Caregiver Stress & the Sandwich Generation

By on May 6, 2013
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By MARLA BAKER

So, are you part of the sandwich generation? The sandwich generation is a term coined in 1981 by Dorothy Miller. She was referring to a generation of caregivers who were caught in the middle, giving care and financial support to their aging parents, while at the same time trying to care for their own growing families. The National Association of Social Workers estimates from their study, “The Needs of Sandwich Generation Women” that 42 million people are sandwiched between helping both generations due to seniors living longer and people waiting to get married and have children later in life.

I recently had the opportunity to sit and listen to a local caregiver support group in the Jackson area. I heard so many different types of ways the ladies were “sandwiched in” and taking care of everyone but themselves. Just as there are many ways to make a sandwich, there are many ways to feel “sandwiched in.” So forgive me for comparing ladies to sandwiches, but—what type of sandwich are you? Maybe you can relate to one of these:

The Submarine: Totally submerged is how you feel most of the time. You take care of your mom, your husband’s mom, and your husband’s stepmom, and you are a mom yourself. Your stress has just hit the mother lode.

The ALZ Stacked-High Club Sandwich: You take care of your father with Alzheimer’s. It has come to a point in where you can’t leave him alone. You wonder how you are going to take care of him and the stress is stacked sky high in your house with little energy left for your husband and teenage children.

The Egg Sandwich: You are always scrambling to get everything done, but mostly you just feel totally fried. Now your health is declining due to taking care of everyone but yourself.

The Mother Teresa Sandwich: You are sandwiched into a stressful job that helps others; you serve on church committees and are involved with many great causes. You take care of your parents, children, and grandchildren.

The Cucumber Sandwich: Although you appear to be cool as a cucumber and have everything under control most of the time, you feel like you are in a “real pickle”. You don’t like to “bother” anyone. Your siblings allow you to take care of everything because you always have. You know you need to ask for help but you just don’t know where to start.

The Po’boy Sandwich: You feel poor in many ways. You feel the financial crush of college for your children and medical bills and living expenses for your parents. Thinking about your own retirement is terrifying.

If you can relate to any of these scenarios then know that you’re not alone. As our society’s demographics shift, women will increasingly find themselves shouldering heavier caregiving burdens. The following tips are from the website, Caregiverstress.com. I hope many of you will find these helpful in caring for you, the caregiver!

  • Work out: Exercise and enjoy something you like to do (walking, dancing, biking, running, swimming, etc.) for a minimum of 20 minutes at least three times per week. Consider learning a stress-management exercise such as yoga or tai-chi, which teach inner balance and relaxation.
  • Meditate: Sit still and breathe deeply with your mind as “quiet” as possible whenever things feel like they are moving too quickly or you are feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities as a caregiver. Many times you will feel like you don’t even have a minute to yourself, but it’s important to walk away and to take that minute.
  • Ask for help: According to a national survey by Home Instead Senior Care of adults who are currently providing care for an aging loved one, 72 percent do so without any outside help. To avoid burnout and stress, you can enlist the help of other family members and friends, and/or consider hiring a professional non-medical caregiver for assistance. There is no need to feel guilty for reaching out.
  • Take a break: Make arrangements for any necessary fill-in help (family, friends, volunteers, or professional caregivers). Take single days or even a week’s vacation. And when you’re away, stay away. Talk about different things, read that book you haven’t been able to get to, take naps—whatever relaxes you and makes you happy.
  • Eat well: Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, including nuts and beans, and whole grains. Indulging in caffeine, fast food and sugar as quick “pick-me-ups” also produce a quick “letdown.”
  • Keep your medical appointments: Make sure you get your annual check-up. Being a caregiver provides many excuses for skipping your necessary checkups, but don’t do it. A healthy you is worth more to your aging loved one than a sick, weak you.
  • Indulge: Treat yourself to a foot massage, manicure, nice dinner out, or a concert to take yourself away from the situation and to reward yourself for the wonderful care you are providing to your aging relative. You shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting to feel good.
  • Support: Find a local caregiver support group. They will help you understand that what you are feeling and experiencing is normal. This is a place to get practical advice from people who are in your situation and to bounce off those feelings of stress, since everyone is likely to be in the same situation and can empathize.