Looking after mental health in later life, part 3

Here’s the third and penultimate part of my blog about how to stay in good shape mentally in retirement.  The loss of work and the sense of routine and purpose that goes with it is a huge challenge for many of us, including myself.  It’s been made all the worse by the Covid restrictions severely limiting the activity options for all of us.  

Keep in touch


Friends can keep you on track when life is difficult. They can offer a different view on a problem as well as practical help, or can be a sounding board for your thoughts.

Friendship takes time, and sometimes effort. It is easy to lose touch with people, especially if their life seems too busy for you or if you are feeling down. Having friends is a positive way to maintain good emotional health, even when doing so may sometimes seem like hard work.  Don’t lose touch with the people who are important to you – it’s never too late to get back in touch with old friends.

Small world

You may have friends and family scattered around the country or world. Explore keeping in touch by phone, email, Zoom, Skype, Facebook, or letter.

The world is constantly changing, and you are not alone if you feel out of step with it. Technology has had a big impact on the way we communicate. You may feel that the values and attitudes you have are no longer respected. But not everyone from the younger generation lives up to their media reputation.

Keeping in touch with people from other generations can help to keep this in perspective and can make you realise that there are like-minded people of all ages.

Consider volunteering with youth work, chatting more with friends’ grandchildren, or helping out at a local school.

Having friends of your own generation is important, too. They can better understand life from your perspective. Plus, it’s good to reminisce sometimes about old TV favourites or the types of cars you used to own.

Old and new

If you’re used to a close circle of friends at work, will you keep in touch when you retire? You may find that work friends were great when you shared common problems, but that the friendship changes when you no longer work together.  Don’t shy away from making new friends – perhaps through a new shared interest, such as walking, travelling or reading.

Friendships do change with time. Sometimes it is difficult to give the time we want to every friendship. Friendships can go sour for many reasons. If a friendship starts to hurt you, mentally or physically, then don’t be afraid to take a break from it, or end it.

Is it good now?

Keeping in touch with friends is also about considering what is good for them. Don’t be offended if your children can’t talk when you phone at 6.30pm as they sit down for a family meal or are starting to help with their own children’s homework. Likewise, calling people when they are at work won’t always get the best result; try meeting them for lunch instead. Similarly, if you don’t want to be called after 9.00pm because it’s time to get ready for bed, let your loved ones know!

Be active and sleep well

Staying active and sleeping well are proven ways to look after our wellbeing.

Physical activity

Regular physical activity and exercise can:

  • Boost self-esteem, raise self-worth and improve confidence
  • Promote good sleep patterns
  • Provide a meaningful activity
  • Offer a chance to meet people
  • Be something that you really enjoy doing

Being active doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym; t’ai chi, Pilates, gardening, dog walking, dancing or being part of a walking group are all good ways to get some exercise. Being active doesn’t have to cost much money. Many councils offer activities at lower rates for older people.

Physical activity can be as effective as anti-depressant medication in treating mild to moderate depression, which is why exercise therapy is available on prescription in many areas. Information is available at www.nhs.uk, or your GP may be able to help.


Getting a good night’s sleep allows your body and mind to rest, repair and re-energise. Not sleeping well can cause a range of problems, including:

  • Poor concentration
  • Low mood
  • Irritability
  • A weakened immune system

In the longer term, trouble sleeping can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety, stress and depression.

Sleep patterns can change with ageand may be influenced by:

  • Caffeine or alcohol intake
  • Pain
  • Medication
  • The need to go to the toilet

Good sleep doesn’t just mean lots of sleep, as the amount of sleep that each person needs is different. You can also talk to your GP about sleep problems, as they may be able to change your medication or suggest solutions to other health issues that may be keeping you awake.

Mentally active

Keeping your mind active is important, too. There are many ways of doing this, such as:

  • Tackling puzzles, like crosswords, Sudoku or word searches
  • Playing games, like chess, bridge or bingo
  • Reading a book, magazine or newspaper
  • Going on a course or learning a new skill
  • Using your memory instead of writing a list
  • Using mental arithmetic instead of a calculator
  • Playing a musical instrument, if you can

Eat and drink sensibly

What we eat and drink affects how we feel. Sometimes there’s an immediate effect, for instance with alcohol. Other things we consume can have long-term impacts.

Balanced and healthy

The human body and mind needs a mix of nutrients to work properly. Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day is recommended, and is a vital part of a healthy diet.

Stay hydrated

Stopping your body from dehydrating is important, whatever the weather.You may want to consider limiting your intake of sugary drinks, caffeine, and alcohol as, in excess, they can have a negative effect on your wellbeing.

Moderate drinking

The odd alcoholic drink is unlikely to harm you if you drink them in moderation and if alcohol doesn’t conflict with any medication you are taking. Stay within the recommended daily alcohol units.  Popping to the pub or club for a drink can be a good social experience, but solitary habitual drinking is often a sign of a problem. Drinking alcohol is not a good way to manage difficult feelings.  Visit www.drinkaware.co.uk for more information and advice.

Social experience

Sharing food or a drink is an enjoyable social event. Make it a reason to meet up with friends, even if it’s just for a cuppa in the local café.

Eating properly when coping with bereavement can be difficult, especially if you are not used to cooking for one or preparing meals at all. During this time, your appetite may be affected by your emotions. Try not to eat alone all the time. Take up offers from friends and family to eat with them. Find out if there are any lunchtime clubs that operate in your area, perhaps as part of a reading group or other interest groups.

Published by brianjonesdiary

Dad, husband, brother and son. Interested in travel, politics, sport, health and much more. Semi-retired and aiming to making the most of life as I approach my sixth decade.

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