Dear Vicki,

I spent years looking forward to retirement. But after the past two years, I feel stuck. First, COVID-19 kicked our travel plans to the curb. Increased inflation is eating away at our savings. We see a few friends but don’t go out much because hubby and I have health issues that place us at risk even though we are vaccinated. These are not the golden years we envisioned. My daughter thinks I’m depressed but I think I just feel an understandable discouragement. How do I get myself out of this funk?

Feeling stuck vs. clinical depression

You are certainly not alone in feeling disillusioned. These couple of years have sobered us and there are many reasons for concern. We are trying to understand our “new normal” — a term, in itself, that is troubling because what we really want is our old normal back. Many in our generation realize this is not the retirement they planned on enjoying. While that brings dismay and sorrow, a crisis always offers opportunities. If you feel a bit stale, there’s no time like the New Year to push the reset button. But if it’s a clinical depression, a greater level of care is needed.

Begin by taking care of your physical self. See your physician. Ask your health care provider to screen you for a depressive disorder. If a clinical depression is suspected, your provider will refer you for counseling and, perhaps, prescribe medication. If a clinical disorder is ruled out, make sure you are taking enough supplements, getting some sunshine and moving regularly and proceed to the next steps to help you get unstuck.

Pull out your calendar. If you don’t have one, buy one. Take a look at the month ahead. What do you have scheduled? If, after months of isolation, you see a big bunch of blanks, start filling it in. Make regular plans that will get you out of the house. Yes, you need to stay away from crowds but don’t become a hermit. People need people and we need activities and goals to give shape to our lives. Make a standing date for coffee with a friend. Plan a weekly library excursion. Invest in a workshop to learn something new. Teach a grandchild how to knit or how to bake a cake. If necessary at first, strong-arm yourself to schedule a few things each week, even if you don’t feel like it. In fact, especially if you don’t feel like it! Action before desire will build interest and open you to new possibilities.

Once you’ve reengaged with the world, give some ongoing thought to the question of purpose. One of the main reasons for retirement depression is that folks who have been productive and focused when employed lose their sense of meaning. It seems curious but many of us flounder in the midst of our newfound free time! Finding a new sense of purpose is such a huge topic that many books have been written about it. Answers don’t come easy and it may be worth reading a few books about the subject. Take it in small doses but start to pay attention to what matters to you. Then try to think of ways that you can contribute in those areas or meet others who share the same interests.

It’s a new year and hopeful signs abound. New treatments are on the horizon and vaccines are available to all who want them. Feeling stuck is understandable but we have the power to restart at any time. Being active and engaged — even if we have to kick ourselves in the behind first — is the best way to reboot our lives!

Dear Vicki,

What do you think about a widower getting himself a dog? Is this a good idea?

Furry Companions

Pet ownership has many benefits but before you take that leap, you’d be smart to consider all angles! Yes, a dog is a great companion and there is a good reason that a dog is known as “man’s best friend.” In addition to companionship, a dog gives you a reason to get up in the morning, promotes physical activity, and fosters social interactions. As someone who walks her dog several times daily in downtown Annapolis, I promise you that there is no better way to meet people!

However, if you’ve never had a dog before, consider the time, commitment, and expense that being a parent to one of these furry companions requires. Depending upon the age of your dog and the breed, your dog will require training, grooming, spaying or neutering, and regular veterinarian care. There is no such thing as a free dog! But the love you receive in return is priceless. Consider who will take care of your dog if you want to travel. Again, kennel boarding or a pet-sitter can be quite costly. Also, depending upon your age and physical condition, a puppy may outlive you. There is nothing sadder than pets who have lost their homes due to the illness or death of their “people.”

If you do choose to become a dog parent, please consider adopting a rescue animal, perhaps an older dog who has less energy and will require less training. If you are still on the fence, you may be able to foster a rescue dog as a trial run. Please contact the SPCA for information on this. Additionally, if you decide that a dog is too much work, cats can also be good company and are more self-sufficient than a dog. Studies show that spending time with a beloved pet lowers blood pressure and stress hormones and, at the same time, increases levels of dopamine and other “feel good” hormones. Pets promote good health and can enrich the lives of older Americans — as long as you do your homework and are prepared for the commitment!

Vicki Duncan is a licensed professional therapist and welcomes your questions. She can be reached at [email protected].

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