For those of us approaching the age where we leave our careers behind, the thought of retirement brings with it a range of emotions. Maybe you’re feeling delighted at the prospect of no longer having to work, or anticipation for what your daily routine might look like once you leave work. Possibly you’re doubtful about whether or not you’re actually ready to retire, or maybe you’re looking forward to it but have some natural trepidation.

Whatever our career, retirement represents a large change. But for those of you working in the fire and rescue service, this can feel like even more of a shift, as you come to terms with the prospect of leaving the fire family and having to adjust to civilian life, especially as many of you are actually still younger than the traditional retirement age when you retire from the fire service.

The five stages of retirement

From an emotional perspective, there are five stages that have been generally recognised to follow periods of significant change, which are as follows:

Imagination: Retirement planning, creating a picture and an idea of what your retirement might look like, what’s important to you etc. It’s all in the imagination. Picturing yourself in a hammock on a white sandy beach? It’s okay to have a fantastical element to it that may not always be realistic. Plus imagining what the future holds can take place well in advance of an actual retirement date.

Anticipation: All those butterflies fluttering around in your stomach, each representing a different feeling. Excitement, anxieties and doubts will arise during this period and usually occur more frequently as the retirement date approaches.

Liberation: The big day comes and brings with it an initial euphoria at the point of retirement, as we experience feelings of freedom.

Reorientation: This is an important stage, as retirement advances and we need to make adjustments to our activities and relationships as we adjust to our new reality. Sometimes other life events occur during this period that also have significant impact, such as moving house or feelings of bereavement.

Reconciliation: Like anything, we get used to things. So this last stage takes place as retirement advances further and brings with it relative contentment, a sense of hopefulness and/or the acceptance of the positive and negative aspects of retirement.

It can be helpful to think of retirement as a process rather than just a one-off event in the calendar. Then giving yourself time to explore how it may be for you will provide a great support to your wellbeing as you move forwards with your life.

How to handle your feelings

As you approach retirement and maybe have all those butterflies flitting around inside of you, you may find it useful to create two lists: things you are looking forward to and things you are concerned about.

Your ‘things I’m looking forward to’ list may include some of the following:

  • A reduction in daily stress
  • More ‘me time’ to do all the things you enjoy
  • The excitement of planning your retirement party and life afterwards
  • The freedom of time and choice this time may bring
  • More time with your family, friends and loved ones
  • The opportunity to travel or even relocate to somewhere you’ve always wanted to live
  • Getting more / better sleep
  • Taking up a new hobby or interest
  • Having the time to do voluntary work, studying or have a completely different job

While on your list of concerns, you may have some of the following:

  • Sense of loss at leaving a career that has been such a huge part of your life
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Lack of structure to your days and the onus on yourself to fill your time
  • Loss of identity or feeling removed from the fire service
  • Like you may be left behind or isolated
  • Worries about health, finances or life events
  • Spending more time with your partner or loved ones
  • Too much thinking time for incidents you’ve suppressed
  • Guilt at no longer being part of a team who helps others

Both of these lists are completely reasonable, natural responses to approaching retirement. So how do you focus on the positives and not feel overwhelmed by the concerns?

Give yourself some space

In order to manage both hopes and anxieties, it can be helpful to plan for your retirement as far in advance and as flexibly as possible. A great place to start in doing so is to consider how to manage and fill the ‘SPACE’ that retirement may bring. And when we say space, we mean the following acronym:

Structure: Have a framework in mind of how your retirement may look. Do you want to look for work elsewhere? Would you like to volunteer? What organisations might you join for social interaction?
Plan: Take time to put together a retirement plan covering all the important aspects. Create a timeline for either side of retirement and write a list of everything you’d like to consider about the transition.
Adjust: No one likes to have major change sprung on them, so as well as needing time to plan, you also need time to get used to the idea. Give yourself time to adjust to both the idea of retirement and then the reality.
Connect: Nurture relationships with family, friends and colleagues. Agree plans for retirement to still see people from your time in work or seek out social networks to help you stay connected.
Enjoy: You’ve earned this next stage of your life, so make sure there are plenty of people and activities in your life that bring you joy. Write a list of things you’d like to do and never had the time to and start ticking them off.

Take positive action

You may also find it helpful to have a contingency plan for each concern to help cope with change in circumstance and life events. Worried about a lack of structure to your days? Do some research into local clubs you might like to join who meet on specific days or volunteer roles with weekly routines. Nervous about what might come into your mind with all that time to think? Why not get in touch with us to speak to one of our psychological therapists to help you navigate through things. And how about joining one of our Living Well Groups to help you still feel connected with the fire service after your retirement?

Think as well about the difference retirement will have on your physical health. A lifetime of shift patterns and being woken by sirens may have had a long-lasting impact on your sleep, so look to create a good sleep routine as soon as you can. If you’ve relied on your career to keep your fitness up, try and find a new way of achieving your 150 minutes of physical activity each week. And now you’re no longer eating with your watch, make sure you educate yourself on the nutritional values of food and what you should be aiming to eat.

Relaxation is also key to your mental and physical wellbeing, and don’t confuse relaxing and taking part in enjoyable activities, they’re not the same thing. Look at how you could introduce some relaxation strategies into your daily life before you retire. Tools such as mindfulness or enjoying some of our guided relaxations may be just the thing to help quieten your mind and enjoy each day as it comes.

Our support lasts a lifetime

Don’t forget, just because you’re leaving the fire service doesn’t mean the support available to you from The Fire Fighters Charity comes to an end, and when we say we’re here for you for life, we mean it. If you have completed five years or more in the fire service (or two if you were made redundant) or you had to retire on medical grounds, you’re a beneficiary for life. You can find more resources and information on the ways we can support you in your retirement here.

So if you need us for anything in this next phase of your life, keep in touch with us. You might like to sign up to receive our regular health and wellbeing content or maybe you could save our number in your phone in case you ever need us. Whatever life throws up, we’re here for you. So if you ever need us, call our Support Line on 0800 389 8820, browse our library of health and wellbeing resources or complete an application online.