Retirement ought to be a time where stress vanishes, or at least diminishes significantly. After all, you suddenly shed oppressive work obligations, while the activities you truly enjoy and really want to pursue find their way on to your calendar. At the same time, your personal time expands dramatically, leaving you free to do almost anything you want to do, including those dreams you’ve deferred until your post-career years.
So why do you feel so stressed?
Believe it or not, retirement can present a number of stressors for folks. From financial pressures to feeling out of sorts without the career that fed your sense of self and purpose, it’s all too common for newly minted retirees to feel heightened anxiety and pressure.
Fortunately, the very context that’s producing your stress also gives you unique tools to reduce it. Here are 15 ways you can manage and reduce your stress levels during your retirement.
1. Address the source of your stress
One of the simplest (though not necessarily one of the easiest) ways to manage stress is to tackle it head-on. If you can get some clarity on what precisely is fueling your stress, you can reduce it by being proactive in managing it.
To address financial stress, for example, get a clear picture of your income and expenses. Create a workable budget based on your retirement income. Then look for ways to increase that income and stretch your retirement money more efficiently. Consider other investment mechanisms to grow your assets.
Getting proactive and tackling the source of your stress head-on is a great way to remind yourself of your competence and manage your anxiety.
2. Get busy doing something you enjoy
It might be a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason: Staying active is one of the best ways to manage stress and feel better both physically and mentally during the retirement years.
Keep yourself active both mentally and physically by looking for some kind of hobby, artistic pursuit, or activity that you enjoy and setting aside time regularly to indulge your interests. Then stick with it, whatever it might be:
Teaching kids to do something you’re good at, like working on cars, carpentry, gardening, etc.
If you don’t have a hobby or interest that currently excites you, spend your time looking for one through organized events. A great way to explore new hobbies is to participate in adult education opportunities from your local community college or other groups.
3. Start a new business
Retirement is a great time to bring the hard-won experience and knowledge you gained throughout your career into a new money-making venture. It can reduce your financial fears about retirement while simultaneously giving you a goal to work towards and a renewed sense of purpose. In turn, this can help reduce stress and prevent depression from taking hold.
The barriers to entry for business have never been lower, especially for digital or online businesses. You can launch with a bankable idea, a solid business plan, and some initial business funding.
Or consider putting your professional reputation to work for you by offering freelance consulting services in your industry. A simple one-page website, some focused attention on social media like LinkedIn and Twitter, and strategic outreach to your professional contacts can be all you need to launch a successful consultancy.
4. Spend time with people you love
Make a concerted effort to spend quality time with your friends and family more often. They’ll help keep you company, which helps stave off loneliness and depression, while simultaneously making retirement more enjoyable.
If you can’t visit in person, don’t give up! Modern web-based technologies make it easy for us to stay in touch with loved ones, no matter where they are. Set up a recurring date for a short video chat or phone call. Email and social media can help you maintain a more consistent line of communication with low stakes, so as not to trigger anxiety or pressure.
5. Stay active
In addition to pursuing your interests and hobbies, it’s a good idea to stay physically active on a regular basis. Daily exercise and participation in physical activities helps to boost your energy and mood, which in turn helps you manage and reduce stress.
How much exercise do you need? The National Institute on Aging recommends that adults engage in some kind of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for at least 150 minutes each week. A briskly-pace walk around the neighborhood, a half hour swimming and moving in a pool, or an impromptu dance party in the living room will all do the trick. Whatever activity you choose, mix it up and try to get active at least three days a week.
6. Join other like-minded folks
Find some kind of group or club that’s engaged in activities related to your interests and attend regular meetings or gatherings. There are many groups out there that cater to retirees who want to stay active and socialize. Whether the group is centered around political goals, charitable causes, or hobbies, you can get a lot of benefit from getting to know and spending time with folks who share your interests.
7. Travel and explore
How many times did you say to yourself during your work life “One day, when I have the time, I’m going to travel”? Many folks look forward to their retirement years for just that reason.
Now that you have the time and space, why not plan to travel more? There’s so much to see in the world! Take trips and explore new places. You don’t necessarily have to plan a two-week European grand tour right away, especially if traveling right now feels a little intimidating. Start small with places of interest around your town or city. Look into historical sites, mid-sized cities with cultural offerings, and other more localized areas of interest.
8. Get organized
Studies show that organizational skills can help reduce stress. Many people find that the simple act of planning how you’re going to spend your time is a soothing exercise that helps them feel more in control.
For example, if you’re planning to write the Great American Novel during retirement, why not set aside an hour or so every day for writing? Scheduling time to work towards your goals is the best way to make steady progress, and that in turn helps minimize your stress and anxiety surrounding that goal.
9. Reach out
It can be intimidating to even consider asking someone for help. You might understandably feel vulnerable and exposed. Yet we all need someone to talk to, someone who’ll listen and provide a fresh perspective when we’re stressed.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed. Plenty of people are more than happy to lend a hand. However, even your closest friends can’t read your mind. Moreover, many are reluctant to cross a perceived boundary or overstep.
10. Cultivate and maintain optimism
Stay positive, even when things get tough. While there’s such a thing as “toxic positivity,” and it’s definitely something to avoid, a healthier sense of optimism helps you manage stress more effectively, according to research. Keeping a positive frame of mind can help you manage your stress and more easily spot solutions for the problems that are wearing you down.
11. Adopt a furry friend
The simple act of petting a dog can immediately reduce stress and increase a sense of well-being, by lowering your blood pressure and increasing the production of oxytocin, which produces a strong sense of well-being and peace.
And if you want to stay active, manage your stress, and feel better every day, take a short trip to your local shelter and adopt a pet. Caring for and interacting with pets on a regular basis is a proven way to reduce stress and promote positive emotions.
12. Volunteer your time
Sign up to give of yourself, through your time and efforts, for a cause you care about. Donating money is all well and good, and you should absolutely do that when you can, to the extent your budget makes possible. However, giving your time and energy is different, and it helps create a more intimate, purpose-based connection between you and like-minded others. It’s a great way to stay connected to your community and make new friends, to boot.
13. Spend time in nature
As a species, we tend to be happier when we’re able to regularly spend a little time in nature. You don’t need to transform yourself into a committed mountain hiker or seasoned sailor. Even a few minutes spent walking in your neighborhood can yield significant benefits for your physical and mental health. It reduces stress and increases your sense of wellness.
Or choose a more challenging outing and work to prepare and train for it. If you’re concerned about your mobility or safety, partner up with a guide or instructor who’s experienced in the terrain you want to explore and who can help keep you safe while you explore.
14. Make time for yourself every day
Even extroverts need some daily “me time.” Even if it’s just 10 or 15 minutes, setting aside regular time for yourself will help you prioritize your well-being. Whether you meditate, rest, listen to music, journal, practice yoga, or pursue some other mind-body exercise, a daily habit of dedicating a few minutes to spend on your own will cultivate the habit of relaxation and rejuvenation.
In return, you’ll reinforce that commitment to self-care, which will also help facilitate other healthy practices. You wind up with a greater sense of calm and equanimity. What’s more, you’ll find yourself actively managing your stress throughout the day. After all, the things you focus on and prioritize are the things that change for the better.
15. Practice mindfulness
One way to spend your daily “me time” that’ll yield outsized benefits is mindfulness meditation.
Stress makes the mind jump from one stressful event or idea to the next, sometimes in a seemingly endless, rapid cycle. The result is a stressed-out body, with higher blood pressure, increased heart rate, shallow breathing, increased muscle tension and pain, and the increased production of the stress hormone cortisol.
Mindfulness meditation helps you calm the mind and the body, centering your focus on what’s right in front of you and reducing your stress level.
The bottom line
Whatever specific strategies you choose to implement, it’s important to manage your attitude and frame of mind if you want to manage your stress. Look for the good and try to spend some time daily focusing on the feeling of gratitude.
At the same time, expect that you’ll experience a wide range of emotions. Remind yourself those emotions are always temporary. If you’re having difficulty with that, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor and consider talk therapy. It can be highly effective in helping you develop new, healthier coping skills to reduce stress and increase your enjoyment of the retired life.
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