Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dealing With Retirement Anxiety

The snowbirds have returned to their homes in the north and we’re entering our second summer in Arizona. It’s the beginning of June and we haven’t hit 100 degrees yet, but we’ve been uncomfortably close several times. There’s a slight feeling of dread as the weather heats up. We know we’ll be stuck indoors much of the time.
The mornings are beautiful, by far the best part of the day. The temperatures are in the high 60s to mid 70s, the birds and bunnies are scurrying around doing their thing and we can sit in the fresh morning air reading and sipping our tea and coffee. If there is anything that needs to be done outside, I know I’d better do it now, because in a few hours it will be too damned hot. But since we live in a condo, there’s really not much that needs doing.
Around 11:00 the day becomes more of a  challenge. We close the windows and doors to capture the coolness, let down the shades to keep out the sun and our cloistered cave-like existence begins. The other day we watched a movie in the middle of the afternoon. I remember as a kid watching TV on hot summer days, but not since then. Now some part of me feels like I’m doing something wrong. Luckily another part overrides it by saying, You’re retired, it’s incredibly hot outside and there’s really nothing you have to do right now. By the time the movie was over, my work ethic anxiety had passed.
My biggest problem with retirement so far is battling the feeling that I should be doing something but I don’t know what.  “Should” is the operative word in that sentence and implies following the rules or doing what is expected of me. But there aren’t many rules in retirement and with only a few exceptions, no one expects me to be doing anything. So that leaves me with the thought, I can do whatever I want, which in turn leads to, Well then, what do I want? This questions drops me into an old familiar place even deeper and darker and more confusing than What should I do?
I remember getting stuck in this place when I was a child. I felt bored a lot during the summer months. I remember my mom asking me “What do you want?” or “What do you feel like doing?” I always had trouble coming up with an answer. My dad’s flippant advice to  me was, “Do something, even if it’s wrong.” Like many of the crazy things he used to say, there was some truth in it. When I would make my best guess and start doing something, sure enough, that feeling of boredom would pass. I made the decision before quitting work that writing would be one of my main activities in retirement, I‘ve tried to stick with that decision, but sometimes I haven’t the foggiest idea what to write about. So using my dad’s advice, I just start by writing something like,“I have no idea what to write about today” and more often than not something starts taking shape.
When I was still in the Army in the late ‘60s, I decided I was going to exercise on a regular basis. I started running around a local track. Soon I discovered that exercise helped me to feel better about myself and my life. It relaxed the anxiety within. I still exercise regularly for the same reasons, but I never feel like exercising. You’d think that after all these years I would, but it’s still a struggle to get started. I have to push through the feeling every time. This reminds me of what Woody Allen said on the subject, something like, ”When I feel the urge to exercise, I lie down until it goes aNappingway.” There is truth in this saying too. All things pass in time. So in this year and a half of retirement, I’ve learned that when the boredom becomes too great and when I can’t figure out what I want to do or what I should do, I take a nap.


  1. You know from following your blog for a time, I don't believe it for a minute.

  2. Thanks for your article. It is good to know that I am not alone in my thoughts which are very similar to your own. I do not live in OZ, but in Thailand and have no health or wealth worries and supported by an an amazing wife.

    But my biggest problem is motivation to do anything and like you, make many excuse not to do something I should.

  3. I've been retired now for almost 3 years and the anxiety about how to spend my time has lessened considerably. Being disciplined about writing regularly and working out regularly has helped. Also I am committed to teaching Tai Chi classes 3 mornings a week and also have a few people I meet with regularly. The problem now is not committing myself to too many things. It's a balancing act and I suppose every one is different in this regard.