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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.