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Do the mental prep work for retirement

Prepare to launch into a happy, healthy third act

This article was last updated on May 10, 2022. 

To most of us, “retirement planning” is something you do for financial security later in life. But there’s more to retirement than how much money you will need. It’s equally important to prepare for the personal, emotional and psychological lifestyle changes that are about to unfold.

It’s especially important for today’s retirees, because they have a longer life expectancy External Site than past generations. You could potentially be retired for 25 years or more. So, while smart investing and planning for life on a fixed income is important, so is the mental prep-work for a new phase of life.

Find your purpose during retirement

Mental preparedness helps retirement feel less like a leap of faith, and more like the beginning of a new journey. While it's true you can’t predict everything that will happen as your life changes, you can make some preparations.

First, think about how your life is structured. Currently, your schedule probably primarily revolves around your job or career. This routine may feel restrictive at times, but it also helps you stay productive, and gives your life purpose.

Retirement will change all of that. While you may look forward to a life with more freedom, sooner or later the honeymoon phase will be over. A year or two down the line, what will make you excited to get up in the morning? How will you spend your time? How will your relationships evolve?

After the initial excitement wears off, some retirees report periods of boredom, anxiety and restlessness. In fact, retired men are 40 percent more likely than employed men to experience depression. Between 2001–2016, the highest increase in suicide rates was in males age 50 and over, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention External Site.

Get your mind ready for retirement by thinking about your answers to these types of questions:

  • What do you enjoy about your current life?
  • What makes your life meaningful?
  • Is there something else you’d like to do or experience?
  • What will you gain, and what will you lose in retirement?
  • What concerns do you have about your health or the health of your partner?

The answers to these questions can help your passage feel less like a leap of faith, and more like the beginning of a new journey.

Envision retired life

Instead of thinking about what you are leaving as you enter retirement, think about where you are going. To help retirees visualize their future, Dr. Nancy Schlossberg, an expert on life transitions External Site, has identified six forms of retirees.

six forms of retirees

You could be one type, or a combination of types:

  • Continuers modify past skills to fit retirement. For example, a retired teacher may continue teaching or tutoring students outside the classroom. If you continue to work past age 65, just make sure you know your options for health insurance and when to enroll in Medicare.
  • Adventurers chase their ideas and dreams. They may try an entirely new job, do daring things or travel extensively.
  • Easy gliders tend to “go with the flow,” enjoying unscheduled time and relaxing.
  • Searchers aren’t sure where they land, so they continue to try a variety of activities to determine what fits best.
  • Involved spectators stay interested and involved in their field of work, connecting with former co-workers, staying on top of trends, and perhaps consulting or mentoring others.
  • Retreaters step back and disengage from their previous life while deciding on next steps.

Four more steps to get mentally prepped

Knowing your preferences, the kind of life you’d like to live, and possible limitations or health concerns, consider how retirement may impact your mental health. Here are a few more tips to get prepared for a life when you're no longer working:

  1. Make plans for your time

    Identify several things you enjoy that will give your life purpose. Maybe it’s spending time with family or enjoying weekly pickleball tournaments with friends. Maybe it’s volunteer work, cooking classes or political work. Or, you may find joy in hobbies, like gardening or woodworking. Some retirees choose to work part-time jobs that use their career skills, like freelancing, consulting, tax preparation or seasonal retail work. Some enjoy working at jobs that may have special perks, like event staff for sporting events or concerts. Firming up a few ideas will help you adjust to a new mindset.

  2. Think about boundaries

    Some retirees find themselves too busy, too soon. They may simply be excited about all the time they have available. Or, they may over commit. Don’t let excessive busyness keep you from living the retirement you want to live. Instead, set boundaries and create realistic expectations with others. How often will you babysit your grandchildren? How many hours a week do you want to volunteer? How can you prioritize commitments, or say 'no' to activities that are not as meaningful to you?

  3. Talk with other retirees

    As you approach retirement, it’s helpful to get the perspective of people who have been there. Talk to other retirees about their challenges and how they got through them. What is the most rewarding thing they’ve done in retirement? What mistakes did they make? How did their retirement change over the years? How did it affect their relationships? While no two people are the same, the answers to these questions will help you understand the types of plans you want to make, and difficulties you might face.

  4. Consider your legacy

    Think about how you want people to remember you. Your legacy could be as simple as the life you led, or it could be a grand gesture. You could write a memoir, or simply share stories about your life with grandchildren. You could pass down skills like sewing, cooking or woodworking. You could dig into your family’s ancestry, or donate time or money to a special cause or project. When it comes to your legacy, it may be best to consider the words of writer and activist Maya Angelou, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Find additional tips to engage your mind, body and spirit here.

It's never too late to start planning

The Psychological Association’s Committee on Aging offers advice External Site for people in all career stages on how to transition to retirement. One part of that transition is being informed about Medicare.

That's where Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield can help. To learn the ins and outs of Medicare, request your free Medicare Get-Ready guide Opens New Window. If you live outside Iowa or South Dakota, go to External Site or call 888-630-2583 to find a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan near you.