Life Transitions and Retirement Anxiety

Life transitions are never easy. One of the biggest transitions is the movement from work life to retirement.

In thinking about retirement, people often ask: What’s going to give me meaning? How am I going to navigate life with potentially less money, less daily structure, less social contact, and possibly less purpose? What will I find to fulfill me and bring me joy?

“What is my identity?” is inevitably the question that comes up and the sense of anxiety arises because this can be a scary proposition. For many people I’ve seen, their anticipation for retirement is filled with angst; however once they make the decision and do it, and are asked how it’s going, they reply: “I love it”.

People’s angst about retirement can be unique based on their different situations in life. For example:

1) As a single person who is self employed without a formal pension, there may be more uncertainty in the way of financial and family support; however, many are independent and resilient to change. Regardless of how strong we are, feelings of anxiety are still to be expected as the existential question arises: “Now what am I going to do with my life?”

2) A married person with a formal pension and a family, they may have a lot of personal support and stability; however the decision to retire may take a while because it is frightening to change one’s role in the family. Is one partner now always at home, taking on roles and responsibilities from others? Is there interference or friction from this change? Sometimes several people have to change their lives in order to accommodate someone’s transition to retirement.

3) Successful person high up in an organization with a lot of status and esteem in their career who doesn’t have money problems but has anxiety about who she will be once she retires. This is really anxiety around personal identity: Who will she be when she retires and is this change going to be a loss of some personal quality?

4) And then there is the person who has been at their job for decades and is counting the minutes to retirement. They know exactly what they’ll do and are just waiting for their life to begin.

Anxiety is normal and professionals can help you manage it and make the transition smoothly. Retirement can, and should, be a great time of opportunity in your life.



Bateson, Mary Catherine (2010).  Composing a Further Life:  The Age of Active Wisdom.  New York:  Knopf

Higginbottom, Susan F., Barling, Julian, Kelloway, E. Kevin (1993).  Linking Retirement Experiences and Marital Satisfaction:  A Mediational Model.  Psychology and Aging.  4, 508-516.

Lawrence-Lightfoot, Sara (2009).  The Third Chapter:  Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50.  New York:  Sarah Crichton Books.