As 90% of the nation went under some form of shelter-in-place or stay at home order in March, citizens have felt the effects - economically, socially, and mentally.
Even as some states begin to partially lift social distancing measures and businesses reopen, the coronavirus continues to shake up our daily routines. Experts still encourage distancing, and large gatherings and many other social elements of life won’t resume anytime soon.
Especially for older Americans, protecting against the coronavirus will require continued limitations on outings and contact with family and friends. But for many retirees and people approaching retirement, feelings of isolation may have existed even before the spread of coronavirus.
It’s Not About the Money: Isolation and Mental Health
Even under normal circumstances, isolation is an issue for many Americans. Humans are social animals, and extreme isolation can have catastrophic effects on mental health. It increases the risks of depression, dementia, social anxiety, and low self-esteem. Isolation can lead to loneliness, and studies show that loneliness may be as bad for a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Our approach as financial advisors is a holistic one. While we know everyone’s worried about the economy (and how it affects your personal retirement plan), it’s not just about the money. We strongly believe that physical health, mental health, and overall happiness are equally important for a successful retirement.
Take an Active Role In Your Mental Health
Beyond staying connected and staying active, protecting your mental health is critical for staying healthy and happy throughout retirement. The coronavirus pandemic, and the unexpected “alone time” that comes with it, gives us an opportunity to work on our mental health.
From gratitude to mindfulness and more, here are some strategies to help stave off negative feelings—now, and in the future.
Practice an “Attitude of Gratitude”
When things seem rough, it can be easy to get mired in all the things we are losing, such as the ability to hug your grandkids or regular meetups with friends. But when you realize the power of your thoughts to shape your entire reality, you’ll be motivated to flip the script and focus on the positive.
Studies from Harvard and others show that gratitude physically changes your brain—the more you focus on the good in your life, the happier and more successful you're likely to feel. Here are some easy ways to practice gratitude:
- Keep a daily gratitude journal of good things in your life, big or small
- Write a thank you letter to someone who has positively impacted your life
- Take the American Heart Association’s 21 Days of Gratitude Challenge
Be In the Moment
If you feel like you’ve gone through a million emotions in the last month…it’s no surprise. Difficult situations like what we’re going through now can trigger a flood of emotions. Practicing mindfulness can help.
Mindfulness has become a buzzword in the past few years, but the concept is as old as humans. Mindfulness simply means being fully present and aware of where we are and what we’re doing. A big part of that has to do with our mood. Being aware of your moods helps you feel more in control, instead of feeling reactive or overwhelmed.
The following mindfulness exercises are great for beginners, or anyone wanting to practice “being in the moment”:
- This simple 5-minute breathing meditation helps you focus on your breathing to reduce stress and anxiety
- Try these easy at-home exercises to help you become more focused on the present moment
- You can easily find guided sleep meditations, grounding exercises, and other guided meditations online, with nothing to download
- Consider tai chi as a gentle way to fight stress and build mindfulness
Over time, practicing mindfulness can improve emotional regulation (especially your ability to manage stress) and cognition (your ability to pay attention). This will help as you get further into your retirement years.
Talk It Out With a Professional
Sometimes, our emotions get out of control before we realize it. That’s totally normal. And it’s okay to talk about it…in fact, we recommend it for ideal mental health throughout your retirement.
Whether you’re experiencing isolation, loneliness, anxiety, relationship challenges, or you just need someone to listen, there are plenty of mental health resources available to you:
- Colorado Crisis Services provides free, confidential, professional, 24/7 support.
- Colorado’s branch of the National Alliance for Mental Illness hosts a variety of virtual support groups
- Find a telehealth therapist to work with you safely and without contact
While the coronavirus has hit us all with a set of circumstances outside of our control, what we can control is how we react to it. Rather than throwing your hands up in despair, you can take this opportunity to develop habits that will serve you throughout your retirement. With the right combination of a solid, long-term financial plan and a regimen for protecting your mental health, you can remain happy and healthy well into your retirement.
We have more preparedness strategies and secrets for a successful retirement coming your way, soon! Get a copy of Certified Financial Planner Kim Curtis’s new book, Retirement Secrets.