Retirement, whether planned or unplanned, marks the end of a chapter in a person’s life and the start of a new one. Many people focus on the financial aspects of retirement, but not too many people think of the psychological and emotional adjustment that takes place until after they retire. Law enforcement is a unique culture of sworn and civilian individuals who rely on each other in a way that is different from other professions. Once a person retires, they can feel “out of sight, out of mind,” as they no longer have regular contact with the people and agency they have interacted with every day over several years.
In a recent survey of LASD sworn retirees, approximately four of every 10 respondents indicated that they experienced unexpected issues adjusting to retired life. Of this group, half reported experiencing emotional and psychological reactions, including loss of identity and purpose, disbelief, anxiety, depression, loss of LASD family, boredom and difficulty relaxing. Additionally, one out of every four respondents indicated that reactions to work-related critical incidents emerged after their retirement, and almost one-third of all respondents indicated that they continued to experience reactions from work-related critical incidents, not only before they retired, but also afterward. The most frequently endorsed critical-incident reactions in those surveyed were intrusive memories, frequent recall of the incident, anxiety, panic, depression, anger and sleep difficulty. Among circumstances that made the retirement adjustment more difficult, over one-third of all survey respondents indicated that the above stated emotional and psychological responses made retirement adjustment difficult, and one of four survey respondents indicated that the behavioral adjustment to having too much free time, lack of a daily routine and no outside law enforcement activities/hobbies impacted adjustment time significantly. Additional factors, such as being injured and/or dealing with chronic pain at the time of retirement, can further impact the emotional and psychological adjustment.
Despite the adjustment-related difficulties experienced by the surveyed LASD sworn retirees, approximately 95 percent reported feeling “satisfied or very satisfied” with the quality of their retired life. This finding suggests that, although there may be a period of discomfort during the initial adjustment to retirement, most people will eventually settle into retired life. So what are some things you can do to better prepare yourself for the emotional and psychological adjustment to retirement?
• Start engaging in outside law enforcement activities and hobbies. This might take some experimentation, but try to be open to different experiences and activities.
• Start forming friendships with people who are outside of the law enforcement culture. Although you may be tempted to surround yourself with people who understand law enforcement culture, this can limit your social resources after retirement and might lead to increased feelings of loss and isolation. Additionally, you could risk reinforcing cynical thinking and unhealthy behaviors (e.g., drinking alcohol to numb emotional discomfort) after retirement that impact your overall health.
• Consider volunteering and/or finding a part-time job. This will keep your mind sharp, keep you active and can foster a sense of purpose helping others or giving you a structure/routine.
• Take inventory of how you view yourself. Explore the many parts of your personal identity: cop, dispatcher, friend, spouse, mentor, educator, son/daughter, parent, etc. Begin spending more time improving the parts of your identity outside of the work you do so that, when you make a change with work, other aspects of your identity are strongly developed.
• Do your homework. Take the time to do your own research to better understand the emotional and psychological adjustment to retirement. There are several online resources and books on this topic that you can find by doing an internet search. Remember, your emotional and psychological health are just as important as your retirement pay and benefits.
• Consider attending counseling to resolve any existing issues or concerns, and/or learn additional tools and skills to facilitate a healthy adjustment to retired life. Confidential counseling is often covered through your private insurance (contact your insurance provider for specific coverage details). You can also utilize free and confidential consultation and counseling with a licensed psychologist through LASD’s Psychological Services Bureau.
If you would like to learn additional tools and skills to improve your emotional and psychological well-being during your adjustment to retired life, please contact Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 to schedule a confidential appointment.