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  • Is your retirement more lonely than you expected? 6 tips for building connection and meaning.

    Were you expecting your retirement to be filled with socializing, hobbies, recreation, and purpose? Many of us plan for retirement financially but then find that retirement turns out to be more lonely than we expected. All too often I hear, “I don’t know what to do with my time”.

    Retirement means that you lose all of your social contacts from work at the same time that you suddenly have an enormous amount of free time to fill. If you moved to Florida, you also removed yourself from the social network of family and community that you build over many years. It’s no wonder that many of us feel lonely and lost all at once! Working together, we will develop a plan for building your social network and living meaningfully in retirement. With a bit of help, you can adapt and thrive in your retirement years.

    Loneliness in retirement is common and it matters to our quality of life

    If you are lonely, you are not the only older adult to feel left out. Many scholars estimate that 40% of older adults are lonely.

    Loneliness is different for each of us, but we can define lonely as “dissatisfaction with the frequency and quality of social contacts”. Unfortunately, older adults tend to have less contact with friends and family and smaller social networks. When we live far from family members, we are at greater risk of being lonely.

    Older adults often describe feeling “empty” or having a “hollow feeling”. Being lonely threatens our self-esteem and erodes our confidence that we can build new friendships. By building your network of social connections you can lower your risk for depression and anxiety, expect to sleep better, function better cognitively, and even live longer.

    Rebuilding after relocation

    It would be surprising if you didn’t feel lonely after retirement, and certainly after moving to Florida. As painful as loneliness is, it can also be a motivational force that gives you the incentive to find meaning, develop connections, realizing your ambitions for neglected skills or hobbies.

    6 tips for building connection and meaning in retirement

    1. Volunteer. Volunteering has a greater impact on well-being than income, education, or even being married. Volunteering can give you purpose, meaning, and can help you build your social network. You are likely to meet friends with similar interests and values when you volunteer.
    2. Join. What’s your passion? You are sure to find a club that interests you. From beekeeping to books, from hiking to toastmasters, find what interests you and meet like-minded people.
    3. Take a class. Enrolling in a class will be enriching. Learning what interests you will also make you more interesting. If you don’t want to enroll in a local class, sign up for a virtual class on whatever grabs your fancy.
    4. Indulge your creative side. Want to learn how to paint, write poetry, or take better pictures? Get your chance under the bright lights or sing in a group? Now is your chance. Take the leap.
    5. Get moving. Physical activity decreases feelings of loneliness and depression. Outdoor activities are a great way to meet new people. If you’re not an outdoor type, consider a local exercise group.
    6. Keep an eye on your finances. Too many older adults find their savings raided. Arrange for backup, either in your extended family or a financial advisor, who will help keep watch on your assets. Staying financially sound will help you feel robust emotionally and give you the freedom to enjoy your retirement.

    Get the help that you need

    Robert Stryker is a psychotherapist specializing in individual, family, and group therapy. Robert maintains a private practice in Cape Coral, Florida. For a consultation or appointment in-office or online, reach out today by calling or filling out the appointment request form.


    References and further reading

    Bekhet, A. K., & Zauszniewski, J. A. (2012). Mental health of elders in retirement communities: is loneliness a key factor?. Archives of psychiatric nursing26(3), 214–224.

    Taylor, H. O., Wang, Y., & Morrow-Howell, N. (2018). Loneliness in senior housing communities. Journal of gerontological social work61(6), 623–639.

    Ayalon, L., & Yahav, I. (2019). Location, location, location: Close ties among older continuing care retirement community residents. PloS one14(11), e0225554.