Cures for Pre-Retirement Anxiety

How to mitigate fears about your health, marriage, and identity.

By SHARE

While some think retirement will be a dream come true, many baby boomers who are almost there don't feel the same way.

According to a recent AARP survey, approximately 72 percent of not-retired baby boomers expect to be forced to delay retirement due to a financial roadblock—and half have little confidence they will ever be able to retire. Retirement worries are also echoed among the upper class. Only 46 percent of not-yet-retired boomers with investable assets of $100,000 or more feel confident they'll be able to afford basic living expenses in retirement, according to a recent survey by Ameriprise Financial, a wealth-advisory firm.

"It can be difficult for individuals to envision a future that is undefined," says Suzanna M. de Baca, Ameriprise's vice president of wealth strategies. De Baca describes the average pre-retiree as a "deer in the headlights" when they try to picture their financial stability in the years ahead. However, de Baca says worries about funding retirement make up only a fraction of the anxiety most people nearing retirement experience.

Whether they're worried about losing their yacht or paying next month's rent, retirement can prove challenging for any demographic. "A lot of people see the future as full of problems as opposed to possibilities," says Nancy K. Schlossberg, author of Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose. Schlossberg says a pre-retiree's trepidation typically derives from elements they think are outside their control: What will I do with my time? Who am I now that I'm no longer a lawyer (or an accountant or a teacher)? Am I going to fade into oblivion?

[Read: Your 401(k): Good or Lousy?]

Despite how powerless some feel, not-yet-retired boomers can control where retirement will take them. "They're at the steering wheel," says Robert P. Delamontagne, author of The Retiring Mind: How to Make the Psychological Transition to Retirement. "That's not to say people have full control over their emotions. They need to realize no one has that kind of control. But people shouldn't doubt their ability to adapt."

These strategies can serve as antidotes to a pre-retiree's anxiety:

Define the new you. Barring the self-employed and those who disliked their job, a number of workers feel like once they depart the office, they're leaving a life behind that took decades to build. "It's natural to grieve over the loss of their job, even if they're giving it up to retire," says Norman Abeles, a professor emeritus of psychology at Michigan State University who has studied happiness in retirement. Abeles encourages retirees to focus on the next step in their life rather than dwell on their heartache. "Certain people think the dollar amount on their paycheck is a reflection of their self-worth, and once that's gone it's hard for them to gauge their [happiness]," he says.

Yet losing that financial measuring tape doesn't mean all of life's pleasures are gone, says Joe Duran, author of The Money Code, a book that discusses the ways in which people's emotions play a role in their financial decision-making. Duran says pre-retirees should figure out what they enjoy about their job and plan new ways to replicate those satisfactions in retirement. If someone is a retiring CEO, for example, Duran suggests finding a mentoring role, such as becoming an advisor to a small business or stepping into a leadership position at the local community center. "People are worried they won't know what to say when someone asks them, 'What do you do?' But if they find new roles with which they can identify themselves, that question is a lot less daunting," Duran says.

Unfortunately, for many retirees, leaving the workplace means losing friends. Over time, former colleagues may distance themselves since they don't think they have as much in common anymore, says Ernie J. Zelinski, author of How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free: Retirement Wisdom That You Won't Get from Your Financial Advisor. For instance, Zelinski says the current employees may want to joke about the new hire but the retiree can't relate.