Jamie Winters, LCSW

For many people, a job or career can be an integral part of their identity and also provide socialization and a sense of purpose that has been cultivated throughout their lives.

So what happens when it’s time to retire?

It can be a wonderful time in life, but for some it is also very difficult to adapt, which can have a negative impact on their mental health.

For those experiencing depression, anxiety and other post-retirement mood disorders, help is available.

Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health provides a wide range of outpatient and inpatient services tailored to meet the needs of seniors.

Recognize warning signs

According to the National Institutes of Health, many older people are at risk for mental health problems such as depression and anxiety as they experience significant life changes that can come with age.

Physical illness, the death of a loved one, and retirement are all changes that can lead to feelings of sadness, stress, and insecurity.

Over time, older people are usually able to adapt to these changes, but some experience more difficulty than others.

This is why it is important to recognize the alarming signs of mental health problems in the elderly. These warning signs may include:

• Changes in mood or energy levels.
• Change your eating or sleeping habits.
• Deviate from people and occupations that you enjoy.
• Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, angry, upset, anxious, or afraid.
• Feeling numb or as if nothing matters.
• Unexplained pain.
• Feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
• Smoke, drink or use more drugs than usual.
• Anger, irritability or aggression.
• There are thoughts and memories that you can’t get out of your head.
• Listen to voices or believe things that are not true.
• Think of harming yourself or others.

If you or your loved ones are experiencing signs of a mental health problem, talk to your doctor or see a psychotherapist. In many cases, depression and anxiety can be successfully treated with talk therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

Creativity is the key to a successful transition

When it comes to retirement, one of the keys to a successful transition is finding ways to replace the mental stimulation, socialization, physical activity and goals that your career has provided. Some suggestions:

• Identify strategies to anticipate. Think about what retirement might look like before the big day. You can plan a gradual transition rather than a sudden stop by keeping a part-time job or working as a consultant.

• Build structure in your day. Without a built-in structure provided by work, there is more time to reflect on regrets about the past and “what if” in the future. Structure can help you live in the moment and make the most of your every day. Try to set a goal for the three key parts of each day: something to lift you up in the morning, such as a volunteer role; something to look forward to in the afternoon, like lunch with a friend or a walk with a neighbor; and anything to close the evening, such as a favorite meal or a good book.

• Limit news consumption. When at home, it’s easy to get into the habit of keeping the TV on. However, because news can be a constant, recurring cycle of alarming information – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic – retirees are better off limiting their consumption of news to an hour every day, including reading the morning paper.

• Be creative. Retirement can provide an opportunity to explore new interests. Finding ways to bring inspiration to life in recent years can help improve mental health.

• Visit often. Talk to friends who are also going through this new stage in life, and see how they cope. Contact family members if you need extra support, and stay connected.

• Stay present. Try to make the most of the current moment and stay present. In other words, put your mind where your feet are. Focus on what you are doing now, not thinking about the past or the future. Accept that life is unpredictable and you don’t know what the future will bring.

• Stay hopeful. Although your life may have changed, it is still worth living. You can still find opportunities for interaction and fun.

• Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you are struggling with retirement or other changes that come with age, don’t be ashamed to seek help and guidance. You deserve your pension. You deserve to enjoy it.

For more information on Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health or to find a therapist with Princeton House, call 888-437-1610 or visit www.princetonhouse.org.

Jamie Winters, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and senior primary care therapist at the Princeton House North Brunswick outpatient clinic.

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