Ask Helen: Retiring? Be open to yearnings to find happy, healthy next stage

Dear Helen:

I’m planning on retiring this year after 35 years in medicine. I’ve gotten involved with various organizations and activities as I contemplated this big life shift. But I haven’t found a one big enough to fill the meteor-sized hole in my life. I could keep working, but I am financially secure enough that it feels silly to give up another few years of healthy time. I enjoy travelling, but that’s a couple times a year, not a weekly lifestyle. I am uninterested in learning a new instrument or sport and have no aptitude in the arts. I do like hiking, concerts, restaurants and synagogue. Do you have good ideas on making the next phase as satisfying as the one I am leaving?

Ready For Change

Dear Ready:

Not needing to sell your time is a luxury. Count your blessings.

A common mistake among the newly retired is filling all their time too quickly. They over-schedule and don’t leave themselves enough time to really mourn the loss of an active career and feel the yearnings that might emerge given enough time and oxygen. So be sure to balance free time with people time, and activities with quieter forms of interaction and solitude.

Look at the list of organizations in your town that are actively recruiting volunteers. Every nonprofit needs help, whether it is specialized or just willing hands. Try shifts at different places till something clicks. It might be a music station or a women’s shelter. There’s no right or wrong, only what feels good to you. A year from now all your time will make much more sense.

Dear Helen:

How am I going to get my mojo back? I was on such a happy creative roll. I was eating well, exercising often, in a happy and positive mood. Then the election laid me low. I felt almost in a clinical depression. Lots of staring and almost 10 pounds of sugar and carbs later I feel like a big sad sack. I’m over the crying but still flying at half mast. What can I do to feel whole and hopeful again?

Dear Undone:

You are certainly not alone in your anxiety. Some people are fearful because of perceived and actual threats happening to their religion, color, orientation or just because they were vocal “blue” advocates in “red” districts or families. This election is a chance for greater healing or greater division. But I’d caution you not to venture into the arenas for dialogue with folks who are opposed to what depressed you in a hard-core way until you feel stronger and more resilient.

What to do: Start by eating better. It’s an amazingly simple truth that how we fuel our bodies can severely impact our moods. So set limits on what you put in that isn’t good for you, whether you count calories, fat, carbs or sugar.

Exercise more. Simply going to a class at the gym will get you back in touch with your body as a vehicle for energy, not just tears.

Find a support group of people who agree with your political views and regularly participate in activities that empower your feelings about American democracy. We are a complex country with a complicated political process. Look for ways to express what matters to you and organize some of your time around healing your community. Start local and work your way up.

And don’t discount the healing value of grieving. Jews sit shiva for a week and say Kaddish for a year, so there’s a mechanism for staying in touch with their feelings and slowly coming to terms with the new reality. There’s a new saying: “Don’t normalize.” You can find your own new normal while still advocating the values you feel were under-represented at the ballot box. Think long haul, not just this week.

A Nosh of Jewish Wisdom:

Who occupies himself with the needs of the community is as though he occupies himself with Torah.

Helen: A resident of Eugene since 1981, Helen is a member of Temple Beth Israel, where she studies and speaks on Torah. She claims to have black belts in schmoozing, problem solving and chutzpah. She’s a writer and an artist ( Please email your questions to

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