Friday, 17 April 2020

What is the recipe for a happy retirement?

Independence, identity, planning and staying socially connected says Anastasiia Fedeeva, Postgraduate Researcher, from Northumbria University

For the last two and a half years, I have been working on a PhD that aims to promote wellbeing and physical activity in retirement. Over this time some people have asked me whether I ever felt too young to understand what retired people might need to live their lives better. I must admit that is a fair question but not just because of the potential age difference with my target population.
First, before designing and implementing any initiatives to promote wellbeing or physical activity, it is recommended that you have a good knowledge of the people that you want to help; their needs, preferences, and feelings (Laverack, 2017). Furthermore, retirement itself is a unique and complex phenomena. Retirement experiences vary considerably between individuals and are influenced by a variety of contextual factors, for example the characteristics of a job, personal health, social networks, or whether a spouse is working (Wang, 2007). Therefore, it is important to understand the gaps in what can predict positive retirement (Amabile, 2019; Van Der Zwaan et al., 2019). One way to explore retirement more comprehensively is by conducting qualitative research to find out about the experiences of retirees, as this allows us to identify the key ways in which people adapt to a successful retirement in connection with individual and contextual factors. That’s why I spent several months last year conducting focus groups and individual interviews in order to better understand psychological predictors of retirement adjustment such as people’s attitudes, feelings, and behaviours.
To understand what is so good and bad about retirement, it is important to recognise what people leave behind after quitting their jobs. Work brings a lot of positives to our lives and this is not only limited to our finances. Among the most common benefit is the feeling of belongingness and connectedness with our colleagues. Retired people can be very concerned about losing valuable connections from their previous employment. For some, work may be the main source of social interaction, and those people might feel particularly vulnerable in retirement. 
Another positive aspect of work is in giving us an identity. If you ask people: “Who are they?”, very often the first answer would be related to the person’s work role. As people leave employment, they can no longer define themselves by their professions, and it brings the question: “Who are they now?” Although work identity can be substituted with other roles, such as those that are family or hobby-related, this process might take some time and individual effort. For those with a particularly strong attachment to work, such identity transition can be very challenging. 
However, one benefit associated with retirement that many look forward to, is increased freedom and independence. Most are excited to have the opportunity to finally live in accordance with their own preferences and choices, free from work-associated obligations and routines. This desire for independence seems to develop beyond just freedom from work commitments. Retired people value independence in other areas of life as well, and sometimes this even takes precedence over the importance of social connections. One reason can be that people of retirement age have already had all variety of commitments, including work and family responsibilities, and retirement is viewed as a relief from that. Another possible reason is that retirement is seen by many as the beginning of ‘old age’. As individuals acknowledge age-related health decline, they start appreciating physical and mental independence more than ever.
Additionally, some recently retired people see creating a new routine as another restriction to their freedom but planning day-to-day activities can be beneficial for wellbeing in the long-run. Planning seems to enable a better use of this increased freedom by helping retirees to participate in different activities of their choice. Thus, establishing new routines can be remarkably empowering as they foster feelings of control, sense of purpose and self-value, that “I’ve got my life back!”. 
As such, regardless of the differences in experiences and expectations, social connectedness, independence, successful identity transition, and planning activities in retirement appeared to be important for the vast majority of my participants. These findings supported and added to our ideas on how to promote healthy retirement. 
Personally, I feel privileged to have shared in the stories of retired adults. This has made me feel much closer to them – they aren’t ‘just participants’ anymore but real people who have gone through life’s joys and struggles. I have realised even more that despite the generational, cultural, and life experience gaps, we might just be looking for the same things that contribute to our happiness and wellbeing after all.
  1. Laverack, G. (2017). The challenge of behaviour change and health promotion. Challenges, 8(2), 25. Retrieved from:
  2. Wang, M. (2007). Profiling retirees in the retirement transition and adjustment process: Examining the longitudinal change patterns of retirees’ psychological well-being. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 455-474. Retrieved from: 
  3. Amabile, T. M. (2019). Understanding Retirement Requires Getting Inside People’s Stories: A Call for More Qualitative Research. Work, Aging and Retirement. Retrieved from:
  4. Van der Zwaan, G. L., Hengel, K. M. O., Sewdas, R., de Wind, A., Steenbeek, R., van der Beek, A. J., & Boot, C. R. (2019). The role of personal characteristics, work environment and context in working beyond retirement: a mixed-methods study. International archives of occupational and environmental health, 92(4), 535-549. Retrieved from:

  1. "Your father's opted out of a dignified retirement." by Grizelda Grizlingham via University of Kent, British Cartoon Archive (Reference number: GGD1456, Published by: Spectator, 02 Mar 2018, with thanks to Copyright holder: Grizelda Grizlingham):

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Working from home isn’t for everyone - here’s how to cope if you’re struggling

Posted by Annabel van Griethuysen, Floating Dietetic Clinical Specialist, Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust (TEWV)

You may find yourself, as I have, being asked to work from home during the COVID-19 crisis. Although my work as a dietitian is vital to the NHS and to the care of patients, it is something which can be done remotely. Whilst those working from home may feel relieved in some ways to be able to socially distance, unlike our colleagues in front line services, this still comes with its own challenges.

Being isolated at home can be hard; it is easy to feel cut off from friends and co-workers, to feel out of the loop when it comes to work decisions and to feel stressed with how best to work when at home. Some people may find it frustrating that they cannot work as they did, and find performance dropping; others have told me that they are working over and beyond to almost prove that they are still being productive.

Working from home works for some people, and not for others. So what should we do if we are asked to work from home, and are struggling?

One thing which is key is to ensure that you keep a routine as much as possible. It is tempting to roll out of bed and turn on the laptop; no hair brushing, in pyjamas, no makeup. However, getting up and keeping a routine is very helpful to maintain mental health and structure. Getting up with enough time to relax before turning on the computer, to get dressed and to have breakfast, will help to separate relaxing time at home from work time at home. This also goes for the rest of the day - make time to do enjoyable activities, make sure you are getting enough sleep, and schedule breaks into your working day.

Ensuring you are eating and drinking well is also extremely important. Having time away from the computer for lunch and sitting in a different place to eat can help to break up the day and give you a much needed break. Generally, the British Dietetic Association has advised to continue to eat and drink normally throughout this pandemic, focussing on a balance of food groups. If we are struggling to shop regularly, they advise using fresh foods first, but also frozen, dried and tinned produce, for example vegetables, are still a valuable sources of nutrition. It is tempting to snack more when working from home; I know personally the lure of the biscuit tin is strong, but instead of reaching for a biscuit, try getting a hot drink, or having a wander to a different room for a 5 minute break. I’m lucky enough to have a garden to use to get a quick bit of exercise.

One thing to potentially consider is a supplement of vitamin D. This is usually the sunshine vitamin which, in the spring, we would be able to get from sunlight, but with limited exposure to the sun at the moment, a 10microgram supplement may be beneficial.

Having a completely separate space to work which is tidied or hidden away at the end of the day can help to establish structure and boundaries, and resist the temptation to work on into the night. Try to make sure that this space is appropriate as well, with a desk, supportive chair, and enough natural light and ventilation. It can also help to keep two or four legged ‘helpers’ at bay!

But finally, it is normal and understandable to feel anxious and stressed, especially at this time. So make sure you are talking if this is the case. Reach out to your social circles (I have somehow managed to teach my mother to use WhatsApp video calling!) and keep connected. Together we will be strong.

Some sources of support and information:

Annabel is a Floating Dietetic Clinical Specialist at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust (TEWV). Practitioner of Public Health, Faculty of Public Health, Trade Union Representative for the BDA (Association of UK Dietitians) and Staff and Dietetic Wellness Champion.

Photo attribution: 

Friday, 3 April 2020

The mental health of the nation has never been so under threat

Posted by Fiona Duncan, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Durham University

Lockdowns and self-isolation, increasing care demands, concern for others, and ongoing uncertainty are exacerbated by a reinforcing 24-hour news and opinion cycle, playing havoc with our stress and anxiety levels and battering our overall sense of wellbeing. The coronavirus crisis.

However, for many people across the country, a feeling of their wellbeing being under attack is not new. Experiences of overwhelming debt, long-term unemployment, insecure housing, poverty, food insecurity, social isolation lasting months or years and/or discrimination are common and can collectively chronically diminish the mental health of the public as a whole.

These normal and extraordinary circumstances raise the question of how the mental health of an entire population can be supported, or in other words, how can we improve public mental health (PMH)? Over the past year, I have had the privilege of investigating this complex question in detail within Fuse.

My work has primarily involved mapping interventions currently being delivered to improve PMH, exploring models of good practice and searching for emerging innovative ideas. This focused on two areas – Blackburn with Darwen, and Redcar and Cleveland – which were selected on the basis of mental health statistics and varying characteristics (e.g. rurality, deprivation etc.).

I found this mapping exercise a great opportunity to get out and about and talk to people who organise and deliver projects to improve PMH on the ground in their local area. I spoke to a lot of very helpful people who were very passionate about the work they did and it was inspiring to hear about the variety of innovative projects that were being provided for people in these local authority areas to promote good mental health and prevent mental illness.

One of our main findings was that interventions to prevent social isolation and loneliness by providing various social activities were most common. This may reflect how recent campaigns surrounding reducing social isolation in older adults have influenced policy. Although a multitude of individual, family, community and structural factors influence PMH, not all of these were addressed. Does this suggest a wider variety of interventions are required in the future or would it be better to develop interventions which have the ability to target multiple factors at the same time? For instance, interventions which increase social networks within society, self-confidence or self-efficacy may enable people to deal with many different threats to their mental health without having to use a specific service.

An interesting finding of this mapping exercise was that a lot of these interventions either hadn’t been evaluated at all or only a very basic evaluation had been carried out so there was very little objective evidence regarding their effectiveness. This is something we hope to address in the next phase of the project by carrying out in-depth evaluations of promising interventions, including their potential to be delivered on a larger scale.

One final finding from this mapping that seems more relevant now than a month ago is that very few of the public mental health interventions could be delivered exclusively online. The implications of this are that the vast majority of the projects that we identified will most likely be suspended and many people who depended on this support will be left to cope alone. Moreover, people who are currently struggling with the isolation of lockdown have reduced options for help. Although Public Health England has published online guidance for the public on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus there is an urgent need for supporting remote delivery or new online interventions within the next few weeks (of course, recognising that not everyone has access to these).

We also need to consider what we are all going to do when the COVID-19 situation is over. Will the country’s mental health bounce back to normal levels without any help, perhaps benefitting from the shared sense of community and new ways of living and working developed during the crisis? Or, will we need to work hard to develop and deliver services at the individual, family, community and structural levels to repair the damage that has been done to the mental health of the nation?

This work was part of WP4 of phase one of the NIHR SPHR Public Mental Health programme.  Information about the wider programme is on the SPHR website and was a collaboration of researchers based at Fuse, UCL, Imperial College London and Cambridge University.