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Are you ready for retirement?

Adjusting to retirement can be difficult. Louise Duffield learnshow to make the change go smoothly, while father-in-law Mike Duffield explains how he made the switch

Many of us dream for years about retirement, yet when it turns into reality, it’s not always the paradise we expect it to be.

Psychologist Linda Blair says she’s been seeing more patients recently who are having difficulty adjusting emotionally to this new phase in their life.

One of the reasons, she believes, is the growing culture of working increasing hours – creating an even larger gap in life when the time comes to give up work completely. Another reason, she thinks, is that many people have switched to less secure employment, such as contract and short-term working, which has led to anxiety generally in life.

Retirement is a big change, with potential effects on many aspects of life. “Any change is stressful even if it’s a change to something really good,” says Linda. “We operate by habit. That’s what people do. You have got to expect it will be difficult to adjust. I’m not suggesting you don’t do it – just warning you.”

It will take a minimum of six weeks, probably a season, but more likely a full year before the adjustment takes place completely, she believes.

Some people have more difficulty than others in adjusting to retirement and this depends on how they define themselves. It’s often more difficult for those who define themselves by what they do, rather than who they are.

In an ideal situation Linda advises preparing for the emotional impact of retirement at least six months or preferably a year before.

Start by thinking about how you define yourself. “Stop saying you are a doctor, for example. Say ‘I work in a GP surgery, I am English and I enjoy gardening’, or ‘I have three grand kids’. Make sure when you think of yourself you are thinking in a rounded way. It will help enormously.

“The second thing is, don’t hit the wall running. If you are working full-time and you stop, it’s a big change.”

Talk to your employer and try to organise a phased run-down to retirement where you can gradually work fewer hours. “You should start handing over duties at least three months before you retire,” advises Linda, an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society.

This will give you the chance to see that the work is being carried out satisfactorily and will be something less to worry about once you’ve moved on.

“People worry because they care about their job. If you can watch someone doing it you will feel a lot better about that aspect.”

Another idea is to draw up some plans for what you might do in retirement.

“Start putting in some interesting things to do that will expand once you retire, so maybe you join a choir and you just go to practices but not take part in concerts just yet. You will then have things that keep going when the other things stop.”

She also suggests keeping a notebook close by so you can jot down ideas of things you’d like to do. In the six weeks before retirement, rank them in order and start writing notes about what you need to do to make those things happen. Maybe you need to ring your local college to sort out enrolment on a course you fancy, or perhaps you need to start saving a little fund to replant your flower borders.

Keeping socially active, enjoying hobbies, meeting friends and having a positive outlook on life are key factors in making the most of retirement, studies have found.

A study by Skipton Building Society discovered that men find retirement to be one of the most fulfilling periods of their lives, taking up new hobbies and interests, and regularly seeing close friends. Women, however, are more likely to worry about financial issues, feel lonely in retirement and miss the social ‘buzz’ of the workplace.

Stacey Stothard, corporate communications manager at Skipton Building Society, which commissioned the study of 678 retirees, says: “It’s quite feasible you could spend a third of your life in retirement, so your post-work years really are what you make of them. After spending between 20 and 40 years in employment, it can be a shock to the system to find you have 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to yourself.

“What makes one person happy can differ significantly from another. So why not take stock of what really interests and motivates you? For some people it’s having a sense of achievement; for others it’s having a specific project to manage; and some people simply thrive from office camaraderie. There are plenty of similar things to do outside work that offer the same challenge and enjoyment.”

The study found clear differences in attitudes to retirement between men and women, although the importance of keeping busy was a common factor between the two. For women, a happy retirement relies on a good social life – 56 per cent try to regularly meet up with friends compared with just 33 per cent of men, while 62 per cent of retired women said they missed the banter of the workplace, compared with just 44 per cent of men.

Read the full article with case studies here

Have you retired or thought about retiring? How did you prepare? 

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