The pandemic stopped my business and hurt my self-confidence, and I don’t know what to do


I am an 80-year-old widow and have owned my own business for 30 years. For the past five years, I moved my storefront business to a showroom opened several times a week. That stopped due to the pandemic. As my customers are calling me, I cannot decide if I should reopen my business or just retire. I am fearful — driving downtown and even making big decisions. The pandemic has removed some of my self-confidence. What should I be considering in deciding to return to my work – or not? A.N.


Dear A.N.

In a recent story in this newspaper, a pastor was quoted saying, “It isn’t easy to come out of a cocoon, just as it wasn’t easy to climb into it in the first place.” Indeed, we are re-emerging to a new normal with little experience or practice.


Formerly easy-to-make decisions seem more complex and having more choices and options are new and can be overwhelming. Then there is the unknown.


A major consideration in returning to work is determining if that decision is income-driven. If it is not, here are a few advantages to working in our later years backed by research.


Work promotes social integration: Work maintains or increases our social connections and decreases the chance of experiencing social isolation, considered an epidemic among older as well as younger folks. Over the years, many of us have spent more time at work with our co-workers, customers and clients than we have spent with our family members. Additionally, a recent CNN story stated that working in later life also has been reported to have a hedonic effect on other everyday activities, meaning those activities become more pleasurable.


Work provides a sense of purpose: The late Matilda White Riley, former associate director of the National Institute on Aging and pioneer researcher on the relationship of aging to society, referred to retirement as a “roleless role” that can contribute to poor mental and physical health. This is particularly true if one’s work has been the primary or exclusive source of purpose, identity, self-worth and social connections. Researchers report that a purposeful life leads to better cognitive functioning and even greater longevity. Also, adults with a sense of purpose are more likely to floss their teeth (health indicator), exercise, eat their veggies and go to the doctor, which may be related to their living longer.


Working can decrease the chances of dementia: This is not a cause-and-effect issue since there are many unknown causes for dementia. A CNN report by Meera Senthilingam quoted Dr. James Warner, a psychiatrist at Imperial College in London, who said, “People who stay active socially, physically and intellectually have less chance of developing dementia”…which “can be staved off, to some extent, in some people by continuing to work.”


Working promotes physical well-being: Research has linked working past retirement age with better health and longevity. A study spanning 18 years suggested working one more year beyond retirement age was associated with a nine to 11 percent lower risk of dying regardless of one’s health. Another 15-year study suggested that those who worked past the age of 65 were three times more likely to report being in good health and half as likely to have serious health problems such as cancer and heart disease compared to retirees.


Of course, the type of work matters. High-risk, stressful and tedious work may not have the previously described benefits. Additionally, both work for pay and voluntary work count.


The research-based information provides several good reference points. Yet the decision is a personal one. What is most important is to take a look at your life as it is now.


Here are some questions that may help clarify your decision. Are you happy? Do you look forward to each day? Do you have a sense of purpose? Can you identify what you are missing, if anything? Do you want to take this new semi-post pandemic time to add something new that is meaningful and enjoyable? Do you see this time as one of opportunity? Do you miss the nature of your work, the structure and expectations as well as your customers? How is your health and stamina? If you reopen your store, do you need some assistance? Is your long-term business something that you love?


Being somewhat fearful and uneasy is likely part of getting used to a post-pandemic life, which is different for each of us.


Thank you A.N. for your important question. To help sift and sort through the reasons, consider having a conversation with a trusted friend or professional. My guess is that the right decision will become evident. In the meantime, stay safe, be well and be kind to yourself and others.


Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulagingCommunity