6 Tips for Coping with Sandwich Generation Stress

Photo credit Matthias Zomer

The Sandwich Generation, a term coined by social worker Dorothy Miller in 1981, describes people, usually women, in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s who are primary caregivers to both their children and their aging parents. Miller recognized the stress involved in being ‘sandwiched’ between the generations on either side of theirs, both of which require family care.

The American Psychological Association reported that almost 40% of people ages 35 to 54 years old said they had extreme levels of stress, which impacts personal relationships and their own well-being, having a negative effect on their ability to take care of themselves.

Here are some ways to handle the stress of being a member of the sandwich generation.

Identify the Stress

When you are feeling stressed, take a moment to see where the stress is coming from. If you feel as though you are being pulled in too many directions at once, say it out loud or write it down. Be specific. For example, if you have to take a parent to a doctor’s appointment at the same time as your daughter’s school concert, state that as the stressor. This may help you determine a solution, such as rescheduling the doctor’s appointment so you can go to the concert.

Recognize Your Coping Mechanisms

If you cope with stress by putting your head down and powering through it, or by being impatient with those in your family who aren’t causing the stress, it’s time to regroup. Change your coping mechanisms to problem solving, delegating, and prioritizing. This will help you and contribute to family well-being.

Manage Stress in Healthy Ways

Taking a walk or a run, talking about your stressors with family or friends, or taking a few minutes out to meditate are all healthy ways to manage stress. You’ll also be setting a good example for family well-being.

Take Care of Yourself

Make sure you eat right, get enough sleep, and exercise to maintain your stamina and help you deal with stress. Try to have one activity a week that you do for yourself, like a yoga class or meeting a friend for coffee.

Remember that you decide what taking care of yourself means. Sometimes well-meaning friends will suggest that you take an afternoon off to get a massage or read a book, but you know that you will spend the time when you’re ‘supposed’ to be relaxing worrying about what’s going on at home. That’s not taking care of yourself; it’s just stressing you out more. You know how best to take care of yourself.

Ask for Assistance

Your spouse, older children, or other family members may be able to help, but they won’t know unless you ask them. If you have siblings that live too far away to provide daily care to your aging parent, see if they can come and help for a week or a weekend. Make sure they understand that they are not ‘visiting,’ they are providing the family care you usually provide so you can have a break.

Get Professional Help

If you are unable to cope with the stress you’re feeling, or if the demands on you at home are affecting your relationships or work life, seek professional help from a social worker, psychiatrist or psychologist. Someone who is a bit distanced from the situation may be better able to offer coping strategies that will help.

Women often put others’ needs before their own, but the burden is doubled when you’re caring for children and parents. Managing your stress will help you as well as those you care for.