Most of us are looking forward to retirement as a time when we can pursue lifelong dreams and ambitions completely free from the constraints of a job. If you have adequate retirement income and good health, you may have decades to follow these dreams, whether they involve further education, travel, hobbies, or even operating a small business. And, given that people around the world are living longer than ever, retirement can be seen as a whole new life, rather than as simply the last stage of life.
Old age can indeed cause depression, and, decades ago, when retirement led directly to what was then considered old age, depression was fairly common in seniors, though clinical depression may not have been diagnosed as such.
Causes range from health problems, to the death of a spouse or close friend, to anxiety about one’s own demise.
However, it’s harder to understand the reasons for depression these days, in a recent retiree in excellent health, with a spouse and friends all in equally good health, who has no cause to ponder death for a few decades.
Changes in Lifestyle
Change itself can be cause for depression. Even with a full slate of retirement activities all lined up, a recent retiree can miss the office, particularly if that person was a “star” with protégés and others constantly putting him or her in the spotlight. It’s hard to no longer be the center of attention. If you fall into depression for such reasons, then perhaps continuing to work in some capacity may be beneficial. Being valued for your professional experience can open doors for a consulting business; keep up with developments in your field and keep an up-to-date rolodex, and finding clients should be easy. You can work your own hours, in a location of your choosing, and call it quits at any time. In the meantime, you’ll still feel fully engaged in your profession and will have extra income to boot.
Or maybe, after a few months of retirement, you find that it doesn’t live up to expectations. You’ll likely fall into a routine that may eventually come to resemble your preretirement routine, at least in that you get up in the morning, get dressed and have breakfast, set out to engage in whatever activities you have planned for the day, come back home again, and so on. If this is all there is, is it really worth the effort every day? Varying your routines and planning for big events such as overseas trips can help you retain some excitement about the future, but in the end you’ll have to realize that life necessarily consists of routine, and that you can still find satisfaction in your day-to-day activities.
Signs of Depression
You should learn to recognize some of the signs of depression, so you can seek help before your condition begins to affect your physical health. Some early signs include sadness and fatigue, loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable, social withdrawal and reluctance to engage with friends, loss of weight and appetite, and sleep disturbances. Depression can be associated with increased use of alcohol or other drugs. Even if one does not consciously feel “sad,” one can still lose motivation and energy and suffer from physical problems tied to depression.
In more advanced stages, depression can lead to unexplained aches and pains, increased anxiety, problems with short-term memory, slowed movements and speech, irritability, neglect of personal hygiene, and neglecting to eat or take medications. At this stage, one’s physical health begins to deteriorate.
The two most important things you can do to combat depression are to engage in physical activity and social interaction. Exercise in some form has a powerful mood-boosting effect, and may be just as effective as taking antidepressants. A full-blown workout at the gym isn’t necessary; depending on your health, taking brisk walks, climbing stairs, doing housework or yard work, and doing simple exercises at home may be all you need to boost your spirits. And interaction with others will help you keep things in perspective. If you feel depressed about specific matters, you might find that you’re not alone in your anxiety.
Other steps you can take including maintaining a healthy diet (and forcing yourself to eat if you’ve lost your appetite), volunteering (helping others will boost your self-esteem), learning a new skill, adopting a cat or dog, or simply getting out. If you suffer from severe depression, antidepressant treatment may be beneficial, but these medications usually have side effects, and weaning oneself off an antidepressant can bring up new complications. Therapy or counseling, either one-on-one or in a support group, can help you get to the root cause of your depression.
There is no reason to suffer through your retirement in a state of depression. If you have succumbed to this affliction, there is plenty of help you can turn to, to help set you back on the right path.