Understanding the 5 Emotional Stages of Retirement and How to Deal With Them

Many of us get through a tough day at work by dreaming of the day we can retire. 

It becomes a destination as appealing as any vacation spot, even when it’s decades away. 

In reality, retiring isn’t as simple as leaving work with a goofy hat and a “Good Luck” cake after the party. 

The phases of retirement and the adjustment period can catch people off guard. 

By reading this article, you won’t be one of them. 

What Happens Emotionally When You Retire?

Any life change brings an emotional rush. Whether it’s adjusting to a new job, new marriage, or new baby, likes twists and turns can feel like the belly-drop section of a roller coaster.

Retirement is no different. 

  • Stress: Retirement should be an escape from the stress of the workforce. However, when we’re at retirement age, suddenly, we can get stressed about finances, wondering if we’ve saved enough. The ongoing question of “Will social security run out?” haunts many retired people. As of this publication, the Social Security Administration admits reserves could run out as early as 2034. 
  • Worthiness: No matter how much we might loathe our job on any given day or wish for a day to just sit around and do nothing, a feeling of worthlessness can be overpowering when we feel we’re no longer contributing to society. 
  • Boredom: Yep, that’s right. The stress and burnout of overworking can be just as emotionally devastating when we have nothing but empty time, and the next big event can be perceived as death. This is when you need the best tips for adjusting to retirement to fill the time to relieve stress, feel engaged, and transition boredom into relaxation. 

How Long Does It Take To Adjust to Being Retired?

Each person will adjust on their own timeframe, just like you adjusted to being a parent or into a new job at your own pace. Few people experience an emotionless and seamless transition into the retirement world.

officemates in a meeting and clapping emotional Stages of Retirement

Expect it to take at least three months to two years to become fully comfortable with the adjustments. 

It also depends on how you approach your retirement years. Here are a few questions to consider: 

  • Will I want to get a volunteer job or a part-time job that is less about money and more about exploring my passions and goodwill? 
  • How much do I want to travel during retirement? 
  • How involved do I want to be in helping with grandkids or other family members? 
  • How prepared am I for end-of-life planning, and is my will updated to consider this life transition?

Retirees will also be transitioning to Medicare, a complex maze with different plans covering different elements and supplemental coverage.

The better access you have to mental health care to help with the adjustment, the shorter the adjustment length could be. 

Understanding The Five Emotional Stages Of Retirement And How To Deal With Them

Maybe you’re reading this because you’re experiencing one of the stages, or you’re here to help someone else struggling with emotions.

Either way, you’re already taking a great first step to sundering the emotional stages and best coping strategies.

1. The Retirement Planning Stage

Retirement planning can start as soon as you get your first paycheck as a teenager. You’ll be facing 401k decisions and retirement planning services. Planning well in advance or enrolling in a “catch up” plan if you’re later in life is the best way to reduce the financial stress of retirement.

As retirement gets closer, you might be obsessed with the stock market to see what it’s doing to your retirement account. 


  • Start planning as early as possible. A few dollars in your 20s can add up to thousands once you retire as long as you invest it in the right place.
    • Ask about 401k planning and matching on all job interviews
    • Set an amount you’ll need to retire and work toward that goal
    • Explore options to add more to your 401k if you get closer but your finances aren’t matching up. 
    • Work with a financial advisor throughout your career, as investment advice changes as you go through your 30s, 40s, and 50s. 
    • Put together a will and decide if you want a do-not-resuscitate order if you fall ill. Knowing your loved ones can honor your final wishes will help in the long run and avoid family battles after you’re gone. 
  • Manage the Medicare maze. You should start talking to a Medicare expert 3-6 months before retiring. Some people don’t even realize they can still get Medicare Part A while in the workforce as long as they are 65 years old. If you plan to retire before age 65, you’ll need to explore gap coverage for the time in between. 

2. The Retirement Celebration Phase

Here come those goofy hats, elaborate cakes, and retirement boat jokes as you cross the boundary of an employee to a retiree. Work parties, family gatherings, and a flood of gifts and cards can bring happy emotions and memories.

The retirement energy will likely start when you announce your upcoming retirement, which some people do as early as a year in advance. 


  • Be sure you want to retire before you make the announcement. Some people hop out of the working class as soon as they hit 62, while others work until they are closer to 70. 
  • Announce it in a way you are comfortable with, and don’t let anyone talk you out of it. If you just want a simple announcement, that’s okay. If you want to make it as elaborate as the Oscar nominations, that’s fine too. This is your work-life you’ll be transitioning out of, and you should enjoy and celebrate every moment. 
  • Be clear about the type of retirement party(ies) you prefer. You might not want friends invited to the work event, and you might not want colleagues at your family home. 
  • Respect that the people planning the parties and celebrations love you and want to honor you. Let them spend as much or as little of their own money as they want, and don’t downplay this major event. 

3. The Honeymoon of Retirement Phase

The cake is gone, and the world has returned to work without you. In this phase, you don’t feel bad about not being at work and enjoy every long morning walk and afternoon nap.

mature woman writing at desk emotional Stages of Retirement

A euphoria fills you for a dedicated career in the office or at home, and you suddenly get everything you ever wished for on those tough days at work. 


  • Break your previous routines to adapt to this stage of life. It will be hard to break those old habits of waking up at a certain time and getting your cup of coffee before battling traffic. Plan a new routine. Replace old habits with new ones. Instead of getting a cup of coffee at home, try a cup from a local cafe and watch the sunrise each day.
  • Splurge, but not too much. When you suddenly have all this time on your hands, you might be inclined to do everything – go on an Alaskan cruise, schedule that African safari, and tour the lighthouses of Maine. Don’t turn to alcohol or excessive food binges to cope with the feelings and emotions stirring inside. 
  • Keep moving, but this time to your own beat. Exercise and healthy eating become even more important as we get older, so don’t spend too much time binging Yellowstone that you forget to sweat. Exercise will also help you cope with those tumbling emotions. 

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4. The Reality of the Retirement Phase

This phase will come whether or not you like it. For those of you reading this in your younger years, you might scoff at the idea that you’ll ever have a hard time with the reality of retirement.

Studies have shown for decades how hard this transition can be. Challenges can include: 

  • They Could’ve Done this Without Me: Your workplace might be thriving, and you no longer have a reason to celebrate it because you’re not there. It could elicit jealousy or feelings of unimportance. Remember, that company was able to celebrate milestones because of you, and you helped set them up for this level of success. 
  • Who Am I Now? In the hustle culture many retirees experienced, it makes sense that our job was part of our identity. Once we’re not working, it can become surprisingly clear how much of ourselves we put into the work. 
  • A World of Regrets: This is also a time when we can realize regrets for spending too much time at work or not enjoying vacation time when we were younger and healthier. We can also regret not investing more in our retirement funds. 


  • Remind yourself that you earned this. You are still a whole person, but instead of answering to “the man,” you can now answer to yourself and chase passions. 
  • Create the newest version of yourself. Retirement doesn’t mean a ban on ever “working” again. You can simply work on your own projects. Have you noticed how many museums and parks have senior citizens working the tours or front desk? Most of those people are volunteers who just love meeting people and sharing information. 
  • Explore the opportunities in the digital age. Fill the empty tank where your career once stood by becoming an expert in that area. Start a blog or build a podcast studio in your kitchen. Offer yourself as an expert to local news stations in your field of expertise. Join Facebook groups and offer advice to workers coming up in your career choice. 

5. The Reintroduction of Yourself Phase

By this phase, you’ve fallen into a pretty solid routine and are comfortable with retirement and its possibilities. You hold powerful lessons for grandchildren, neighbors, friends, and former colleagues.

You might even have the best lawn on the block, thank you very much, since you now have the time to tend to it. However, this doesn’t mean you always have a perfect life.

man and woman strolling on the beach enjoying emotional Stages of Retirement

You still have to be an active participant. 


  • Don’t be afraid to visit your old workplace. You aren’t getting in the way if you stop by for a visit or attend a company picnic. You’ll get to share your love of the job and meet the future of your industry. Tell your stories. Celebrate your wins. Share lessons learned from your mistakes. 
  • Accept and seek grief support. Sadly, this is a time when we might lose spouses, dear friends, or other family members as they age. Add in the loneliness that retirement can create, and you can quickly be catapulted back to Stage 4. Use grief support groups and Medicare services to cope and heal. 
  • Don’t isolate yourself. Keep putting yourself out there in church groups and community organizations and speaking up at city council meetings. Accept the ebb and flow of emotions that come with retirement, but don’t let depression sink to the point that you don’t leave home. All those years you helped people can now be cashed in by letting people help you. 

When You Need Expert Help Adjusting to Retirement

Medicare won’t offer as robust mental health counseling services as your employee health care plan, so use those benefits as much as possible beforehand.

A great starting point is to see if your company offers life transition counseling or if there is a free local group in your community. 

The stress of understanding Medicare can be overwhelming, but free resources are available through Medicare’s government website.

Stress is also one of the top contributors to health issues in the golden years. Use every resource at your disposal to mentally prepare for retirement years. 

Final Thoughts

The emotions of retirement are unavoidable. No matter what, understand that your emotions and perspectives are valid and normal.

Much like the stages of grief, you could experience the emotional steps of retirement in different orders or bounce back and forth between steps. 

Use mindfulness exercises to enjoy the present moment, keep anxiety and stress from controlling your mind, and never be afraid to ask for help. 

What are the emotional stages of retirement? Find the answer here and also some tips on how to deal with it.

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