Retirement and Loneliness

 The pandemic we are experiencing is shedding a bright light on the importance of the relationships we engage in on a day-to-day basis.  Working and learning from home has resulted in a dramatic increase in suffering from the lack of in-person contact in a way that is impacting mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.  Reports of this impact and the lengths individuals will go to in order to feel better are common in the news on a daily basis.  The harmful nature of some of the things people turn to in order to alleviate these feelings and their consequences can be truly disturbing.

Throughout the history of retirement, an often overlooked consequence of the transition out of the workplace is loneliness.  The interactions that happened during work, meetings, conversations, encounters when we pass in the hallway or stop by a co-worker’s desk are no longer available once we retire.  Research on this topic shows that on average the number of interactions we have during any given day drops to fewer than 11 for non-working seniors.

Photo by Paweł L. from Pexels  

I am reminded of a conversation with an elderly hospice resident in his mid-80s.  We were chatting over lunch in the cafeteria at the hospice.  His wife had brought some of his favourite foods and they were both insistent that I share with them.  The food was ethnic in origin, things I had not had the opportunity to taste before and it was delicious.  As we talked, he spoke about how lonely retirement had been for him and his wife looked on, some sadness evident on her face.  As I listened to his story, I wondered about how this open and friendly person had been so lonely, how had he not found the connection he needed in over 20 years?  

What qualifies as lonely?  The answer is subjective.  Not every retiree will experience extreme levels of loneliness.  So much depends on one’s personality and how they have learned to meet new people and maintain relationships.  People range from those that do not enjoy or do well being alone to those that value alone time and are irritated when it is interfered with and tend to value alone time as solitude.  Here is a link to a quiz that can help you decide if you are experiencing normal levels of loneliness or if loneliness is problematic for you.

If the quiz shows that you are experiencing loneliness there are things you can try out to make small changes that will have a long-lasting impact on your outlook.  Being open to the opportunities and being willing to work through any discomfort you are feeling about stepping out and doing something differently are key to your success.

Whatever the reason, making new friends when we get past 60 becomes more difficult.  This poses a challenge but one that is not insurmountable if we have the desire to connect with others, and will persevere in finding people we enjoy spending time with.  The restrictions imposed because of the pandemic will end soon but that doesn’t put an end to the challenge retirement can create around connecting and making friends.

Here are some tried and true ways of making connections: 

  • Say yes to invitations that come your way even if they are online
  • Join a group that offers an activity that you enjoy
  • Be the friend you want to have
  • Volunteer or take a part-time job 
  • Learn something new, on-line or in person
  • What do you enjoy?  Start your own group

If these ideas don’t work for you or a loved one, talk to someone you trust to help you navigate getting out into the community in ways that you will enjoy. There are counsellors, coaches, doctors that are tuned into these concerns and can be very helpful.  Also, there are lots of people feeling the same way as you and they will be happy to have you reach out.   

So, when the pandemic is over those of us that are not seniors need to remember the lessons learned about the impact isolation has had on our well-being.  This will encourage us to reach out to those that are experiencing a lack of connection in ways that will support them.  It will also inform us about how we need to continue nurturing methods of connecting that will continue to support us as we age.