The Retirement Gym

Emotional consequences of retirement

May 11, 2020 Roy Thompson / Caroline Clarke Season 1 Episode 5
The Retirement Gym
Emotional consequences of retirement
The Retirement Gym
Emotional consequences of retirement
May 11, 2020 Season 1 Episode 5
Roy Thompson / Caroline Clarke

In this episode, Roy speaks with Caroline Clarke, a Psychotherapist based in Brighton who helps people navigate major life changes such as retirement.

They discuss how you can prepare for a positive and successful retirement from an emotional and wellbeing perspective, including:

  • The difference between expectations and reality of retirement
  • Managing expectations of others and setting boundaries
  • Coping with a loss of purpose and structure from work
  • The link between mental and physical health
  • Dealing with unexpected retirement
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Roy speaks with Caroline Clarke, a Psychotherapist based in Brighton who helps people navigate major life changes such as retirement.

They discuss how you can prepare for a positive and successful retirement from an emotional and wellbeing perspective, including:

  • The difference between expectations and reality of retirement
  • Managing expectations of others and setting boundaries
  • Coping with a loss of purpose and structure from work
  • The link between mental and physical health
  • Dealing with unexpected retirement

Roy Thompson   0:01
Welcome to the Retirement Gym, this is the podcast series that aims to help you make good retirement decisions in the run up to retirement and to help you spend your money successfully through retirement. My name's Roy Thompson, I head up MHA Carpenter Box Wealth Management, we're a firm of independent financial advisors. A lot of  the work that we do is around planning for retirement. Largely, of course, our work involves finance but I'm very aware that a successful retirement is more than simply having lots of money. It is knowing what you want to do, how to spend your time, who you spend it with and of course, having the finances to support that. What is often not discussed is the balance of getting those aspects right. Getting them to come together in the right way. And with this in mind on the podcast today, I've got Caroline Clarke, a Psychotherapist from Brighton. Caroline is used to dealing with a range of issues for individuals. But a more common approach is from people who are newly retired, and they're looking support around the emotional impact of retirement and the changes that this brings. So Caroline, thank you very much for joining us this afternoon. Thank you for taking the time. How are you?

Caroline Clarke:   1:11
I'm very well, thank you Roy. Yes. Fighting fit despite lock down.

Roy Thompson:   1:15
Yeah, it's certainly strange times we're living in just a moment, and I would guess that it is much being spoken about. It's an implication on people's mental wellbeing or emotional wellbeing just at the moment, which is a concern, obviously. And I'd expect a lot of listeners out there are hoping for a change in the environment that will allow us to return to normal in some way.

Caroline Clarke   1:37
Yeah. Put an end to the uncertainty.

Roy Thompson:   1:40
So, Caroline, the reason for getting you on the podcast is you deal with individuals who, a wide range of individuals, but a number of people you deal with perhaps struggling to come to terms with the change brought about retirement. Certainly, I see, in my role as a financial advisor, people in part will prepare for retirement through planning from a financial perspective. It's quite where where they take that step further and start to plan how they spend their time, what they would do with their life and emotionally engage with what the time will look like. You want to just perhaps talk a little bit about the sorts of things that you see in your line of work?

Caroline Clarke:   2:26
Yes, I will Roy. One of the main things that I see working with people who are retired is there's a difference between what they expect from retirement before they've retired compared to the reality of retirement. Usually that is because they perhaps have been focusing on the gains of not having to go to work, not having to get up early, not having to commute, not having to engage in office politics and other tricky things perhaps take responsibility. And so there's a focus on that. And then when the reality of retirement kicks in, the losses of not working start to show themselves, rather more. And for some people that can be quite an adjustment to make to get your head round the losses and to create, carve out a new way of living for yourself.

Roy Thompson:   3:27
Yeah, I think I think I certainly true. I know that in the work that I do, I've got a large number of people who have perhaps reached retirement. They almost sampled it for a year or so on they become, you know, perhaps all at sea and they start to look for alternative lines of work, or they start to talk about going back to work in some way, shape or form. So I guess, you know, I think there's quite a bit of excitement, as you refer to leading up to retirement in some instances, sort of a honeymoon period just after retirement and then I guess maybe a little bit of disenchantment, which you might be you might be speaking about. So with these sorts of people, what I guess I always view it, that people should be thinking ahead, planning out some of these, some of the actions that they can take not just from a financial point of view, but in terms of how they couldn't fill their day. I think they're linked. Actually, if you do certain tasks quite often that will come with a financial implication, and you need to make sure that you understand what that task is you want to do so you can plan for it financially.  From your perspective, though what would, is it too big a question to say what would a good retirement look like from from an emotional point of view and your own well being.

Caroline Clarke:   4:47
Yeah, from an emotional point of view, perhaps a good retirement would involve some planning about how you're going to fill your day and how you're going to be with the other important people in your life. So when I say filling your day, I'm really thinking about replacing the structure that work might have given you with a new kind of personal structure. So often, if you imagine somebody's worked somewhere for a career for that spanned 40 plus years, that structure to their day would have been provided and structure to their week, and structure to their year would mostly be would provided by working. Then suddenly that disappears and we have to put our own structure in. So by that I mean how we organise our day, when we're gonna get up, when we're going to go to bed, what we're going do in the in the hours in between and  that can feel quite odd. It's a new skill. Quite often and we've never had to put our own structure and before that could be quite a challenge. So there is that. Then there is in terms of adapting to perhaps living with a spouse who may or may not have already retired and how perhaps we organise ourselves in the home. Who does what, giving each other space,

Roy Thompson:   6:15
Expecting a different level of support back at home than if I was not working

Caroline Clarke:   6:20
And that could be difficult. And the other, often mentioned people that are retiring, especially people retiring who are a little bit old and have grandchildren, perhaps have adult children and grandchildren living nearby, is managing expectations of others. So we might have, um, adult Children that think yippee mum and dad have retired, that means they can come and walk the dog, provide free childcare, mow the lawn, et cetera. We might then have to, as a retiree might have to adjust to. Okay, how much of this am I going to say yes to and how much am I going to say no to and also, what will happen if I say no? Will I then have to start bearing the other person's disappointment? Or anger, irritation and that this could be quite big things to deal with when we are perhaps already a bit at see having already retired. So expectations of others can be quite a big hurdle to deal with and something that often people don't think about very much before they retire.

Roy Thompson:   7:34
I think that's, um, I don't know if it's right to say that's a modern problem, but I certainly have clients have reached retirement who have perceived it in one way that they're spend time abroad or they will spend time doing certain hobbies they might quite enjoy only to find actually  one party, be  it the male or the female within the marriage would decide that retirement will look like helping out the wider family group, being a grandparent and being an active grandparents. You know, when that comes to a level where they're doing that on a almost daily basis, it can feel resentment, I guess. I guess you might have seen that sort of thing.  And then plans then change quite significantly.

Caroline Clarke:   8:19
Yeah, and again it's managing those expectations. And the one thing that therapists love, therapists everywhere love are boundaries and what I mean by that is our own personal boundaries of this is what I will tolerate doing and this is what I will not tolerate doing. And it might be in terms of this is what I will tolerate in your behaviour, this is would I will not tolerate in your behaviour. So it's about doing and bearing perhaps other people's ways of doing that might be different to us. Um, we often have to set new boundaries because people think lovely you've got lots of time. Now you can come and do things for me. We might actually think hang on a mo. I might be able to do some, but I'm not going to just be at your disposal. So saying no can be quite ah, a challenge when we first retire.

Roy Thompson:   9:18
Yeah, and is that something that you would be a recommendation might be a strong statement, but is that generally you would say, Look, that people should be thinking about this sort of thing. And actually they should be communicating their expectations of retirement to their wider family ahead of retirement? Or is that something that maybe we reach retirement and it just sort of evolves. What would be the thought process there?

Caroline Clarke:   9:44
Yeah, I think if we've had the chance to think about it and discuss it because, as you know, with any any within any partnership, there's usually bit of negotiation. And if you've got one person that wants to one partner that would like to spend more time with grandchildren, for instance, and another partner would like to do go on holiday, then that has to be negotiated. But yes, the more we've talked about it in advance, the less likely we are going to end up with conflict and having to backtrack, perhaps, and renegotiate something that might make life rather difficult for a while.

Roy Thompson:   10:29
Okay, so I guess the first thing we're saying here is that where you can, where the retirement is planned, or you know it's forthcoming., it's to start engaging with conversations about what that might look like. Not just with your immediate spouse, perhaps, but with the wider family as well, which I guess a lot people wouldn't necessarily think about. I think about myself. You know I've got four children between myself and my wife. There's the potential for quite a number of grandchildren and having some understanding about our part to play in that would be quite important is what you're saying.

Caroline Clarke:   11:02
Yeah, I think it would. Yeah. And even in terms of what we want to do ourselves and we're thinking about the wider family there, that what we might want to spend our time doing. One of the big problems was when people retire is that in terms of loss might be in terms of having had a purpose and felt very valued in what we do. We feel like we're doing a good job. People respect us. Um, we can see what we're producing. And then suddenly we go from that to not feeling particularly, we haven't perhaps time got much direction.  We don't feel very useful anymore and so those kind of emotions we have to deal with, which is about how we feel about ourselves rather than how we might interact with other people and that can lead to us feeling rather depressed sometimes so giving ourselves space to decide what we want to do and it's time to adjust is also pretty important. That things are gonna happen overnight.

Roy Thompson:   12:13
So my natural inclination is, if someone said I was retiring tomorrow, I broadly enjoy my work, I engage with it and like speaking to people, And if that was taken away I would look to replace that almost straight away. You know, it might be a charitable work. It might be work in the community. It might be another role. I guess I have in mind. I'm too young. still to consider that exactly. But what you're saying there is that might be something, that rather than rushing from one to another, I might want to just take stock over a period of time. That might be a more constructive way of doing that..

Caroline Clarke:   12:51
Yeah, perhaps to have thought in advance that there are losses. People often talk about the loss of a work family. So these might be colleagues that we might have worked with for a very long time, that provide us with emotional support and suddenly, we go from seeing them every day, to perhaps to not seeing them at all for long periods. And if we've perhaps had a chance to think about that and um, adjust to it, give ourselves time and think OK, well, I'm someone that needs to have some contact with others. Most of us do, we are social beings, then hopefully we'll have had a chance to think about that either in advance or as we go into retirement, especially if it's a fazed retirement and we have a chance to build some new structure up whilst the structure of work is winding down.

Roy Thompson:   13:44
Yeah, and that structure, you reference from a social perspective. I don't think it's the case that everyone has to go and find a new hobby. But you know how important is sort of exercise and hobbies, you know, linked to your own, retaining your own health, how closely correlated are those and how important to retirement do you think they are?

Caroline Clarke:   14:05
Yeah hugely so and there are huge links between mental health and our physical health. If perhaps our job might have involved some physical activity or cycling or walking to work, whatever and then suddenly we find ourselves without that again that structure, we have to think about what we're going to put in place. And, yes, certainly keeping moving. Keeping a certain level of busyness can make a big difference. And perhaps most importantly of all, having good connections with other people, people who care about us and who we care about.

Roy Thompson:   14:46
I did some reading in preparation for our conversation today, and firstly I was astounded at the number of studies there was into the notion of you know from an emotional perspective around retirement. That was the first thing that probably surprised me, even though I see it on a regular basis with, perhaps in my own clients. But actually there's various studies that show sort of alcoholism and substance, even substance abuse in people who have just started retirement which would came as a real shock to me. But I guess these are people who perhaps, of course, it doesn't happen to everyone but these are people, perhaps falling back, they've lost that form of structure that you talk about it and they look for a crux, I guess.

Caroline Clarke:   15:27
Yes, they might well have lost structure might well have lost connections with others and that those are the things often that can protect us from perhaps numbing feelings through alcohol or whatever. Yeah, the more time we have that isn't where we're not able to sort of say OK, well I'm going to be doing exercising here, going to have time with others here. The more kind of time we have, where we are lonely, essentially, perhaps, the more likely we are to drift into numbing that loneliness through for example, alcohol abuse

Roy Thompson:   16:05
And again you've reference structure a couple of times here,  all the way down to the report, the reports that I was looking at was all the way down to sort of the quantum sleep that you have and you know how important that is. And they do look at, there is quite lot studies as to whether retirement is good for you, and it sort of seems it's a kind of a 50 50. Some reports say that it is a good thing for you and your stress naturally goes down because you haven't perhaps got quite the same demands all the way through to others who say, Well, look from a cognitive point of view, you retain the ability or a sharper cognitive mind. If you retain in work. An underlyning thing that came through from that is how well planned retirement is and how, how much opportunity you've had to forecast that. So I guess there's people out there who have sadly hit upon retirement, either because their health is prohibited them from continuing work or or or just, you know, where they've been forced to retire because of a change in employment situation. What sort of things can people do where's thrust upon them in a fairly short space of time. What sort of actions can they take?

Caroline Clarke:   17:16
Yeah, well, if something is, like retirement, a big change, any big change, I suppose, in life is thrust upon us without much notice, and we're not expecting it. Perhaps if there's a health issue and we end up retiring early or the company, for whatever reasons, is restructuring and our job is the one that goes. Yes these can be a big shock and like with any change takes a little bit of time to adjust. But yes, the more we can have thought about these things in advance and the more that perhaps we've discussed it with a partner, with friends, the more of a cushion we will have in dealing with it. That we're not alone with dealing with losses in this way, and sometimes it involves a sense of shame. If if we feel that we're being rejected and often our sense of being connected to other people can help us with that. Sometimes we might need therapy as well. That actually what therapy can provide is a neutral space where we can talk about our feelings with someone who is going to listen to us and help us through things which can be a bit different to perhaps talking about things with our partner or a friend.

Roy Thompson:  18:35
Yeah, because it gives a different perspective, I would have imagined. So I always phrase it, with people I meet that there is kind of 3 elements to the triangle, so you need resources to be able to retire but that's not just financial, You know, that's emotional resources. Absolutely it's material resources, but it's health, wellbeing and your social friendship. So all of those things are correlated to each other and what we might be saying here if we were to summarise our conversation today is the longer that you're able to plan for those and consider those, the more time you take to do that and involve wider family members. The more chance you've got for having this successful retirement and by successful I don't mean the most money, I mean, the one that makes you the happiest and the most content which is, of course, what retirement really gives us the opportunity to have. We work hard all our life, and it's to reach contentment as we reach retirement.

Caroline Clarke:   19:43
Yeah, I definitely agree with that. If you've had a chance to think about it and perhaps think about what retirement really means to us and to acknowledge that, yes, there are plenty of gains and there are losses that will need adjusting to. Say, for example, we might lose our sense of purpose at work, but we might gain that from, you mentioned voluntary work earlier on, so there might be something. So we're not working for the same amount of hours, but we're still retaining a sense of purpose and doing things for others which it is, will have a very positive impact, potentially on our emotional wellbeing. Yeah, the more we can talk to partners about how we're feeling, often the better.

Roy Thompson:   20:27
Yeah, that's really good. Caroline I could speak about this stuff all day. I find it really interesting. And you know in my mind the longer people have to think about this and really engage with it, the more chance they've got off a successful outcome, not just monetarily, but from an emotional perspective. We're probably pretty much up to time. I've just as with all my guests so far I've asked three questions at the end, just out of interest. So the first question, What's the one bit of advice that you would give to someone in a pub?

Caroline Clarke:   21:02
Oh, in a pub?

Roy Thompson:   21:05
I'm not defining how many drinks you have to have had before you

Caroline Clarke:   21:10
In terms of retirement. Okay, well, you put me on the spot here, Roy. I think it would be to take care of your connections you've got with other people. Having good connections with others, whether that's a partner or friends or family, is what will help our mental health. If we struggle in any way with making good connexions, then there is help out there and we can learn to connect better.

Roy Thompson:   21:44
Never has that been more prevalent than at the moment where we're working in very strange times, and people are perhaps more reliant upon each other than they have been in recent years. I think that's something that we're all finding. What's your favourite day of the week?

Caroline Clarke:   22:01
My favourite day of the week. I think it must be Friday right now, which is actually Friday today. I think it's that sense of anticipation of the weekend. I don't usually work on a Friday. I feel like, Okay, I've done the work now. I really love my work. Enjoy it. But it's also nice to have that oh I've got a three day break now.

Roy Thompson:   22:20
It's funny. Most people are going Friday, Saturday or Sunday. No-ones said Wednesday, yet.

Caroline Clarke:   22:25
Poor old Wednesday.

Roy Thompson:   22:27
Absolutely. And then the last one, which always seems slightly macabre when it's written down on paper. But what's your funeral song?

Caroline Clarke:   22:35
Oh, my funeral song. Oh I think it might have to be something classical. I'm really not into classical music, but I get that that sense of, um, I don't know that the kind of rousing kind of music. I would like something that's a celebration of life, I suppose, and some of those big classical pieces. I think, I'd have to have a very good think about it. But yeah, I think rather that than a pop song, say.

Roy Thompson:   23:04
You don't want the birdie song, something a little bit more profound. Caroline, thank you so much for taking the time to come on today that's much appreciated and hopefully very useful and interesting for those listening. That's Caroline Clarke, a psychotherapist based in Brighton. Caroline deals with a wide range of issues, not least around some of the emotional consequences of retiring. Thank you so much, Caroline.

Caroline Clarke:   23:32
Thank you, Roy. Bu-bye.

Roy Thompson:   23:35
If you are affected or a fan of today's podcasts of interest, there is an awful lot of literature on the Internet. Of course, if reading is only helping to a certain extent, it could well be, as Caroline suggested, that speaking to someone who's away from the family network could be very, very helpful. If you want to explore the Retirement Gym series a little bit further there are now several episodes, which can be found at Thanks for listening.