticians and nutritionists provided the retiree first meets a $100 deductible and certain health criteria, such as having been diagnosed with diabetes or a kidney disease. For more information, contact Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE or 1-800-633-4227.
Retirees who take multiple medications sometimes complain they have trouble keeping up with their medication regimen. It is important to keep a written list of the names of each medication, dosage and for what purpose the medication is being taken. Retirees who are having problems paying for medications might consider asking their family doctors for free medication samples. Low-income retirees are often eligible to receive free medications offered through charitable programs through major pharmaceutical companies.
If you or someone you know needs assistance with retirement concerns or connecting with resources to help with retirement planning, help is available. Call the Bricklayers’ Member Assistance Program (MAP) to confidentially speak to a licensed mental health professional. Call toll-free at 1-888-880-8222