I’ve said before that I like to read the papers at the weekend to see if anything inspires a retirement blog. There is often something that fits the bill but I never get round to making a blog about it but not this time. Last weekend there was a big article in The Observer review section about stress. I wouldn’t have been much of a psychologist if I hadn’t been interested in this area both as it applied to adults in education and to students as well. I used to run courses on stress management way before they became fashionable. Anyway that was then and this is now and the article that caught my eye had the ‘How Stressed Are You?’ test that I just had to try. It was a silly thing to do I suppose given that I know we have been fairly stressed recently what with one thing and another, see house blog as one example. And sure enough my score was quite high. Try it yourself if you are silly enough and if you can read it, just don’t get stressed if you can’t.
All that said what really caught my interest was a part of the article that talked about an area I hadn’t heard of before but on reading this section, sparked my blog writing juices. In simple terms the article asked whether austerity ‘caused’ stress. The suggestion was that as austerity levels had increased in the UK, so too had levels of stress and that there was a connection between the two. This blog is not the place to go into questions about whether the correlation is a causal and needless to say the evidence was probably not strong enough to draw any definite conclusions. But, what the article went on to say was, that a group of psychologists called Psychologists Against Austerity (PAA) thought that it did. They backed this up by talking about 5 ‘austerity ailments’. And these 5 psychological ailments really did grab my attention.
I’ll describe the five areas and then I’ll elaborate on what I think might be their relevance to the retired person. Actually, now I read the blog through, I realise I haven’t done this at all, maybe they’re self-explanatory. By the end of the blog, if you get that far, you can decide whether there’s anything in my hypothesis, which, in the words of the title, is – is retirement stressful? In other words could it be that retirement, far from being the land of milk and money*, we think it’s going to be before we retire, can actually, if we’re not very careful, turn out to be possibly, just possibly, to be the most stressful time of our lives?
So the five stress-related austerity ailments as identified by PAA are :
- Humiliation and shame
- Instability and insecurity
- Isolation and loneliness
- Being trapped or feeling powerless
- Fear and distrust
When you list them like this they seem a bit depressing but my point is (and I’m not entirely sure that I have one, we’ll see) that retirement and austerity have a lot in common. Austerity means that we’re short of a few life things and retirement might be the same or similar – we don’t have a job, we may not have as much money, we experience reduced self-esteem and so on. Of course, at this point you’re saying well, you’re just a miserable old bastard and you can’t generalise about such things. And you’d be right on both counts. So what I did was to give myself a score for each of these areas on a scale of 1 to 10, to see how much the concept applied to me. I always find when doing these self-report scales you have to pretty much give the first number that comes into your head. It always seems the case that when you go back to your scores, as I did this morning, your scores change, as they did. However, that said, this is what happened to me. I reckoned if I got, out of a possible total score of 50, a personal score of say 30 or over, then my hypothesis (that stress and retirement are connected) was ‘proven’ well enough.
It’s marvellous what you can write about in your own blog, all kinds of unproven rubbish, the like of which I would never have felt able to do in a professional context. To cut to the chase my scores were as follows : area 1 (I’m not going to type them all out again), score out of 10 as it applies to myself – 3. Area 2, score – 7. Area 3, score – 4. Area 4, score 7. Area 5, score 3. Therefore my total is 26 out of 50. In other words, and by my own idiosyncratic significance rating, case not proven. There does not seem to be, for me, a causal correlation between being retired and these stress-related emotional conditions.
Perhaps the point to make at this stage, given the somewhat negative disposition of the blog, is that first and most obvious my scores aren’t that high but second, and perhaps more relevant, there are, in my retirement life, other counter-balancing life factors which reduce the significance of my score further still. I don’t want to go into any great detail in this blog because that is not what it’s about, but in a nutshell I’d say (and this is a definition of stress I have carried with me for many, many years although I cannot remember where I first came across it, as I claim no credit for it other than having the brains to realise its significance for me – maybe Stephen Covey?), stress is caused when we live our lives in a way that is not in line with our values. One of the most important decisions I have taken in keeping my stress levels to a reasonable minimum (this does not mean of course that I don’t have stress, ha, no), is to identify my values and to try and live my retirement life in line with those values, you know the ones – being creative, learning new skills, trying to balance my activities, being supportive of others and so on.
So that turned out to be my view of the relationship between those ‘austerity ailments’ and my retirement. None of them scored a zero, so they’re there to some extent or other, they have some degree of relevance to me but not to a level that is debilitating to me and my retirement ambitions. Over to you, what do you think?
*an article on AOL asked why are pensioners happy? Answer, because they’re richer / have more spending power than they have ever had. Hmm, not sure about that.