The “sandwich generation” refers to adults — usually women between the ages of 35 and 55 — who are responsible for taking care of both children and their aging parents simultaneously. This double load of caregiving can really take a toll on the sandwich generation and prevent them from managing their own health. If you’re a seriously stressed member of the sandwich generation, here are eight things you can do to take the pressure off:
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1. Identify your stressors and how you deal with stress.
Take a step back from your life and make an effort to identify the specific triggers for your stress. Get as granular as you can. Don’t just say “caring for my aging parents,” but really delve into what specifically is putting you under pressure. Maybe it’s having to drive them to a lot of medical appointments in heavy traffic, or trying to feed them dinner each night while helping your kids with homework. Once you’ve identified the triggers, then you can begin to look at how you cope with stress. Do you withdraw and sleep as much as possible, or lash out in anger at every little thing? Identifying your triggers and reactions can help you recognize when you’re headed for a crisis point before you get there.
2. Delegate as much as possible.
You don’t have to do it all on your own, even if you feel like you do. Make a list of everything you have to take care of in a typical week or month, and then figure out if each item is a task you can delegate to someone else in your family. For instance, if you always collect the trash each week, one of your older kids might be able to take care of this simple chore so you can take care of your parents during that time instead. Even if the tasks seem small, over time, they really add up to a burden on your shoulders, so delegating some of them will help free you up.
3. Do something for yourself every day.
In the midst of ordering incontinence products for women or driving your kids to yet another soccer practice, it can be tough to carve out time for yourself. In fact, it might even feel selfish given everything that you could be doing for other people. However, taking time for yourself is so important for stress management and combating caregiver burnout. You can’t keep giving and giving and giving without filling your well back up. Whether it’s a spa day by yourself or a wine night with the girls, make sure that you are taking time for you – and only you – as much as you are able to.
4. Streamline your updates.
When you’re the primary caregiver for aging parents, a huge part of that job involves keeping the rest of the family updated on their conditions. If you spend a good portion of your time calling all the siblings and cousins to keep everyone up to date, it might be time for a communication overhaul. Streamline it as much as possible and centralize your updates in one platform or group text so everyone can be on the same page. It takes a little extra work at the outset, but trust us – it’s worth setting up to keep from repeating yourself ad nauseam.
5. Outsource what you can.
You may eventually hit a point where you need to ask for help beyond your family. If you can afford to, hiring a part-time caregiver can help lift a big burden off your shoulders. Even if a hired caregiver isn’t a possibility, getting outside help with other things around the house will help make things easier on you and your family. One simple solution can even be trying out a meal subscription service with the family. You can’t do everything, so you want to put your effort where it’s going to make the most difference for your family, which probably isn’t mopping the floors or making dinner each night.
6. Establish healthy coping mechanisms.
When you’re a member of the sandwich generation, you probably won’t be able to remove stress from your life completely, which means that you need to establish healthy coping mechanisms. Instead of drinking a lot of alcohol or taking up smoking, try to pursue healthier stress relief strategies, such as exercise and talking with friends. It can be hard to make those habit shifts in the short-term, but in the long-term, it will really make a positive difference for your health. Over time, unhealthy coping mechanisms will actually make things worse, even if they make you feel better momentarily.
7. Take care of your own health.
In between taking care of your parents and your kids, it’s easy to forget about your own health. You put off going to the doctor for your annual tests, or stop doing the pelvic floor exercises you’re supposed to be doing, or keep forgetting to schedule that dentist appointment. Eventually, all that procrastination is going to catch up with you, and then you’ll wish that you had kept up with your health. After all, you can’t take care of other people if you get sick, so make sure you’re taking care of yourself and getting your medical needs seen to.
8. Watch out for signs of burnout.
Caregiving wears on you over time, and the effects can be exacerbated if you’re also working a job on top of everything else. Symptoms such as feeling anxious and depressed, having trouble sleeping, increased health problems, and trouble concentrating can all be signs of impending burnout. If you notice yourself approaching burnout, talk with your family about what solutions you can pursue together before you reach a crisis point.
The sandwich generation has a lot of responsibilities on them, so it’s no wonder that they’re stressed out. Follow these eight strategies to help keep your stress under control and your caregiving duties from taking over your life.