It’s very common to experience depression in retirement, but there are many ways to help bring new purpose into your life and ease these symptoms.
For many people, retirement can be a double-edged sword.
Not everyone is lucky enough to fully retire from a decades-long career with a retirement fund or Social Security payments that completely cover their expenses. Some retirees have to return to the workforce — even if in a diminished capacity — to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, for those who can fully retire, shifting into this new life stage can be difficult. Just like parents entering the “empty nest” stage may experience depression, it’s not uncommon for newly retired individuals to face this reality too.
Know that you’re not alone: Retirement is a major milestone, and adjusting to it can take time. Learning how to cope with your new normal, and knowing what to do if you feel stuck, can help you make the most out of this new stage in your life.
If you realize you’ve been feeling a bit blue in retirement, this is perfectly normal.
Shifting from a day organized around a predictable routine to one where you can come and go as you choose, with no real schedule, can be a shocking transition.
According to a 2020 meta-analysis, roughly
How long does retirement depression last?
A specific life event may trigger it, but how retirement depression manifests and how long it lasts vary.
Some people may only experience depression for a few weeks. Others may live with it for years. Learning how to cope with depression and when to seek professional help can help reduce this timeline.
Depression may be more pronounced in people with a diminished social network. Some retirees may find themselves spending significant time alone, whether because they are divorced, widowed, or loved ones don’t live nearby.
Similarly, someone forced out of the workforce rather than willfully retiring may also find it difficult to adjust to this stage of their life. Forced retirement can cause anxiety and feelings of resentment and anger at themselves, former employers, and even loved ones.
Another cause of retirement depression can be marital issues. For example, not communicating and setting expectations about this transition with your spouse can put a strain on the relationship.
In fact, among retiring or older adults, the divorce rate is 43% for ages 55–64 and 39% for ages 65–74, according to a 2016 report by the U.S. Census Bureau. The report notes the national average for divorce is 34%.
While rebuilding a social network and creating stronger ties in your marriage and community may help limit depression, underlying health and financial security concerns must also be addressed.
How do you stay mentally sharp after retirement?
You can stay mentally sharp through retirement by pursuing a previous passion or acquiring a new hobby.
Whether you want to learn a new language, practice a new musical instrument, or take a dance class, doing a new activity helps keep your brain sharp and reduces the risk of cognitive decline.
For most people, the primary cause of retirement depression is feeling like they lack purpose. They may feel like they don’t have enough to do. Perhaps their identity was tied to their work life, or they feel adrift with their remaining personal relationships.
Additionally, anxieties about affording the remainder of their years or changing social connections can worsen depression.
One of the best ways to cope with retirement depression is by seeking opportunities to bring purpose back into your life.
Stick to a schedule
To maintain a sense of purpose and order, try creating a schedule to stick to.
Try to wake up around the same time every day and pepper your calendar with weekly activities. This gives you something to look forward to.
Don’t retire completely
If you’re concerned that full retirement might leave you feeling listless, opt for partial retirement. Slowly scale back your working hours so you can build a lifestyle and identity that don’t depend on your job.
Find new passions
Consider trying a new hobby, joining social events for other retirees, or volunteering to give you a sense of purpose.
Teach an old passion
If learning a new hobby doesn’t sound like something you would enjoy right now, you could try passing on the skills you already have.
Offering lessons for a musical instrument, fabric arts, or cooking can give you projects to focus on and possibly bring in extra spending money as well.
Teaching others can also have the additional benefit of helping connect you to younger generations and widen your social network.
Don’t neglect your social network
As you age, it can be harder to stay connected with loved ones.
If you live near friends and family, retirement gives you the freedom to spend time with them. But if you don’t live near loved ones, consider seeking out new connections by joining event groups, stopping by a local senior center, or even joining virtual groups.
If you’re still married, take this time as an opportunity to reconnect with your spouse, understand what motivates them, and how you can spend time together and apart in meaningful ways.
Being sedentary can have serious effects on your health. The less active you are, the higher your risk of experiencing a fall that causes poor health outcomes.
Aim to reach 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 5 days a week.
Consider professional help
If shaking up your schedule doesn’t ease your depression symptoms, you may want to consider seeing a mental health care professional.
Just like your primary care doctor helps you cope with the symptoms of physical conditions, a mental health care professional can help you develop strategies to manage and improve your mental health. If needed, they can also recommend or prescribe medication to help manage your depression.
Is it OK to do nothing after retirement?
Some people are genuinely happy to do nothing after they retire from a lifetime spent pursuing career objectives. If this is you, do not feel shame about enjoying the relaxation you’ve earned.
However, it’s still a good idea to find a way to stay physically active. Staying active can encourage better physical mobility and health and boost your mood.
This doesn’t mean you need to find a part-time job or create a hectic schedule.
Rather, staying physically active can look like regular walks in your favorite park or traveling to visit relatives you haven’t seen in a while.
Retirement is a big transition. While many people are excited to start this stage, it can also be challenging for others.
From affordability to social isolation concerns, some people find that this shift can be a difficult adjustment and experience depression as a result.
Rethinking your retirement plan by gradually reducing your work hours, pursuing new hobbies, and maintaining or building new social connections may help you cope with retirement depression.