One of your biggest concerns as a retiree is going to be planning for the future of your physical health. Over time, your physical health will degrade and you’ll likely be less capable of doing things for yourself; as a result, your healthcare needs and expenses will increase.
But what about your mental health?
Unfortunately, many retirees neglect mental health planning when it should be one of your highest priorities.
So why is mental health so important for retirees? And how can you appropriately plan for it? Below, this article will answer your questions and offer tips to help you prioritize your mental wellbeing.
The Financial Value of Mental Health
Let’s start by exploring why mental health prioritization is such an important strategy for retirees. Obviously, everyone can benefit from prioritizing their own mental health, but for retirees, this is especially critical.
Mental health is a bit subjective; improving your own mental health increases your subjective feelings of wellness and your overall mood. But there are also financial and practical benefits of prioritizing your mental health.
Let’s examine them.
Mental Health and Overall Wellness
If you’re feeling depressed, you’re not going to feel good about anything else in your life. Retirement is supposed to be your opportunity to get away from work and finally enjoy yourself. If you no longer find your favorite hobbies fun, or if you have trouble engaging with other people you’ve known and loved for decades, retirement may not feel the way it’s supposed to.
Additionally, mental illness can affect you in a litany of other ways. For example, if you struggle with depression to the point where you stop taking care of yourself, you could suffer physical health complications eventually. This can be extremely costly, making proactive mental health a kind of investment.
Seniors also struggle with isolation, and not just because they no longer work at a regular job. As you gradually lose physical mobility, you may be less likely to go out and socialize with others. As you get older, you may begin to lose friends and family members as well. These effects only grow worse with time.
Socialization can be expensive if you’re constantly going out to eat or going on vacations, but it can also be inexpensive, if you choose the right activities. And having lots of friends can help you stay in good health, ultimately saving you money in the long run.
Future Cognitive Decline
Most older adults eventually experience at least some form of cognitive decline. They have trouble remembering things, they aren’t able to solve complex problems the way they used to, and they may find it difficult to tackle even the most mundane tasks around the house. Eventually, this may require you to hire a caregiver, which can be an expensive financial burden. There isn’t much you can do to reverse cognitive decline, but you can slow it down – and that requires you to work proactively to keep your mind sharp.
Future Physical Decline
Similarly, as we age, we suffer from physical decline. Proactively investing in your mental health can keep you active and strong enough to avoid the worst effects of this. In turn, this can reduce your overall medical costs, allow you to live with fewer ongoing expenses, and help ensure you outlive your principal.
Simple, Affordable Mental Health Strategies for Retirees
So how do you financially and practically invest in your own mental health?
You can start by prioritizing habits, practices, and strategies that can keep you mentally healthy proactively — without costing you much money. The goal is to seek the most effective strategies for the money, instead of pursuing expensive, intensive solutions. We can focus on strategies that yield tremendous value compared to what you must invest in them.
The following strategies are extremely affordable, with most of them being totally free. Despite this low monetary investment, the combination of these strategies can keep you mentally well indefinitely in most situations:
Find a regular therapist (and attend weekly sessions).
Even if you don’t feel you need a therapist, it’s a good idea to attend weekly therapy sessions. Going to therapy is an opportunity to talk about anything that’s bothering you and get some neutral, unbiased perspective on your life. If you’re struggling with anything, your therapist can help you through it, giving you coping strategies, recommendations for behavioral changes, and resources that make you feel better.
Best of all, therapists are more affordable than ever, since most therapists are covered by insurance. All you need to do is make sure your policy offers mental health coverage and ensure your therapist is in network. For example, if you have Aetna insurance, you can look for Aetna therapists who accept this insurance.
Go for a walk in nature every day (or as often as possible).
Make it a point to go for a walk in nature every day, or as frequently as possible. The physical exercise is going to be good for your mental and physical health. Spending time in nature is also associated with a host of mental health benefits, making you feel refreshed and connected. On top of that, you’ll get fresh air and sunshine, which are both good for your physical health and mood. Even 20 or 30 minutes a day is enough to see measurable benefits. Best of all, this doesn’t cost you anything.
Socialize with people you know regularly.
It’s also a good idea to socialize with the people you already know on a regular basis. Have coffee with your spouse in the morning. Invite your kids or siblings over for lunch. Make phone calls to old friends. Reach out to your neighbors.
There’s nothing wrong with spending some time alone, but if you want to stay as mentally healthy as possible, it’s also important to spend many hours each week socializing with others. It’s even more valuable if that socialization time is spent with people you already know and love, who share memories. Depending on your activity of choice, this option is often free, though it may cost a few dollars occasionally.
Find ways to meet new people.
As mentioned above, connecting with people you already know is important. But it’s also important to branch out and talk to new people. Do what you can to find ways to meet and talk to strangers on a regular basis. That could mean attending regular meetups, picking up a new hobby, or just making small talk with more people you encounter in daily life. Again, this can be free if you’re willing to take the right approach.
Get a pet.
Even if you don’t consider yourself much of an animal person, having a pet around the house can be excellent for your mental health. This is a creature that can provide you with companionship and purpose in life. For example, if you have a dog, you’ll need to walk that dog at least a couple of times per day. It’s an excuse to get out of the house, and over time, you’ll form a strong bond with your new companion.
Dogs and cats get most of the attention when it comes to domesticated pets, but there are other options available as well, including birds, rats, and even fish (although you shouldn’t expect your fish to bond with you as powerfully). Many pets are inexpensive, costing $100 per month or less (plus veterinary expenses when necessary).
Your diet plays a significant role in how you think and feel, even if you don’t realize it. Committing to a healthier diet could be exactly what you need to stay mentally healthy. For most people, that means eating a wide variety of different fresh fruits and vegetables, limiting intake of sugar and junk foods, and prioritizing home cooking over processed meals.
It’s also a good idea to get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, which may play a role in staving off cognitive decline. Contrary to popular opinion, eating healthier isn’t necessarily more expensive; in fact, in many cases, it’s less expensive. Shop local farmer’s markets and prioritize buying in-season fruits and vegetables to save money on this front. Eating healthy and taking care of your body, can save you money in the long run too.
Journaling is another free activity that is associated with countless mental health benefits. All you need is a notebook and a pen. Take some time every day to write down how you’re thinking and how you’re feeling. It’s an opportunity for self-reflection and a chance to process your emotions.
In the long term, this is also an important way to keep track of your mental health changes. When you look back at old journal entries and compare them to what you’re currently writing, do you notice a downward trend or an upward trend in your mood? Are there specific issues that seem to be recurring?
There are many forms of meditation, and almost all of them are valuable for retirees in regards to mental health. Practicing meditation is a way to clear your mind and introspect, filtering out distractions in your environment and allowing you to focus on the present moment. People who meditate regularly report lower levels of stress and anxiety, and they tend to have more emotional resilience and control as well.
Experiment with different meditation styles and methods, so you can find the right approach for your personal needs. It’s free to do on your own, though you can also pay a few bucks per month for a subscription app to facilitate better habits. If you attend a yoga session in-person, it could be a way for you to meet new people too.
Read and listen to podcasts.
If you have a library card and/or a smartphone, you’ll have ample access to free books and podcasts that can help you preserve and improve your mental health. There are always new things to learn about depression, anxiety, and other various mental ailments — and there are always new strategies that you can pick up. In addition to providing resources, a good book can also serve as an escape. It can keep you mentally engaged and entertained, which is especially valuable during retirement.
People who express gratitude on a regular basis tend to be happier and less stressed than their counterparts. No matter what your situation is, or who you are, there are things in your life for which you can be grateful. For example, you can be grateful that you made it to retirement. Or, you can be grateful that you have an amazing spouse. You can also be grateful that you have a hot cup of coffee to start every morning.
Whatever you’re grateful for, spend some time writing it down, saying it aloud, or thinking intently about it. This is especially important during times of stress or hard days. And like many strategies on this list, it’s completely free, so it represents pure value.
Experiment with new hobbies.
Finally, experiment with some new hobbies. It’s a way to keep your mind active, a way to meet new people, and a way to keep yourself from being locked into a repetitive routine. There are innumerable free and inexpensive hobbies you can try, such as playing cards, knitting, geocaching, metal detecting, and bird watching. You might have to spend a couple hundred dollars on new equipment, but the value you get from your hobby should more than justify the initial investment.
Financial Planning for Bigger Mental Health Expenses
All those free and inexpensive mental health strategies should be valuable to you. But it’s also important to spend some time financially planning for bigger mental health expenses and endeavors.
Live well below your means.
There’s a strong link between poverty and mental health issues. It’s unclear exactly how this relationship unfolds. Are poor people more likely to suffer from mental health issues because they don’t have enough money to get help, or are people with mental health issues more likely to become poor because of their mental health?
Either way, it’s important to live well below your means so you always have enough money to cover your basic expenses and get mental health help when you need it. If you’re struggling to stay afloat, it’s a sign you need a significant lifestyle reduction or a secondary source of income.
Set aside a mental health emergency fund.
Hopefully, you already have an emergency fund in place. But you might consider increasing that emergency fund or setting aside a separate fund specifically for mental health emergencies. If you’re ever in a mental health crisis, you’ll be glad it’s there.
Consider going on regular vacations.
Going on vacation and traveling are excellent for your mental health, so make them priorities in your life; they’re well worth the indulgence. Also, vacations and traveling don’t have to be expensive; you don’t have to go far or live in luxury to get the benefits.
Contemplate major life changes that may become necessary.
At some point in the future, you may need a massive life change because of your physical limitations or financial issues. It’s important to acknowledge and plan for these possibilities. For example, would you be willing to move into an assisted living facility? And how would you pay for it?
It’s important to live below your means and remain in good financial shape, but it’s also valuable to occasionally splurge. As long as you can reasonably afford it, make it a point to buy a new item or experience that makes you happy on a recurring basis.
If you make mental health a top priority in your retired life, you’ll save money, you’ll increase your happiness, and you’ll be able to stave off both cognitive and physical decline.
Mental health planning and preparation shouldn’t be expensive, and with the right strategies, any retiree should be able to afford it.