What to Do When Retirement Overwhelms You

Emotions are tricky. They feel so real, yet they don’t always tell us the truth. For example, you walk into a haunted house knowing that nothing you’re about to see, hear or touch is real. There’s no ax murderer on the loose, and that blood is just makeup. It’s all an illusion, yet you jump and scream when the chainsaw-wielding boogeyman leaps out from behind the wall. The fear is real even though reality is quite different.

The same applies to other emotions too—like feeling overwhelmed by retirement. You feel defeated, scared, embarrassed and lost. Those emotions feel insurmountable. You don’t think you could ever reach your retirement savings goals.

But just like that fear in the haunted house, feeling overwhelmed is real, but it doesn’t tell you the truth. You can enjoy a great retirement, but that means kicking those negative emotions to the curb and taking concrete steps in the right direction. Here are some things you can do the next time you start to feel overwhelmed:

1. Check your thoughts. Are you being derailed by negative thinking? “I can’t do this.” “It’s too late for me.” “You’re stuck.” If you tell yourself you can’t, you won’t. Every time. You can’t reach your retirement dream until you believe you can, so this is the first step in saying goodbye to defeat.

2. Reset your expectations. Feeling overwhelmed may come from unrealistic pressure you’re putting on yourself. Do you expect to be able to pay for three kids to go to college and save for retirement? That might not be a realistic goal. Or, if you’re in your mid-50s and have $50,000 saved for retirement, you can’t expect to take the grandkids to see the magic mouse in Florida every year.

Once you’ve identified what’s not realistic, you can then decide what you will be able to do with the time and money you have. What is realistic? Create the goals and steps to get you there.

3. Create reachable goals. When you look at the entire retirement picture, you could get discouraged. That’s a lot of work to do for a long time! To counter that feeling, break down your dream into smaller action steps you can take. And within those smaller goals, write down doable tasks. What would it take to pay off your debt? And how long would that take? You get the idea.

4. Let go of regret. You might feel overwhelmed because you made some serious mistakes with money and you’re looking at a long road to financial recovery. Maybe you borrowed against your 401(k) for a down payment for a house (or furniture for that new house). Been there, done that.

Listen up: You can either learn from the past or repeat it. Hanging on to it won’t do you any good. Say goodbye to regret and focus on the present and the things you can control—like changing your money habits.

5. Talk to a pro. As in an investing professional. These guys can help you with the other steps, like resetting expectations and getting started. They can help you avoid mistakes and achieve your goals. And they can give you that extra dose of encouragement when your emotions start to get to you again.

The most important thing you can do is to take action. You can make appointments, set great goals and make tactical plans, but if you don’t move forward by taking action, you’re just spinning your wheels. The only way to get from where you are to your retirement dream is by lots of hard work, so get started!