Change, it’s stressful…even the good stuff!


One of the great joys of life is that things, including us are in a constant state of flux. We might even celebrate this with expressions such as ‘A change is as good as a rest’ attributed to Arthur Conan Doyle which essentially suggests a change of work or occupation, or in our case retirement can be as restorative or refreshing as a period of relaxation. However, no matter how much we feel the need for change, managing this can be very difficult.

“Planning to retire? Before you do, find your hidden passion. Do the thing that you have always wanted to do.” – Catherine Pulsifer

Probably the biggest and most stressful change we will encounter is the death of a loved one, the closer the more difficult and challenging. The five stages of grief model first introduced by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying postulates a progression of emotional states experienced by both terminally ill patients after diagnosis and by loved-ones after a death. The five stages of grief are chronologically:-denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Stress was first defined in 1936 by Hans Selye as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change” and so can refer to both positive and negative situations as well as being very much ‘in the eye of the beholder’. That is what stresses me may actually be seen as a positive challenge for you.

There are numerous stress league tables including the Holmes And Rahe Stress Scale (1967) which puts Retirement at number 10. 2,500 U.S. military members (sailors) were asked to rank their most stressful life events. They then followed the sailors for six months, tracking their visits to the dispensary, to see if there was a correlation between their reported “life stress” and their visits to the doctor. Each event is assigned a “Life Change Unit” score. These are then added together over a year and used to give a rough estimate of how stress affects health.

For adults, the most stressful life events and their “Life Change Unit” scores are as follows:

  1. Death of a spouse (or child):   100
  2. Divorce:   73
  3. Marital separation:   65
  4. Imprisonment:   63
  5. Death of a close family member:   63
  6. Personal injury or illness:   53
  7. Marriage:   50
  8. Dismissal from work:   47
  9. Marital reconciliation:   45
  10. Retirement:   45

However, this as well as other scales include more positives further down and include such stressors as ‘Christmas approaching’ and ‘visiting the in-laws’. So, whereas getting married, moving to a new house and getting a new job might justifiably be considered major positive life changers they are also major life stresses and retirement and all it entails is right up there too!

Anger, defensiveness and cynicism are natural reactions to major change which Dr.Elisabeth Kübler-Ross highlighted in her grief curve and is now recognised as applying to any major change in our lives and depression is an almost inevitable part of this change process. For some it will be minimal, for others a major issue and last some time. In all likelihood one’s response will depend on circumstance such as whether retirement is forced upon us at a time not of our choosing or if it were planned and worked at beforehand.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin

At least we might hope that some pre-planning will help to flatten the curve and avoid the big dipper of negativity!


“Preparation for old age should begin not later than one’s teens. A life which is empty of purpose until 65 will not suddenly become filled on retirement.” Arthur E. Morgan

This early planning advice may well have come a little late for many of us, however worth thinking about for our children and grandchildren! The idea of TOYL  (Time Of Your Life) is ageless so whatever your age remember:-

“Age is only a number, a cipher for the records. A man can’t retire his experience. He must use it. Experience achieves more with less energy and time.” – Bernard Baruch

I’d suggest that whatever your hopes and aspirations the transition may turn out to be a be a bit more of a challenge than first anticipated.

 “Retirement is not the end of the road. It is the beginning of the open highway.”  – Unknown


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