Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 627 Retirement, Guilt and Stress

This is Retirement Talk. I am Del Lowery.

Coffee time. A friend joins us. He is a two year college professor. “I haven't been doing anything lately he said, “and now I'm just trying to not feel guilty about it.” He was brought up in a very religious household and community. I agreed with thoughts and then related this story about my sleepless night just last night.

We had company. That is when dinner get dangerous. Hors d'oeuvres proceed the dinner accompanied by a glass of wine. The food was delicious; plentiful and the conversation lengthy. An extra glass of wine was casually consumed. Then the desert was served along with coffee. Dessert we never have unless we have company. When they departed and quiet descended that bloated feeling began to swell along with a sense of guilt from my trespass. How could I have been such a glutton.

Guilt has a way of seemingly absorbed into our bloodstream. That is where the stress begins. That's what happened to me. The guilt from over-eating resulted in a sleepless night. Not because of the physical discomfort but because of the stress it produced. I lay in bed and thought about my inability to eat wisely.

I knew I shouldn't binge eat or binge at anything else as far as that goes. Sleepless hours pasted, thoughts of condemnation circled menacingly. Truth slowly seeped to the surface. Over eating on rare occasion is not an unpardonable sin. It isn't even a sin. It isn't even bad. Not if it is done on rare occasion. More damaging that the over-eating is the guilt that builds stress. I finally slept.

My coffee friend mention the need for a podcast on stress. He mentioned an article that he had recently read that discussed the fact that many people who retire have a heart attack and die within two years of retirement. I guess there is a study out there somewhere that supports this. “People that retire don't know what to do with themselves,” he said. “After doing one thing for forty years it is hard to make a switch to anything else”, he concluded. As an example he sighted himself. He was returning home in a few weeks and said that he would probably teach a couple of classes at the college where he had his career. He can't get away from it.

I did understand his plight. I taught a few classes after I left the profession. I like to think it was a bit different since I had spent my life teaching high school students. The two classes I taught since retiring were at the university level. I just wanted to see if it was much different. It wasn't. And I didn't do it again. What I want to talk about is the connection between stress and guilt or perhaps more aptly put guilt followed by stress. The guilt comes first and then the stress.

I have always felt that my sense of guilt, as well as my friends, came from our religious upbringing. We had been born into sin. We committed sin daily. Even my parents committed sin on a daily or weekly basis. My church, my community and culture told me so repeatedly. I vividly recall sitting in church every Sunday and being told that I had sinned and was unworthy in the eyes of the lord. Some weeks I would be very careful not to sin or do anything that seemed wrong. And yet at the end of each seven day period I would be told that I had sinned and must ask for forgiveness. Why was I so bad? The religious explanation never satisfied me. It always left me feeling dirty and wrong. The installation of this sense of guilt was to last long into my adulthood. And maybe still does.

A few years ago I purchased a beautiful leather jacket. They were all the rage. Well, I brought it home and couldn't sleep. Shipped it back to the store the next day. “Why” my sister asked when I related the experience. “You just didn't feel worthy did you,” she concluded. She was right on. Being raised on a weekly dose of condemnation does something to your sense of self-worth. Little incidences like this have a way of piling up over the years. You find yourself always on the defensive. And when you are on the defensive be it physical or mental you are tense or operating under stress. Bigger issues can be dealt with; you are aware of them. It is the little ones that have a way of sneaking in there and raising your stress level on a permanent basis. You are just not aware of the cause.

Of course there is such a thing of guilt that is good. You treat someone unfairly, you say something unkind. You just do something that is just flat out wrong. Then guilt is good. As a matter of fact it is demanded of a person is trying to lead a moral life. It is the guilt that is unfounded that bothers us.

We retired folks deserve to relax. We need to leave misplaced guilt and other childish things behind us.

It is not so bad to stare out into space, enjoy the moment or have a big dinner. Perhaps we can lower our stress factor just be becoming away of unfounded guilt.

This is Retirement Talk.

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