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5 Tips for the Sandwich Generation to Cope With Caregiver Stress
From:
Kathryn Brown Ramsperger -- Author & Intuitive Life Coach(R) Kathryn Brown Ramsperger -- Author & Intuitive Life Coach(R)
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Rockville , MD
Tuesday, November 26, 2019

 

The “sandwich generation,” caregivers who are wedged between raising children and taking care of senior parents, is increasing in size as baby boomers stand on the cusp of old age. While there are many positives about multi-generational families sharing life under the same roof, caring for young children, as well as a parent with chronic illness, presents a number of challenges.

For some, it is like being caught between a rock and a hard place. In addition to getting children to and from school, preparing meals, and perhaps holding down a full-time job, there are numerous medical appointments (for old and young). You need to remember medication times, and shop for a mom and/or dad unable to do these tasks by themselves. Not to mention the worry….

I know because I’ve been there.

I was one of those sandwiched—spread thin, overwhelmed, and taking care of everyone’s needs but my own. I had my kids at 37 and 40, and my parents died when I was 42 and 44.  It was a crazy time. My mom had Parkinsonian dementia, my dad suffered a stroke, then a hemorrhage and sepsis (twice). My kids were 5 and 2. We lived in Maryland, and my parents’ in South Carolina. I was spending a week each month with my parents, driving 10 hours there, 10 hours back, to catch up on my writing work and my kids’ needs. In the midst of all this, my husband was remarkable, filling in most gaps. Even so, I was sleep-deprived and struggling to keep all the balls I was trying to juggle airborne.

When my father passed right before 9/11/2001, things became even more complicated. I had to decide about resuscitation a couple days’ before my daughter’s second birthday. He died while I was home throwing her first birthday party. Then I had to decide if my mother needed to be closer to us, or if, as my husband put it, “she’d die without her sweet tea.” All the while, our family faced the trauma brought on by the anthrax scare and the DC snipers. (The first person shot was a mile from my home.) My mother made her own final decision, dying 23 months after my father from flu complications.

I learned a lot through these experiences, but I’d never wish it on anyone. Without my husband’s support and a little self-care, I might not have survived it either. I was (and am) a cancer survivor myself, having healed from melanoma in 1999. Here’s what I’d recommend if you’re facing a similar situation or find yourself sandwiched.

Tips for Coping With Caregiver Stress

  1. Make yourself a priority.

 “We must never become too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw,” the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey advised. This is a perfect description of life as a caregiver. Do you saw away daily to get through a pile of tasks, only to work twice as hard at it because the blade is dull? I can hear you sigh with heaviness in your voice, “I don’t have the time or energy to do things for myself. I have too much responsibility.” Making yourself a priority doesn’t mean taking a trip to the Bahamas or wining and dining nightly. And it doesn’t mean ignoring your loved one’s needs while you pamper yourself.

Make yourself a priority can fit easily within the context of your situation. Practice good nutritional habits and take advantage of moments when you can lie down on the sofa for a few minutes here and there.  Join a local or online support group for caregivers. You’ll able to connect with others in similar situations who have empathy and wisdom to offer. Take a brisk walk around your yard or on a treadmill if you’re unable to leave the house for more than a few minutes. It seems contradictory, but exercise is the antidote for fatigue, and it’s good for your health and mood.

  1. Get help.

Make arrangements with family members—spouse, tweens, and teens—to take on more responsibilities around the house. Even preschoolers can help a little. For instance, ask your children to do their own laundry, run household errands, and make some of the meals so you can have a few nights off. If this isn’t an option, hire someone to come in once a month to deep-clean the bathrooms and do the vacuuming. Look at your budget and see where you can fit in paying for a little extra help.

Look into adult daycare for a parent with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Scout for local agencies and support groups that may be available to assist with financial, medical, and other needs. If you belong to a church, synagogue, or other faith community, find out if they offer programs for either your parent or your young children a few hours a week.

  1. Set realistic expectations for yourself and those you are caring for. 

It may have been easier to stay on top of responsibilities when you were single and taking care of yourself only. But that was then and this is now. Don’t expect yourself to be able to keep a spotless house or have everything organized when you are taking care of young children or aging parents. I’m still sorting the closet clutter accumulated in those days, and I’m not ashamed of it. Be kind to yourself and decide what things it’s okay to let go of. You really don’t need to “do it all.” Learn to prioritize.

  1. Retain (or develop) a sense of humor. 

Laughter has many short and long-term benefits.  It eases stress, lifts moods, and relieves pain. It also boosts the immune system, stimulates internal organs, and helps relax you. Find positive things to laugh about. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself when you make a mild blunder. I once put my purse in the frig. I know someone who mistook salt for sugar in a recipe. So what if you’re accidentally wearing your shirt inside out? Watch a sitcom, read a joke book, share a laugh with a friend. Find ways to be light-hearted.

     5. Start a gratitude journal.

Gratitude—being appreciative for the good things in your life—is not only a nice idea, but has positive effects on your brain.  It activates the regions associated with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in mental health. It stimulates the rewards and reinforcement part of the brain, which boosts feelings of pleasure and well-being.

Develop a daily habit of writing down the things you are grateful for. The results won’t come overnight. But persistence will train your brain to focus on the positive. That in turn will help elevate your mood and improve your mental health.

Looking back, you may find that this period of time was the most difficult in your life. I know it was for me. It isn’t easy being sandwiched between children living at home and having to take care of a parent. Yet, along with the hardship comes special moments to be treasured: your baby’s first steps, your child’s high school graduation, or sharing your parents’ memories. You’ll also always have the satisfaction of knowing you were there for your parents in their final months or years. Putting these tips into practice will help you not only cope with caregiver stress, but thrive in your circumstances.

I’ve been where you are, and I can help. My sandwiched time is one of the things that led me to the last decade of coaching women. Here’s how you can contact me.

While you’re there, you might want to look around my site at my story and see if it’s similar to yours. Take a look at my blog, too. I’ll be posting more about the sandwich generation soon.

 
Author & Coach
Ground One LLC
North Bethesda, MD
301-503-5150