Retirement should be a time of joy and freedom. However for some people retirement comes with feelings of depression, which makes living life difficult for them. To help understand why some people enter a phase of depression during retirement and what someone can do to overcome depression during retirement, I have interviewed psychotherapist Jeanne Courtney LMFT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I’ve been a therapist for 24 years. I have a private practice in San Francisco and the East Bay, specializing in codependency, body image, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) issues, and depression. I help my clients have better relationships with other people, and also with themselves, by giving them a chance to talk about how they genuinely feel, and get fresh ideas about how to approach their problems.”
Why do so many people enter a phase of depression when they go into retirement?
“Retirement is a major life change. Even good changes usually involve some kind of loss. When you retire, you suddenly find yourself lacking whatever it was that working used to provide. That could include, for example, 1) knowing you’re making a contribution, 2) getting appreciation for your skills, 3) having those “aha” moments when you solve problems and learn new things, 4) having people to socialize with on a daily basis, and 5) simply having a place to go and a reason to get out of bed every day. For most people, there’s a financial loss, too. It’s hard to get used to a fixed income if you once had a job or a business that allowed you to advance to a higher level each year. Also, retirement age is a time of life when a lot of people have to deal with losing their parents or having serious health problems of their own.”
What type of impact does the depression have on their overall life?
“For one thing, depression can make physical health problems worse. Second, it takes a toll on relationships, because it can make people irritable or lethargic or both. When that happens, they’re not able to care for and have fun with their loved ones the way they normally would. Third, it’s hard to get much done when you’re depressed, and if retirement is already making you feel useless or unproductive, that can create a vicious cycle.”
What can someone do to overcome his or her feelings of depression during retirement?
“First, I’d recommend doing all the things that help depression in general: eat nutritious food, drink enough water, exercise, talk to friends, pray or meditate, have a hobby or creative outlet, laugh, spend time in nature, tell your mind to “STOP” if it starts running you down, and congratulate yourself for the small things you accomplish each day. If you feel depressed more days than not, it’s probably time to talk to a therapist about your feelings and/or see a psychiatrist about getting some medication. Research shows that doing both those things will help your mood better than either one by itself.”
“Second, during retirement, I’d emphasize that it’s important to keep busy and get out of the house when you can. Most people who are working full time love it when they get a free day, with nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no demands from anybody. However it’s not much fun when it’s like that EVERY day. Make specific plans with friends. Take a class. Volunteer. Or just make sure you start each day with some kind of agenda or goal.”
“Third, try to focus on what you’ve GAINED by retiring. Think about what you may have now that you wished you had before you were able to retire. For example, days that are less stressful, a chance to rest and take better care of your body, more time for your family and yourself. To write, to start a hobby, to be an activist, to learn something new is all new possibilities.”
“Finally, tell your story. You’ve lived a long time and you become an oral historian each time you talk with someone about your experiences. You can also write in a journal or make an audio or video recording of your memories. Telling your story can help you look back on your life and career with a sense of wholeness and achievement.”
What last advice would you like to leave for someone who retired and is dealing with depression?
“One of the advantages of age is the wisdom that comes from experience. By the time you’re ready to retire, you’ve probably already lived through some periods of depression, and you’ve succeeded in getting through them. Think back to what worked to lift your mood before, and use that knowledge to help yourself feel better now.”
Thank you Jeanne for the interview on how to overcome depression during retirement. If you would like to contact Jeanne Courtney she can be reached at 510-527-5662 or at her website on www.FeministTherapyAssociates.com.
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