Coping With Retirement Stress

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Several weeks ago I received a touching email from a reader, Emma.  She watched as her parents underwent major retirement stress, triggered by her father being “downsized” before he was ready for retirement. At the same time, her mother faced some health problems, which exacerbated their financial problems.   Inspired by her parents situation, she’s been writing on financial stress in retirement, and recently wrote this Financial Stress Coping Guide For Seniors.

In response to her email, I offered to have her write a post on my site, in the hopes that it will help any of my readers (or their family members) who are currently dealing with financial stress in retirement.


How to Cope with Housing Related Financial Stress after Retirement

People often underestimate the major adjustment, both emotionally and financially, that retirement imposes on us.

We often aren’t as well-prepared as we should be: polls conducted by the US Department of Labor found that fewer than half of Americans have calculated how much they need to save for retirement.

Given that the average American spends around twenty years in retirement, it’s no surprise that managing the financial side of housing is one of the biggest causes of stress in retirees; after all, we still need a place to live, and with the drop in income, this can be difficult to afford.

If you’re suffering from housing related financial stress after retirement, take heart from the fact that you’re not alone. Plus, there are steps you can take to ameliorate your position and alleviate your stress levels.

Here are some of them.

stress

Reframe the concept of “stress”

The word “stress” conjures up images of unhappy people tearing their hair out because they can’t cope with the pressures of their lives.

But in fact, recent research on stress by Stanford University has found that a moderate amount of stress can help people lead more productive, happier lives.

Kelly McGonigal, a lecturer at Stanford business school and program developer for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, says: “Stress isn’t always harmful. Once you appreciate that going through stress makes you better at it, it can be easier to face each new challenge.”

Some of you may be thinking that retirement isn’t the time to be challenging your ideas about stress, but in fact it may be just the thing to keep you vibrant and energetic. See moderate stress as your mind and body’s way of rising to new challenges and invigorating you.

Of course, chronic and acute stress are always to be avoided, as they can cause psychological and physical damage like anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and may other debilitating conditions.

If you feel like your housing related financial stress is causing this type of stress, use some of the other tips in this article to address it.

Too much stuff logo

Downsize

The stress brought on by housing related issues can feel like an immense weight on our shoulders. It’s one that’s exacerbated by our desire to hold on to our assets so we can pass them down to our family as part of our legacy.

But it’s definitely worth weighing up the benefit of passing one of biggest assets, our homes, to our children or grandchildren, against the stress that managing the financial situation is causing us and those around us.

It might take a readjustment of your plans, but you should definitely at least consider downsizing to a place that would ease your financial stress. The extra cash you free up after buying a smaller, more manageable property, or arranging somewhere appropriate to enjoy your retirement, can always be added to your will as another aspect of your inheritance.

If in doubt, talk to your family or whoever’s due to inherit your property: chances are, your stress is causing them to feel tense and unhappy and to worry about you. They will probably support your decision to downsize. And if they don’t, remember that you worked hard to get to where you are and you deserve to enjoy your retirement.

Get advice

Don’t struggle with your housing related financial stress in silence. The complex rules and myriad possibilities available for managing your property and money during retirement can be confusing for the most informed of us.

Seek professional advice about the best way to handle your affairs. Government websites have some useful guidance on how to prepare financially for retirement, and what to do once you’re there if you’re struggling.

A financial advisor is the best way to pick out a path that will guide you through your financial difficulties. Make sure you choose one with a proven track record – a recommendation from a trusted friend or associate is always a good place to start – and most will allow for a free short consultation before requiring you to pay or commit.

Sometimes the very fact that you have a plan, even if the path ahead is still rocky and difficult, can be enough to alleviate the majority of your stress.

relax

Find ways to relax

Stress can make you truly unhappy and unhealthy. If you are suffering from chronic and/or acute stress that’s making you lose sleep, feel unwell, experience ongoing anxiety, or is seriously affecting your quality of life, you need to take steps to alleviate the effects.

There are some good methods for managing financial stress for senior citizens and here are some other measures you can put in place to improve your day-to-day life:

Meditation or mindfulness

Daily meditation practice – as little as five minutes in some cases – has been proven by numerous studies to have some pretty impressive benefits for both mind and body. One of the most notable of these effects is its reduction of stress anxiety, and depression.

There are plenty of beginners’ meditation guides, courses, videos, and soundtracks on the internet to get you started.

(Note from Fritz:  As a Christian, I’d also encourage you to seek God’s will for your life if you’re struggling with retirement stress). 

Exercise and nutrition

A healthy body leads to a healthy mind, and vice-versa. Your body isn’t as young as it once was, and needs all the help it can get to stay as youthful, energetic, and illness-free as possible.

In a recent poll conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people who undertook regular physical activity reported lower levels of negative states of mind like anxiety and stress.

Get to your physician to make a plan for regular movement and wholesome nutrition to help manage your stress.

Occupation

Research from Colombia and Yale Universities have found that busy people are happier, and that inactivity and lack of engagement can lead to negative states of mind.

It’s crucial that you find some meaningful way to occupy your time during retirement, not just to cope with stress and take your mind off your financial worries, but also to give you the engagement that’s necessary for any human to thrive.

Remember – the world’s your oyster now! There are plenty of fulfilling activities you can partake in that don’t cost money.

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5 comments

  1. Emma, Fritz,

    As someone who has had very difficult periods in the last few years managing stress, this post resonates a lot.

    A key thing is to reach out to others for help and try to do it sooner than later. Keeping an open dialog with your partner is critical to avoid build-up of issues (e.g work, health concerns, family worries) that may be small to start with but grow exponentially if internalized.

    And the support groups out there who help so many get back on track with a healthier mind are very worthy of a big shout-out. Mental illness reveals itself in so many ways and we are thankful for those who help others get their life back to normalcy.

    1. Mr. PIE, I appreciate you offering suggestions based on first-hand experience with stress. I remember a teacher of mine who once said, “If you remember nothing else from this class (Biology), remember this: mental issues are normal, and you shouldn’t hide if you experience them. Seek help, and seek it early.”.

      I’ve always remembered that, and appreciate you sharing essentially the same message!

  2. I like the idea that stress isn’t harmful, especially if you learn how to handle it. It’s sort of in line with nerves. A small case of nervousness before a speech or performance is good. In fact, many actors don’t like the feeling of being calm before they go out on stage. They take it as a bad sign that they might give a dull performance.

    FYI, one month and 15 days into retirement – no stress yet!

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