How to Use Stress to Create a Happy and Relaxed Retirement

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Less than 50% of people have a written retirement plan. The majority of people simply don’t have enough saved for this time in their lives. And, even if you have significant assets, retirement is a massive lifestyle change and a huge financial responsibility. Thinking about retirement can be stressful.

However, there is actually a way to use stress to your advantage — read on for tips.

Stress can actually be beneficial

Dean Drobot /

It goes without saying that stress is no fun — especially if you don’t know how to do it right.

Psychology suggests that there are good reasons for stress and good ways to use stress to your advantage.

Emotions, even negative emotions, have a purpose in our lives. Envy can help drive you toward goals. Anger can enable you to prevent exploitation. Stress, anxiety and worry can help you exert caution and discipline.

Before you retire, you need to have exerted major discipline to have saved adequately. And, you need to be cautious and plan very carefully before you move forward.

Use stress to your advantage when planning your retirement!

Fight or flight — the most common reaction to stress

Worried man
A and N photography /

Even though stress, anxiety and worry can be positive, most of us have a negative — not very productive — reaction to stress.

When we feel stress, our body is pumping chemicals into our bloodstream and those chemicals typically drive us to fight or flight:

  • We fight to try to extinguish the perceived foe.
  • We fly to get as far away from the threat as possible.

Fight and flight can be awesome defenses against immediate threats. Our brains developed the fight or flight reaction to protect us from real dangers like snakes hiding in the grass, a leopard leaping at us from trees, and other wild dangers.

However, fight and flight aren’t great reactions to things like retirement planning.

How many of us “fly away” – avoid, procrastinate, ignore – our retirement planning needs?

Following are four more positive and effective ways to deal with retirement planning stress.

1. Stress does not need to be harmful

Baby boomer friends in a kitchen
Dmytro Zinkevych /

Stress is only harmful to you if you believe that it is harmful to you.

Kelly McGonigal is a psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University. In her Ted Talk, she teaches us that you can eliminate the harmful impact of stress.

Yes, stress can be extremely damaging. A University of Wisconsin study found that stress can increase your risk of dying by 43%. And, McGonigal estimates that believing stress is bad for you might be “…the fifteenth-leading cause of death in the United States.”

However, research abounds that you can eliminate the harmful effects of stress. One study from the University of Buffalo found that you can reduce or even eliminate the damaging aspect of stress by spending time helping loved ones, friends or neighbors. “When you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience,” McGonigal said.

If you are stressed about finances and retirement, try reaching out to friends and family to talk about it. Offer them your best tips and commiserate and problem-solve.

If you’re not comfortable talking about finances with people you know, join a Facebook group or talk with a financial adviser.

2. Change your perception of stress

Students taking a test
Lucky Business /

University of Rochester psychologist Jeremy Jamieson has proven that the mere belief that stress can be useful can, in fact, improve your outcomes.

In one experiment, a group of students was preparing for an exam.

  • Jamieson told one group that stress can help you rise to the occasion of the test.
  • He told the other group to just focus if they get stressed out.

The group who were simply told that stress is enhancing did significantly better on that test and subsequent tests than the group that was told to focus.

Your mindset can actually impact how stress impacts you. Stress can increase your productivity.

Stressed about finances? Remind yourself that the stress is there for a reason and let it help you deal with the issues.

Stress can help you get started tackling your retirement plans.

3. Acknowledge your stress

Woman with e-reader and coffee
mentatdgt /

Too often, we don’t actually acknowledge big long-term stressors like retirement. Retirement is an abstract concept in that it’s hard to think about in concrete terms.

However, your future financial security is probably gnawing at you.

If you can acknowledge and label any stress you feel, then your brain activity will actually shift and go to work dealing with it.

Researcher Matt Lieberman used brain scans to illustrate how recognizing stress can make you more reactive tackling problems.

In one study, participants were shown negative images. When they were asked to acknowledge and label the emotions they felt when viewing the picture, the activity in their brains moved from the emotional part of the brain to the prefrontal cortex — the area where we consciously think and plan.

4. Start small

couple using a budget app
mavo /

Planning retirement is indeed a massive task. You are trying to account for the next 20 to 30 years of your life with various unknowns and a finite set of resources.

Even so, one study found that people spend more time researching and buying a television than they spend on retirement planning. This certainly sounds like a “flight response” to the overwhelming stress of long term planning.

One way to deal with retirement planning stress is to start small.

You don’t need to tackle everything all at one time. You can break down the task into manageable chunks.

The NewRetirement retirement planning system is ideal for this. The tool is the most detailed and personalized online. It saves your information and allows you to plan at your own pace.

  • Start by documenting the broad outlines of your current finances.
  • See where you stand now.
  • Discover ways to strengthen your financial future.
    • Figure out the ideal time to start Social Security.
    • How much savings do you need? Don’t have enough? What if you delay your retirement date or plan to spend less?
    • What is your withdrawal strategy?
    • Will you have an estate? Is it as valuable as you’d like it to be?
    • And more …

Get started today. And then, keep adding to your plan.

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