Your brain functions by building pathways to increase the efficiency of organising your daily activities. If you were a working woman, you already have built-in pathways to meet your work obligations and will be very strong in those areas.

Your brain wants to use the neural pathways you already have, but these may no longer be necessary in retirement. Or, you try to relax, but your brain may not know how to do that if relaxing has not been part of your life when working.

The simple truth is, your brain wants to achieve something on a daily basis, like you did at work. If it can’t, it is unsure what to do.

With less tasks to organise and complete in retirement, the brain becomes less active. It doesn’t produce as many neurochemicals that activate happiness. Instead of the stereotype of a “grumpy old man” (or woman) what we may really have is a “grumpy old brain.”

Making Our Brains Happy

What can we do in retirement to make our brain happier, fulfilled, and producing positive neurochemicals? Most people in retirement need at least four things to feel fulfilled and content:

  • learn new things,
  • exercise,
  • socialise, and
  • help others.

Integrating those activities into your daily life will help you and your brain maintain a healthy outlook and mental awareness.

Here are some ideas to challenge and stimulate your brain:

  • Find something new that excites you. Look at your failures and learn from them. Seek new experiences. Learn something new so that the brain creates new neural pathways.
  • Find new activities to activate both sides of the brain. Sports, dancing, or anything where hands cross the midline of the body are helpful. Learn tennis, golf, or use your non-dominant hand to do simple things.
  • Develop daily activities to use work-related skills in a different context.
  • Find activities to train the brain to use all functional brain areas. Learn a foreign language, travel, or find an activity that uses all five senses.
  • Having a purpose in retirement leads to better longevity and happiness. Every time you feel valued because of your contribution, the brain makes oxytocin. Leverage your skills, experience, and knowledge to contribute to others.
  • Being in nature moves your brain into an alpha state which encourages creativity.
  • Find commonality with others. Don’t isolate yourself but instead find your community. We are happier being with people.
  • Yoga and/or meditation keep your brain from aging as fast. A consistent practice of yoga and meditation correlates with better thinking in later life.
  • Treat your brain well. Feed it correctly, maintain hydration, and breathe.
  • Smile – the brain releases happy neurochemicals when you do.

Tips for Planning a Happy Brain Retirement

If you’re still wondering what to do to keep your brain – and yourself – happy, here are four tips you may want to utilize:

  • Explore ideas/activities that interested you when you were 18.
  • Go to local community centres and explain your skills. They will match you with an organisation that needs those skills.
  • Ask other retired people what they enjoy doing.
  • Find excitement and inspiration in small things. Be present, breathe, and interact with others. Look for amazing moments. How you respond to life is how it will respond to you.

Both you and your brain experience an amazing transformation when you retire. Retiring is like puberty. There is very little that doesn’t change in either of those transitions. So, it is not surprising that your brain is also feeling the results of this change and may need some support.

Remember, the brain’s reality is what you say, think, sense, and do; it has no other way to acquire inputs. It is these inputs – what you do and think each day – that build your retirement pathways.

Keeping that spark of interest, learning new things, exercising, and helping others are the keys to a smooth transition for you and your brain into something brand new.

What ways have you found to train your brain in retirement? Do you notice you perform better when you use your old neural pathways? Please share in the comments below.

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