The Dark Side of Retirement

I received a rather alarming wake-up call last month.

One of the most virulent flu viruses I’ve ever experienced knocked me out of commission for an entire month. For 30 days, I couldn’t move, eat, sleep or even talk to people like I normally would. I have never been that sick for that long.

I was amazed when I didn’t get better with each passing week.  After all, I had made wellness one of my goals when I retired last year. I know how important it is to maintain one’s health as we age, so I began to exercise daily, eat healthy, take my vitamins, drink litres of water and practice mindfulness to alleviate stress. I’m normally pretty healthy anyway, so with my new-found penchant for personal wellness, I figured I was set. That’s when my immune system decided to knock me on my butt – literally!

I know that many people are afflicted with much more serious and prolonged ailments. And we’ve all heard stories about people being diagnosed with a terminal illness immediately after they retire and not able to enjoy the rewards of their life-long labour. So my temporary illness may sound trivial. For me, it was a glimpse into what my future could hold.

I’ve been planning a fairly active retirement. I’ve launched a business, planned some trips, enrolled in some courses, signed up to volunteer, joined a few groups . . . and that’s just in the first year. The longer I spent in bed, the more I thought about what if I wasn’t able to do all that? What if it wasn’t a temporary illness sidelining me and I actually wasn’t able to carry on my life as planned?

As scary as that thought is, it’s a position many retirees find themselves in. We don’t hear much about the downside of retirement, but a recent multi-country study shows that a retiree’s physical and cognitive health can decline rapidly after they leave the workforce and many are unhappy in their new life. Without deliberate attention to our health and a specific plan for how we will adapt to retirement, it is easy to get derailed and the consequences can be devastating – physical and mental health issues, addiction, divorce, and even suicide.

We all know life holds no guarantees. While most Baby Boomers will have the long and active retirements we’ve dreamed about, some of us will have plans that go sideways due to a personal or family health issue, a financial set-back, a divorce or death of spouse, a boomerang adult child, etc.

Planning is key. When you’re thinking about that wonderful retirement life you’ll have, make sure you are doing everything you can to make it a reality, including having a back-up plan should something unforeseen happen. As retirement activist Robert Laura says: “A successful retirement isn’t one without problems, but one in which you learn how to manage and overcome them.”

To see if you’re likely to thrive in retirement, take the Retirement Wellness Quiz and find out how you can avoid the Dark Side of Retirement in this free guide.

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