If you’re like many people, you’ve probably been planning the financial aspects of your retirement for years. You’ve saved in a company-sponsored retirement plan, earned a pension and accrued Social Security benefits. Certainly, these steps will add to your peace of mind, but to make the most of your retirement years, you’ll also be wise to do some emotional planning.

While many may casually view retirement as a time to enjoy the fruits of your lifelong labors, retirement — like most major life changes — actually can touch off anxiety and depression for a number of people. In fact, according to a poll by American Demographics, nearly half of all retired workers report having a difficult time adjusting to retirement.

The adjustment is difficult for a number of reasons. You may find yourself living on a tighter budget with fewer economic resources. You may experience role confusion, which can be worsened if you derived much of your personal identity from your professional life. You may experience declining health or view yourself as no longer productive.

Societal notions often don’t help. Retirement is sometimes viewed as moving away from vitality and youth into a place of diminished abilities. Our culture tends to overvalue youth, dismissing the benefits and wisdom that come with decades of experience. Too often, Americans view retirement as the end of productivity and either the beginning of play or the beginning of the end.

Obviously, the antidote is rejecting such notions and approaching retirement with a sense of opportunity. Instead of identifying yourself as the professional you’ve been for so many years, now is your opportunity to choose a new identity. It could be that of a community volunteer, master gardener, world traveler, involved grandparent or fitness buff — whatever you reasonably desire.

Many people actually improve their mental and physical health in retirement. They have more time for the physical activities they enjoy and more time to further their education. The adage ‘use it or lose it’ applies well, and mature people are perfectly capable of learning and growing, producing both new neurons in the brain and new healthy cells in the body.

This positive approach to retirement requires planning. If you’re anticipating retirement in the near future or are finding dissatisfaction in it already, realize you have an unparalleled opportunity to reinvent yourself. Assess what you don’t want for yourself in retirement along with what you do want, and develop an action plan to get you there.

Keep in mind it is normal to experience differing emotional phases in retirement. Expect a honeymoon phase in the beginning, followed by some disillusionment, then reorientation and stability.

It’s not uncommon to experience depression along the way, particularly in the disillusionment phase. If you are struggling — especially if you experience a loss of appetite or a sense of worthlessness or hopelessness — don’t wait to seek help from your physician to rule out any physical maladies and a qualified therapist to help you work through your difficulties. Clearly, the sooner you can move beyond depression the sooner you can begin what may well be the most satisfying time in your life.

As published in the March 2006 Edition of the Vernon County Broadcaster.