As a caregiver have you ever felt "sandwiched" right in the middle between having to care for your children and a spouse as well as caring for your elderly parents? Generally known as the "Sandwich Generation," this growing population is estimated to be affecting one in eight Americans between the ages of 40 and 60 according to a Pew Center study. This same study found that one-in-seven middle-aged adults (15%) are providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child. For many baby boomers caring for grandchildren is a further extension of this sandwich generation phenomenon, which may curtail retirement plans and place extra burdens on their finances. The bottom line is that most caregivers are caught in the middle when it comes to caring for others
The constant worry of a parents' health or the well being of children can certainly add stress to a life that is already concerned with a career, school, finances or a variety of other daily events. The American Psychological Association offers some specific ways to deal with stress as a caregiver.
- Identify the stressors in your life.
What events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to your children, family health, financial decisions, work, relationships or something else? Sometime coordinating care long distance can add to the stress.
- Recognize how you deal with stress.
Are you using unhealthy behaviors to cope with the stress of supporting your children and parents, and is this specific to certain events or situations? Put things in perspective and make time for what’s really important. Prioritize and delegate responsibilities. Identify ways your family and friends can lessen your load so that you can take a break. Delay or say no to less important tasks.
- Find healthy ways to manage stress.
Consider healthy, stress-reducing activities — taking a short walk, exercising, or talking things out with friends or family. Keep in mind that unhealthy behaviors develop over time and can be difficult to change. Focus on changing only one behavior at a time.
- Take care of yourself.
Eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and engage in regular physical activity like walking or yoga or your weekly softball game. Keep in contact with your friends, family members. No matter how hectic life gets, you need to take care of yourself — which includes making time for yourself — so you have the mental and physical energy to care for your parents and children.
- Ask for professional support.
Accepting help from supportive friends and family can improve your ability to persevere during stressful times. Consider sharing or coordinating the eldercare responsibilities with your siblings. If you continue to be overwhelmed by stress or the unhealthy behaviors you use to cope, you may want to talk with a professional who can help you address the emotions behind your worries, better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors.
Being caught in the middle is not only uncomfortable but it can be physically, emotionally and financially draining. While your heart may be in the right place in wanting to help support your family in their time of need; taking steps to ensure your own wellbeing is a priority you cannot afford to overlook.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Virginia Valenzuelz, MSW, MAPM
Virginia is a social worker with a real passion for the spiritual aspects of aging. She is a former mmLearn.org employee who now serves as a Pastoral Associate in a Catholic parish providing ministry to many groups, but in particular to the older parishioners. Her experiences working with seniors as well as caring for her own aging mother provide her many opportunities to help seniors in dealing with this important yet sometimes neglected aspect of aging. We are grateful that Virgnina continues to be a voice for mmLearn by sharing her experiences of caring for seniors and her love of writing with us through her continued blog posts.