Posted by: drdata921 | March 14, 2014

The Transition into Retirement

“How we perceive a situation and how we react to it is the basis of our stress. If you focus on the negative in any situation, you can expect high stress levels. However, if you try and see the good in the situation, your stress levels will greatly diminish.”

Catherine Pulsifer – Inspirational Author

Those of you who follow this blog might have noticed that there have been some recent gaps in the weekly posts. The reason for that is that we have just begun the transition from working life into retirement mode. We are in the process of selling our house in the St. Louis area and buying a house in our chosen retirement location of Pensacola, Florida. So, every spare minute has been taken up painting, cleaning and decluttering our current house so that we can put it on the market. Whatever free time we have had has been spent talking to bank loan officers, real estate agents, insurance companies, and of course negotiations with the seller of the Pensacola house. The net is that everything seems to be up in the air and life is happening at a frenetic pace. However, the pieces are beginning to fall into place. Three months from now everything will be settled.

Observations about the Transition

Moving into retirement is exciting. I am looking forward to this with great anticipation. Not only will I have greater freedom than I do now, but a major transition like this provides the opportunity to change course on many things in my life that have not been working. I look at all of the things that I have wanted to do over the years, but have not had the time or energy to accomplish. I have a great piano, but have been too tired or burnt out to sit down and practice. I have a telescope to star gaze, but have manufactured excuse after excuse not to go out and use it. I have outlines for books that I want to write, but sometimes struggle just to write this weekly blog. Think of how much better things could be and this is my opportunity to turn the corner – to avoid falling back to the usual routine and to move on to something more positive and fulfilling.

Life Stressors on the Road to Retirement

This time of transition got me thinking about some research I had read when I was in graduate school. Change as good as it can be sometimes, can also lead to stress that has negative health consequences. Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, two professors at the University of Washington, School of Medicine looked at life changes and how they affected the health and wellbeing of people. They were able to give several common life changes points in terms of how stressful they were, how they related to health problems and even accident proneness. Here are a couple of life changes pertinent to people entering retirement along with their stress related scores:

Retirement (45 Points)
Divorce (73 Points)
Business Readjustments (39 Points)
Change in Financial Status (38 Points)
Change in Line of Work (36 Points)
Frequency of Arguments (35 Points)
Spouse Starts/Stops Work (26 Points)
Change in Living Conditions (25 Points)
Change in Personal Habits (24 Points)
Change in Working Hours (20 Points)
Change in Recreation (19 Points)
Change in Social Activities (18 Points)
Change in Sleeping Habits (16 Points)
Change in Eating Habits (15 Points)

Note that some of these are negative and some are positive events, but all have a stressing effect on your body. Retirement is a time of substantial change that can affect what you do, when you do it, and even the quality of your relationships. I included divorce above because for some people, transitioning into a new phase of life can mean that they re-evaluate their relationships. Retirement is a natural inflection point for changes of many kinds.

If all of the things above were to happen to you as you retired, you would have a total of 429 points. What does this mean? Holmes and Rahe found that if you had 300 or more life change points over a relatively short period of time, your risk for illness or accident was substantial. This could involve anything from a bad cold or the flu to a heart attack, stroke, or even cancer. Accidents become more likely because high levels of stress reduce your attentiveness to what is happening around you. You are more likely to crash your car or walk into a wall.

If you had between 150 – 299 life change points, your risk became moderate and less than 150 points meant that your risk was slight. So, even good change can be stressful in terms of how your body reacts. Many of the items in the list are likely, so you have a heightened risk as you enter this period of your life.

Calming Influences

All changes are not stressful. Some will actually act to calm you down simply through the avoidance of bad situations. Think about life without the hassles of a morning and evening commute. What if you no longer needed to worry about deadlines and the requirement to be highly productive all of the time? What if you move from a sprawling urban location to one with great natural beauty? Would your stress level not go down?

There are clear offsets, but in the intermediate term as you are making the changes, stress is likely to be elevated. The interesting thing that I have found is that these negative health consequences don’t happen as you are in transition and accumulating life change points. It happens as you are exiting the transition. It is the cumulative effect of the changes that cause the problems and this builds over time before they release.

Protect Yourself

What can you do to protect yourself during this transitional period as you enter retirement and incur these big changes? The answer is the big three: Diet, Exercise, and Attitude. I went onto WebMD and here are some of the recommendations for how to control stress:

Diet can be used to control stress by increasing brain chemicals that have a calming effect, such as serotonin, and reducing stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Carbohydrates, particularly of the complex variety can increase serotonin which will have a calming effect. Eat whole grain breakfast cereals, breads, and pasta. However, stay away from simple carbohydrates such as sweets, soda, and definitely dial back on alcohol. Oranges and fatty fish (Omega-3) are very effective at curbing the harmful chemicals produced by stress. Spinach and avocados have high levels of potassium that can lower blood pressure. Tea has been found to be effective for recovery from stressful events and nuts like pistachios, walnuts, and almonds provide clear cardiovascular benefits. So, diet is a very important element for managing stress.

Exercise has well-documented benefits as a stress buster. The recommendation is for 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise at least three to four times a week. This could include running, walking, stair climbers, etc. Some people are waiting for actual retirement to begin an exercise regimen when “they will have the time.” However, don’t wait – you need the benefits now.

Attitude is an important component of stress management. Psychologists discovered years ago that stress is largely an internal, not an external process. It is not so much what is happening around you that causes stress. It has more to do with how you interpret these external events. So, if you can stay focused on the positive and look at the good that will result from your transition into retirement, stress will magically decline. Treat each day as an adventure, not as something to be endured as you move closer to retirement. I envision myself paddling a kayak through the inter-coastal waterways of Pensacola and this image brings a smile to my face and incredible inner serenity. So, create a calming vision to focus on for yourself as you move through these changes. Have confidence that it will all work out in the end and enjoy the journey.

As you transition into retirement things could get a bit frenetic. However, take things one day at a time, use diet, exercise, and attitude as you move through this period, and most of all, ENJOY YOUR RETIREMENT when it finally arrives!



  1. Great information that is right on target.

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