The headline of a recent article in The Sunday Times had me rolling my eyes, “Anxiety drives over-50s to Drink”. Here we go, I thought, another nanny state directive to tell us to stop enjoying ourselves. But then my eyes popped when I saw the top “Reasons for Drinking More in the Over 50s” because, top of the list with 40% of the vote, was “Retirement”.
Now, nowhere in the article did it state if people were drinking more in retirement because they enjoyed it and felt they now had the relaxation time to do it. “No work in the morning, think I’ll just finish that bottle of red”, is something I’ve caught myself thinking on the odd Wednesday night. Or Tuesday. Or Thursday. Neither did the article state that 40% of respondents had increased their drinking solely to deal with the stress and pressure of retirement, although the final quote from an alcohol support group stated that, as a society, we have “an inability to support those who are experiencing radical changes to their way of life”.
This statement did ring a bell with me. Retirement is a “radical change to a way of life”, but it’s one that I’ve tended to view as a positive end goal. I was certainly in the camp that was drinking in celebration of the fact that I’d arrived at retirement relatively early. However, this statement did remind me that in my local pub, at least three elderly retirees have confided in me that they found it extremely difficult to adjust to their retirement. “Thank God for my model railway”, one stated, “I’d be dead otherwise”. I laughed, because I thought he was joking… and then quickly gulped my pint when I realised he wasn’t.
He served to hammer a point home all the same. It’s fairly obvious that you need to have post retirement goals and ambitions, hobbies and pastimes, to fill the hours that work used to. This appears to be a “no brainer” but it’s very easy to tell yourself that you’ll build that plan once you’ve the time to do it. And, of course, you’ll have plenty of “time to do it” once you’ve retired. Therefore it goes onto the back burner and there’s a good chance it will stay there until Day One of your actual retirement.
Now, clearly drinking isn’t meant to be primarily a pastime (although I have a friend who works with recovering alcoholics who tells me that one of the biggest regrets of ex-drinkers is the amount of time that they devoted to drinking that they’ll never get back.) One of the biggest bridges you may have to cross in early retirement, however, could be a social one. While you may have crossed the ER finishing line, you might not have many friends in the same position (unless you happen to have a lot of older friends.) Even then, you might not find that they are of the same frame of mind. A couple of my good friends could probably retire tomorrow if they wanted to, but it’s the last thing they fancy doing right now. Part of the reason for that is that they really enjoy the social side of their workplace – in fact, at the weekend, one confided in me that he’d actually quit work tomorrow if it wasn’t for the enjoyment he got from chewing the fat with his colleagues. He felt that the fact that their job was actually quite hard going and stressful helped them bond together to get through it.
You will find yourself with time on your hands and time on your own in retirement. That’s fine if, like me, you quite enjoy a bit of your own company. On the other hand, I also know I really enjoy the company of other people too, so I’ve made a big effort to stay in touch with friends and family on a much more regular basis than I used to. In fact, I actually diarise phone calls going forward in Google Calendar to remind me to stay in touch. I would admit that sometimes this feels a bit over the top and somewhat contrived, but I’ve also often been pleasantly surprised when Google nudges me with a reminder to give an old friend or colleague a call (and I actually go and do it!) Despite the fact that I often find it quite hard to pick up the ‘phone, I always feel better and have my spirits lifted when I’ve made a successful effort to speak to someone I haven’t heard from in a while. I don’t make the mistake of expecting a return call from them, however. I accept that making an effort to stay in touch is something that’s important to me, and that it could well be a one-sided sentiment – but my actual experience is that I get a lot more return calls now on a social basis than I ever did before.
So, to return to the point of my opening paragraph, if there’s many better things in life than sharing a few drinks with good friends, I’d like to know what they are – and maybe that’s why you find yourself drinking more in retirement!