retirement planningOne of the biggest surprises people find when they retire is that retirement is not the panacea they expected. Too often, they view it as winning the lottery — as though retirement is going to take away all their problems. They fail to realize they’re still going to face many of the same challenges they did before, along with some new ones.

According to a poll by American Demographics, nearly half of all retired workers have a difficult time adjusting to retirement. These figures illustrate the importance of having realistic expectations of retirement along with the need to prepare emotionally as well as financially.

It’s not surprising when you consider everything that’s changing. After decades of structured, scheduled time, you find yourself adrift in unstructured, unscheduled time. You may miss your colleagues and the camaraderie of your work environment, or even your own sense of identity, especially if it was largely defined by your career.

Additionally, retirement comes at a time when health problems tend to develop and deaths among friends and peers increase. Even without these complications, retirement is such a major transition that many people actually experience the grieving process.

If you are planning to retire soon or find yourself struggling as a retiree, there are a number of steps you can take to ease the transition.

First, talk to others. Not only does it help to put your feelings into words, it also helps when you share them with others, be they close friends, family members or members of a support group. It’s especially helpful to associate with others who are enjoying retirement; they can validate your feelings while also providing a positive example. Building these connections will also strengthen your social network.

Second, create an identity outside of your work. You have many roles in life — spouse, parent, grandparent, friend, volunteer. Work to develop yourself in those other roles and identify new ones.

Third, explore new interests. Many people find retirement an ideal time to plant the garden they’ve always wanted, earn another degree, volunteer in their community or visit national parks. By viewing retirement as a time for new beginnings, you focus less on what you’ve left behind.

Fourth, take care of your marriage. Retirement can place tremendous stress on even the healthiest marital relationships. Work with your spouse to identify each partner’s individual needs, especially for time and space alone, and develop a plan that works for both of you.  If you still find yourselves struggling, seek help from a qualified marriage counselor.

Fifth, take care of yourself. It can take several months to adjust to life as a retiree, but if you’re still struggling with feelings of sadness, isolation, disinterest in activities you once enjoyed after a year of retirement, see your family doctor. A physician can rule out any physical problems and determine whether you are suffering from depression. If you are depressed, talk therapy and medication can be very effective, and your doctor can direct you to those resources.

Finally, start living. You’ve worked most of your life to reach this milestone. Now it’s time to appreciate the new opportunities retirement brings. Embracing this new stage of life with realistic expectations and careful planning can ease the transition from living to work to just plain living.