5 Methods to Reduce Stress

Thinking about what it will be like to retire, and actually making plans to retire, makes most people experience contrasting emotions – happiness and stress. While the stereotypical concept of retiring involves scenes of sunny beaches, comfortable vacation homes and hours to do whatever you want to do, the reality of planning for retirement is less serene.

Retiring is a momentous transition in life comparable to getting married, having children, changing careers or dealing with the loss of a family member or friend. The uneasiness experienced by people facing retirement is not universally discussed or acknowledged. They might not think their sense of feeling overwhelmed and anxious about the future will be understood or taken seriously if they talk to others about it. Imminent retirees cope with personal issues that younger individuals don’t necessarily have to think about – health changes associated with aging, financial stability after retiring from a job they held for decades. In addition, home life may need to be modified with new routines and schedules, sometimes adding to the stress of planning for retirement.

New research into the psychological and emotional aspects of transitioning into retirement has identified five stages people typically move through as they adapt to a profound change in their lifestyle. These five stages include:

  1. Growing interest in retirement.
  2. Disengaging from work life.
  3. Initial elation at the thought of having free time to do fun things.
  4. Feeling more stressed as retirement approaches.
  5. Accepting and engaging in the retirement lifestyle.

It is important for soon-to-be retirees and those already retired to take care of their physical and psychological health by keeping stress levels at a minimum as they transition from employment to retirement. Of course, ensuring finances are in order by applying for Social Security months in advance and possibly hiring a certified public accountant to manage IRAs, stocks or other funds is a great way to relieve a portion of the stress involved in retiring.

What else can you do to reduce stress when transitioning to retirement?

1. Put on Your Walking Shoes and Get Moving!

Walking offers so many physical and cognitive benefits that it is often referred to as “the perfect exercise.” Walking involves exercising your muscles, bones, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, brain and even helps strengthen your sense of balance (vestibular). Taking a walk also releases endorphins that elevate your mood by interacting with other hormones, such as serotonin and norepinephrine.

Walking just fifteen to twenty minutes a day at a moderate pace can:

  • Increase energy levels and metabolism
  • Help control weight
  • Moderate blood pressure
  • Raise levels of lipoprotein (good) cholesterol and reduce artery-clogging triglycerides
  • Reduce the risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, several forms of cancers and obesity
  • Strengthen heart muscles and lung tissue
  • Improve spine health

Walking further improves cognitive skills such as memory, concentration and judgment. Results of an extensive study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine regarding the health benefits of walking found that people who walked reduced their risk of developing problems with memory and concentration. To fully support cognitive health, researchers concluded that walking between six and nine miles every seven days, or about one mile to one and half miles per day yielded the best results.

2. Volunteer After Retiring

A natural stressbuster, volunteering to help those in need is a deeply rewarding activity that benefits you physically, mentally and socially. Many retirees find it difficult to adapt to having the whole day to fill when they were used to working eight hours during the work week. Having something meaningful to look forward to each day, such as volunteering to help local charitable or non-profit organizations not only reduces stress, but also prevents you from dwelling on your anxiety about life as a retired individual.

Examples of popular volunteer opportunities for soon-to-be retirees to consider include Habitat for Humanity, children’s hospitals, Meals on Wheels, Red Cross, Salvation Army and animal shelters.

3. Paint with Oils or Watercolors

It’s never too late to take up a new hobby. Learning oil painting techniques either in a class or by teaching yourself is a great way to destress; exercise your mind and channel your emotions into a creative endeavor. Expressing yourself with art is energizing and uplifting. It helps increase and sharpen perceptual and cognitive skills while inspiring your imagination.

Art therapy has been clinically proven to reduce stress. Results of studies measuring levels of blood cortisol (the major stress hormone) in subjects before and after they engaged in art-making sessions found that art significantly lowered cortisol levels. In addition, participants in this study provided written responses indicating they found painting or drawing to be enjoyable, relaxing and a form of soothing self-discovery.

4. Water Aerobics/Swimming

Swimming is an excellent aerobic exercise that strengthens your heart muscles, helps increase lung capacity and promotes oxygen-rich blood flow to your brain, muscles and organs. Swimming is one of the best therapeutic exercises retirees can do to improve range of motion and ease joint pain. When joint ligaments, muscles and bone are exercised, certain chemical changes occur (especially the production of protein, a nutrient important for overall health) that prevent inflammatory toxins from accumulating in joints. Moreover, swimming increases bone cell formation that enhances bone density and may prevent or delay the onset of osteoporosis.

Swimming Chases the Blues Away

Endorphins are chemicals released in the brain during any kind of sustained physical activity. In fact, a substantial amount of research indicates swimming has many physical and psychological benefits you can’t get from other exercise. Swimming naturally floods your brain and body with endorphins, relieving stress, anxiety and eliminating a “bad” mood.

5. Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Not getting enough sleep negatively impacts all your physiological systems, especially your cardiovascular and nervous system. Health problems associated with insomnia and low-quality sleep include hypertension, weight gain, depression/anxiety and recurring illnesses due to a reduced immune system response to inflammation.

If you find yourself tossing and turning because you are worrying about retirement, here are a few great tips to help you restore your relationship with sleep:

  • Try to go to bed around the same time every night and wake up around the same time every morning. When you keep a consistent sleep schedule, your circadian rhythm functions optimally by allowing sleep cycles (NREM and REM) to adjust to a natural, 24-hour sleep cycle. Irregular sleep patterns will interfere with your circadian rhythms and make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • A dark, quiet, slightly cooler than normal bedroom promotes sleep. Studies show that having your bedroom’s temperature between 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit reduces your core body temperature, which seems to naturally initiate sleep.
  • Avoid napping excessively during the day. Power naps of less than 30 minutes are fine but longer naps may keep you up way past your bedtime!
  • Don’t watch television, eat or check your cellphone while in bed. The light from TVs and digital devices tells your inner clock that it’s daytime, not sleep time. Eating or drinking right before going to bed means you’re likely to have to make a trip or two to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
  • Don’t exercise too close to bedtime. If your bedtime is around 10:00 pm, take your evening walk no later than 6:00 pm.

If you’ve tried all these tips and still can’t get to sleep, get up and do something relaxing like reading, drawing, sitting on the porch or writing in a journal. However, whatever you do, don’t do it in your bedroom. When you start feeling drowsy, put down what you are doing and go to bed.

6. Learn to Meditate

Forget about what you have heard about meditating. No, it’s not always about emptying your mind of all thoughts, sitting like a pretzel and humming. Instead, meditating is finding a quiet place by yourself to sit down, relax, breathe deeply and slowly and focusing on something that you find calming and peaceful. Some people find holding the image of a nighttime campfire or still lake at sunset in their mind’s eye is soothing and restful. The hardest thing to learn when you begin meditating is resisting the intrusion of random thoughts into your mind. This is why focusing on one image is important to helping you unwind after a particularly stressful day. In fact, brain imaging scans have shown that meditation alters brain wave patterns, increases energy levels, improves functioning of your immune system and naturally relieves muscle tension and achiness attributed to feeling anxious and stressed.

You’re Retired. Now What?

Buy a planner and begin scheduling your days, with time set aside for errands, socializing, volunteering, exercising, painting, gardening or whatever you want to do. Remain flexible in scheduling your days in case something unexpected comes up, like a visit from grandkids or being contacted out of the blue by a long-lost friend from your school days. Making a schedule and completing everything you put on your schedule will give you a tangible feeling of accomplishment and meaning at the end of each day.

Never hesitate to talk to family members and friends about your anxiety about retiring. You might be surprised at how much they are interested in helping you through this major life transition. After all, they will be retiring one day and may be interested in learning what you already know about getting ready to retire.

Enjoy Retirement at Aspire in Richmond, VA

If you are planning to enjoy a peaceful and active retirement, consider scheduling a tour of Aspire at Carriage Hill. Our independent living community is perfect for active older adults who want to put their stresses aside and enjoy the many benefits of retirement living. Explore our services, amenities and programs, then contact us to learn more!

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