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Fear of ageing – the retirement watershed

I think it's perfectly normal to admit that as I approached my retirement last year it brought on thoughts of what life might hold.
‘How long might I have left?’ ‘What kind of health can I look forward to?’ ‘Will I become a burden to others as I get older?’
Don’t let retirement get you under the weather
At the most fundamental level, I think this was a fear of ageing. Retirement is, after all, a major step in our lives, and it acted on me as a trigger. Everything told me I need not worry...

My reasons to be cheerful

1. My Mum was with us until she was 87 which, coincidentally, is the age my Dad is about to reach. Yes, he was her toyboy – all of 6 years 8 months younger! I was approaching 60 so, if longevity was in the family genes, I could hopefully look forward to at least 25 years of retired bliss.

2. Although I am very overweight, I am otherwise still in reasonable condition – one occasionally careful owner! I have had some health problems over the past few years but my brain kept telling me I would feel better once I didn’t have to get up at silly times and suffer the daily torture of a commute by public transport into Central London.

3. The freedom to determine my own lifestyle, to manage my own time as it suited me, should remove any stress from my life. Being divorced and living on my own means that this freedom is absolute, as no one depends on me from day to day.

4. I have two beautiful daughters who are doing well with their lives, plus a small circle of good friends.

5. In retirement terms I’m still young, so in theory I shouldn’t be about to cease to function.

Identifying, and understanding, those nagging questions

All of this – and more – should have put me totally at ease about my life to come, but still I felt something nagging at me which I just couldn’t pin down. So, as R-Day loomed, I busied myself with finishing up work and making arrangements for my farewell event, and tried to stop thinking ahead.
After the big day came and went I enjoyed my birthday celebrations, then began to take stock. I got my finances in some kind of order, planned the new budget and had a wonderful time buying new furniture for my flat to replace the cheap but essential stuff I got after the divorce.
I had a short break away and spent far more than I should have done buying CDs, books and DVDs, a new TV and lots of gadgets to fill my time. I love gadgets!
But still I could sense this persistent inner voice trying to tell me something. I had always thought – in fact I still do, a year on – that as I was only a moderately senior part of a large NHS Trust I would not have any of the feelings of the loss of status that many do once retired. After all, I didn’t need people to look up to me, to admire what I had done with my career, to give myself feelings of self-worth. Did I?
No, definitely not; that had never been a motivator for me so why should it matter now? I began to realise that what the voice was telling me was much more fundamental than that: what I was subconsciously worrying about was a fear of ageing.
Of course, we all get another day older every day, but this was the first time I had ever really contemplated my mortality. This is a huge question to which, as a not particularly religious person, I don’t really believe there to be an answer.
Should I try to find ways to prolong life, beyond the obvious healthy living factors? Maybe I should try cryogenics? But what is the point of coming back in many years’ time to a vastly different world, especially if no one else did it too! And it might not work: I might just become a giant ice lolly! But then again, I wouldn’t know that!

Age is just a number – so what makes it so scary?

My more rational self soon brought me back to the here and now, and helped me to see that my real concern was the ageing process itself. What I feared was how age may begin to impact on me, that it might create limits on what I can do, both physically and mentally.

Age is just a number - so what makes it so scary?

Most of all, what I was afraid of was becoming a burden to others, being dependent on them for care and support through my own inability to look after myself. I didn’t want to become a ‘weight’ for anyone else to carry.
Is this a stupid thing to fear? If you’re much younger than I am I expect you think it is, but those who are in their 60s and above – maybe some in their 50s – will probably have experienced this fear of ageing at one point or another. From now on in the human life cycle the expectation is that health may deteriorate, that I’ll be replacing my season ticket for travel with one for my GP’s surgery. But at least I get my drugs free now!
This fear of depending on others is for many a very real one even though it is, I hope, far from imminent if it has to happen at all. The fact that I live alone adds to the worry, as I fear I may become cut off from others, thereby making dependency on ‘the system’ even greater.
I know this makes me seem like a paranoid worrier but do remember that I said this was a deep-seated worry that took me some time to recognise. And when I look back on all of my ‘reasons to be cheerful’ I know I have much to enjoy in life.

Finding a strategy for tackling those worries head-on

They say that worrying can make you ill so it is pretty pointless doing it! It is, however, one of the few things I’ve always been quite good at, so I’ll need to keep it in check. Will my attitude to life change? Will I still have aims and goals, a plan for what I’ll do with my life? Does this even matter? All of these are questions that only time can really answer, but I intend that none of them are influenced by my becoming dependent on others. I intend to revisit this theme occasionally and to share my thoughts as they change over time.
Do you have a fear of ageing or worries about anything in particular? 
This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.


I like this post a lot. As I'm in my early forties I am, in theory, a long way off retirement. I do, none the less, have fears about retirement. As a stay at home dad who make a little money as a freelance writer, I know I don't fit the traditional 'retirement model.' Even so, my children are going to leave home and I won't be needed around the house as much. I do have fears about loss of status. I also have genuine fears at the thought of my wife and I spending so much time together when she retires. It's not that I think we won't get along, simply that we'll never have spent so much time in each other's company. That will be a huge adjustment, especially as she has a senior managerial position. As you say 'though Clive, you should look at the positives!
#1 Hi John, Many apologies for taking so long to reply. I haven't been on the site much recently and have only just found this! Thanks for your kind comments. I agree wholeheartedly with what you say, and had similar thoughts as I reached 50 and retirement started to become a reality for me. However, my now ex-wife banished all worries about how we might get along by telling me she wanted a divorce. I hope your solution isn't as drastic!
I looked forward to retiring the day I started working ,got finances sorted out early,still done things I wanted to do while aiming for that goal(make the suit according to the cloth)Age is just a number if you havea young outlook half the battle don't conform to stereotypes it's just a fact of life some have got,some have not just have to get on with it.Its also a fact some people live longer than others and some don't have an illness in their lives(shit happens) I worked since I was seventeen non stop retired at 60.I think I have done my stint and it will even get better when I get the state pension which I have worked for.regards NHS worker and private sector

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