How To Cope With Depression or Loneliness in Retirement

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After several decades in the working world, most people look forward to retirement as a time to pick up new hobbies, travel, connect with loved ones, and take some much-deserved rest.

While retirement comes easy for some, many struggle to adjust to this new way of life. Some find that, rather than being an oasis of rest and relaxation, retirement is a time of loneliness, loss of purpose, and even retirement depression. 

elderly couple in an orchard
Photo by Tristan Le on Pexels

Many people turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with these negative feelings, like overspending or excessive drinking. Unfortunately, rather than helping, these coping mechanisms tend only to make things worse. In this article, we’ll give an overview of why the retirement blues are common for so many people, and healthier ways you can cope with retirement loneliness.

The Statistics 

Depression in retirement is much more common than you might think:

  • About 1 in 3 retirees experience depressive symptoms.1
  • Older adults with health conditions are at a higher risk of developing depression.2
  • Experts believe that depression tends to be misdiagnosed and under-detected in older adults.3 
  • Retirement can increase overall drinking, including binge drinking.4

If you recognize yourself or someone you love in these statistics, know that you’re not alone. Retirement depression is quite common, and many people turn to alcohol for help coping with the retirement transition. While it’s normal to turn to familiar sources of comfort to cope with negative emotions, relying on alcohol as a coping mechanism can lead to many more problems down the road.

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Why People May Experience Depression in Retirement

Retirement can be a time of great stress and upheaval, which can bring about many complex emotions. Here are some common reasons why people may experience depression in retirement.

Change in daily activities

The retirement transition undoubtedly involves a slower pace of life than many are used to. This can be a big adjustment for people who have been used to a busy lifestyle. Especially for people who previously worked a 9-5 job outside the home, they may find themselves with more free time on their hands than they know what to do with. This change in daily activities can lead to increased depression, with retirees feeling like they don’t have enough to do to fill their days. 

Financial stress

Retirement can be a time of increased financial stress. Many people rely on their income from work to support themselves and their families. When they retire, they may no longer have this income and may be forced to stick to a much more stringent budget. Potential health issues or conditions can also add to this financial stress, with many retirees having different insurance coverage than they previously did before retirement.

Loss of identity

Think of how often you hear the question “What do you do?” when meeting someone new. Many of us profoundly identify our careers as part of who we are. After years of working, many people find themselves at a loss when they retire. They may even feel like they no longer have a purpose in life or have lost a fundamental part of who they are.

Social isolation

Retirement can also be a time of great social isolation. Many people retire from jobs where they have worked for many years. They may have developed strong relationships with their co-workers. When they retire, they may no longer see these people on a daily basis. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Healthy Ways To Cope 

Retirement doesn’t need to feel heavy or lonely—it can be quite the opposite. But it’s certainly not unusual if you’re struggling with depression after you stop working. Here are some healthy ways to cope with the retirement blues.

Volunteer

Volunteering in retirement can be a great way to stay active and engaged in your community. Consider the causes and issues that are important to you and research ways you could volunteer. There are many opportunities available to suit your interests and skills, and you can volunteer as much or as little as you like. Volunteering can also be a great way to meet new people in your community and even make new friends. 

group of retired women hanging out at the kitchen counter
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels

Connect with others

Retirement can be a great time to reconnect with old friends and family. It can also be a great time to make new friends—especially other retirees. You could join a seniors’ club or group, which often provide social activities and outings for members. There are also many online forums and groups that cater to retirees. This can be a great way to connect with others in your area or worldwide.

Traveling

Many people find that retirement is the perfect time to explore the world. Whether you’re looking to spend a few months abroad or just take a few long weekends to visit new places, there are plenty of options for retirees who want to travel, including travel groups that cater to retirees. This can be a great way to meet and connect with other people! 

Staying active

Retirement is a great time to focus on your health and fitness. There are many ways to stay active, from taking up a new sport or exercise routine to simply taking a daily walk. Staying active can help you feel better both physically and mentally. You might even be able to build some new social connections through fitness classes or walking groups in your area.

Finding New Purpose in Retirement

Coping with the retirement transition can be challenging, but it can also be a time of great opportunity. It’s a time to pursue hobbies and interests that you may have never had time for before, spend more time with family and friends, and relax and enjoy life. Retirement can be a rewarding new chapter in your life.

If you’re struggling with loneliness in retirement and find that you’re using drinking to cope, you’re not alone. If you’re ready to change your relationship with alcohol, there are many resources available to help you. Getting help is much easier than it once was, especially with our online resources and support groups. Contact us today to get started.

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Written By:
Chelsea Hetherington, Ph.D., ACC
Dr. Chelsea Hetherington is a developmental psychologist, freelance writer, coach, and consultant.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
NYC-based content strategist with over 3 years editing and writing in the recovery space. Strong believer in accessible, empathic, and fact-based communication.
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