Taking Stock: Well-Being


January 19, 2016 by Jean


This is the third of my “Taking Stock” posts for the new year. This one focuses on how I am feeling, my well-being, a more complicated topic than how I am doing financially or how I am using my time. I have divided this assessment into three areas: physical well-being, emotional well-being, and social well-being.

Physical Well-being

Good health seems at least as important as financial resources for enjoying the freedom of retirement. Many of us have heard tales of people whose retirement was followed shortly by a serious illness and a downward spiral toward death. Even as we look forward to retirement as a time of new freedom and new adventures, we may experience a little frisson of fear that something will go wrong and the dream will turn into a nightmare.

One year into my retirement, I am happy to report that retirement has been good for my health. I have generally enjoyed good health in my life, but during my later working years, I faced ongoing health challenges related to the stresses of my work and to not getting enough sleep. Both stress and sleep deprivation led me to put on weight (more than 20 pounds during the last 25 years). The excess weight, in turn, exacerbated problems with high cholesterol and osteoarthritis and raised my blood sugar (although not into the diabetic or pre-diabetic range).

Retirement has made it possible for me to break this cycle. I now get enough sleep, have time to exercise regularly, and find it easier to cook and eat healthful meals. When I need to do things that take a toll on my body (e.g., garden projects or stacking firewood), I can take the time to pace myself. In 2015, I saw an excellent physical therapist for chronic problems with my spine, and the result was more improvement than I had imagined possible (which, in turn, makes it easier to engage in physical activities that are good for my health). Without the stresses of work and once I was past the stresses of construction, I found it easier to control my eating and lost 25 pounds in five months, getting my weight back to where it was 25 years ago. Recent blood tests showed fats, cholesterol and blood sugar all down significantly from the previous year. In short, I’m beginning 2016 feeling much better physically than I did at the beginning of my retirement.

Emotional Well-being

My first few months of retirement were somewhat difficult emotionally, but that was because of the stress of major house construction. In October 2014, before my retirement had officially begun, I reported (How Am I Feeling?) that I was feeling emotionally “flat” and attributed this to construction that had now gone on almost two months longer than projected. As fall turned into winter, the contractor managed to finish the interior work and move me into my new bedroom but had to put the remaining exterior work on hold until spring. Then the winter turned out to be an exceptionally harsh one, increasing my sense of social isolation and continuing that emotional flatness.

Spring brought improvement on all fronts: I began new activities and met new people, I got away for a week’s vacation, and the construction finally got finished (in May, almost a year after this “three month project” had begun). Once the construction guys and all their stuff were gone and I could get some control over my space, I felt much better. I am an introvert with high needs for solitude so my emotional well-being depends on having time for solitary relaxation and having pleasant space to relax in. By November, I could report that all the emotional pieces had come together and I was experiencing something that had been absent from my post-retirement life, a period of Bliss.

Social Well-being

My emotional well-being depends in part on getting the right balance between solitude and social relationships. As a solitary type who lives alone, this is my greatest challenge in retirement. My experience of social isolation during last year’s harsh winter helped me to realize that my previous target of scheduling one meaningful social interaction per week was not enough (see Cabin Fever and Social Isolation).

In the months since, I’ve become much better at scheduling visits and outings with old friends, reaching out to new friends, and being more open to invitations that don’t fit perfectly into my schedule. I’ve made an arrangement for a weekly dinner with my next door neighbor, guaranteeing at least one social interaction per week through the winter (we can walk to one another’s houses even in bad weather). Rather than avoiding commitments that I might not be able to keep if I get snowed in, I’m going ahead and scheduling them, accepting that they can be cancelled if bad weather intervenes. I’ve also taken the plunge and joined a local choral group, which has weekly rehearsals through the winter.

I recognize that as an introvert who lives alone, I am at risk for social isolation. But one of the blessings of retirement is that I have time to think about these issues and to develop strategies for avoiding social isolation. I feel that I have made progress in this area and am looking forward to good social well-being in my second year of retirement.

* * *

So how am I doing one year into my retirement? Very well, thank you. I am financially comfortable, have found ways to make good use of the luxury of time, and am enjoying improved physical, emotional and social well-being.

13 thoughts on “Taking Stock: Well-Being

  1. Diana Studer says:

    that is such GOOD news, so encouraging to hear about.

  2. Jean R. says:

    Congratulations on being able to write such a positive report on your physical, emotional and social well-being! You are definitively a take charge kind of person who is directing your retirement rather than letting your retirement drift/direct you. I need to take a lesson from your master plan and be more proactive in improving my social well-being. I just can’t find a good balance!

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I love the fact that, by this stage of life, being a bossy kid has turned into being a take-charge kind of person (sounds much more positive). I am what is called an “instrumental coper” a person who copes with difficulty by figuring out what I can do about it and coming up with an action plan.
      I think it takes a lot of practice and trial and error to find a good balance between solitude and sociability; remember that I’ve been living alone for almost forty years, so I have a head start on you.

  3. Bernie says:

    I’m six months intoretirement and I understand everything you’ve written. I feel exactly the same way. I was so apprehensive about leave BG a teaching position I really enjoyed. All of the apprehension was a complete waste of time. I adore retirement. I am elated. I can sleep in past 4am when I was getting up. I’m now in Puerta Vallarta while my colleagues (ex) are grading papers. This appears to be the happiest time of my life!

    • Jean says:

      Bernie, Congratulations on your retirement. Like you, I feel most enamored of retirement when I think about having to grade papers (the part of my job I never learned to love) 😉 . One of the great things for me about volunteering to teach at the Senior College was that it was all the things I loved about teaching, but with no grading!

  4. pagedogs says:

    I’m glad to hear that your back is doing better. You seem to be working out a very good balance for yourself in retirement. I find that I’m still de-stressing from so many years of cumulative work stress. I’m only just now getting to the point where I don’t have regular middle-of-the-night insomnia. I still have to consciously slow down and relax. Not a bad problem to have!

    • Jean says:

      Brenda, One of the things I loved about the academic calendar was that there was time to de-stress at the end of every semester and during a sabbatical once every 7 years. I think more occupations should adopt some version of sabbaticals for workers; it keeps people fresh and engaged for the long haul.

  5. Sue Tibs says:

    Hello, Jean! I’m very happy for you! I’m looking forward to hearing about this coming year.

    By the way, I finally figured out how to add Stepping Into the Future as an RSS feed to my blog. I used a free widget called RSS Blogroll, which I configured to pull your most recent post title as an entry in my sidebar list. Really cool.

    • Jean says:

      Sue, Is the RSS Blogroll a WordPress widget or something you found online? I’d like to be able to add that feature to my Blogroll.

      • Sue Tibs says:

        Jean, it’s a WordPress widget but it wasn’t created by the WordPress people. I installed it from within WordPress by going to “Plugins”, then “Add New”, then search for “RSS Blogroll” and install. I have an account with a web hosting provider that let’s me do that. I’m not sure how it works with your site, which is goes through the wordpress.com domain.

  6. Great news on all fronts Jean…while my health improves it is a slow go recovering from extreme stress for too many years…and I am doing well emotionally. I also am making more connections and continue to look for more opportunities….I like looking at my life in these ways as well.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, I got a head-start on de-stressing when I had cancer at age 50. My doctor encouraged me to take the opportunity to “set my own priorities” and “get out from under the priorities I had been letting others set for me.” And it turned out that when I used cancer as my excuse for putting myself and my health first, people who would usually press me to take on more responsibility just rolled over and played dead. I shamelessly milked the “cancer excuse” until my glowing good health made it more and more difficult to imply that I was at death’s door. 🙂

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

Please join me as I step into my future.

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