University of Maryland Psychiatrist Offers Advice for Coping with Life Changes, Including Ripken's Departure
It's hard to imagine Cal Ripken Jr., doing anything but playing for the Baltimore Orioles. After all, for 16 seasons, Ripken never missed a day of work. His streak of 2,632 consecutive games is one baseball record that may never be broken. Many fans have admired his commitment, dedication, and willingness to play through pain and adversity. But on October 6, Baltimore's Ironman will take the field for the last time in his legendary career.
"Retirement at any age is a difficult and stressful transition for most people, regardless of profession," says University of Maryland Medical Center psychiatrist Eric Weintraub, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
"I recommend that people plan ahead and not have the idea that 'I'm going to have all this free time and life is going to be wonderful.' Doing nothing gets boring quickly and is unfulfilling for most people. Those who have outside interests and hobbies while they are working are going to adjust better," says Dr. Weintraub.
While many people have a difficult time adjusting to retirement, it is especially challenging for top athletes, according to Dr. Weintraub, because they're in a profession where they get a lot of adulation and positive feedback that is hard to find somewhere else.
"Why is Michael Jordan coming back? Why did Muhammad Ali continue to box well past his prime? I think there's a feeling of needing to be in the center of things that's irreplaceable," Dr. Weintraub adds.
Many people who retire or undergo other types of life transitions experience health problems as they try to adjust. These can include becoming depressed, experiencing a drop in energy levels and a decrease in motivation, and people may even begin having problems with their sleep and appetite. When these symptoms persist and prevent people from actively participating and enjoying life, that's the time to get help, according to Dr. Weintraub.
"Give yourself a little time, though. For most people, after retirement there's some initial euphoria about not having to go to work, but if several months later you find yourself struggling and feeling depressed, it may be time to seek help. Sometimes just talking to someone and getting an objective opinion about what's going on can help people sort things out in their mind," advises Dr. Weintraub.
For baseball fans who will feel an emotional impact from Ripkin's retirement, Dr. Weintraub suggests taking a longer view. "People need to remember that these things happen all the time. I remember players like Brooks Robinson, Johnny Unitas and Jim Palmer, who were also icons. I think the whole process of Cal announcing his retirement early was done to give fans a chance to say goodbye to him, and that makes the process easier," he says.
Dr. Weintraub continues, "The ability to say goodbye and express your feelings is an important process that we all go through in a situation like this. When someone retires somewhat abruptly or unexpectedly for whatever reason, there's a lot of unfinished business. So the fact that fans have been able to express their feelings for Cal will help them adjust to the fact that he is leaving."
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