If you are between the ages of 40 and 60, you’ve likely found yourself compressed between the competing demands of your dependent children and elderly parents. The term Sandwich Generation is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a generation of people who are caring for their aging parents while supporting their own children.” (1) The Pew Research Center reports that over 1 in 8 Americans age 40-60 are in this position. (2) And, while most Americans willingly accept the overtime involved in multiple caregiving roles, it is often fraught with emotional strife. Adult children are now compelled to ‘parent their parent’ and the role shift often creates feelings of angst and confusion. Research demonstrates that family caregivers are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, and have higher levels of stress hormones. (3) Understanding the real impact of dual caregiving roles, and strategies for stress relief is critical for the health and well being of those inside the ‘sandwich’.
For many middle aged Americans, the stress of everyday life includes raising children, earning a living, maintaining a partnership, running a household and perhaps squeezing in some exercise and a social life. This glut of responsibilities is significant, and often leaves adults exhausted and overtaxed. However, for the sandwich generation, this list is supersized by the addition of elder care needs. These tasks might include: ferrying to medical appointments, hands on help with bathing, dressing and meal prep, emotional support, and or medical decision making. It is very easy in this situation to over commit to others, lose a sense of self and experience feelings of hopelessness. The National Caregiver Association sites, “40-70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression with about a quarter to a half of these caregivers meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depression.” (4) Unrecognized feelings of frustration and sadness can lead to self harm in the form of overeating, excessive sleep and spending, and self medication through the use of alcohol or drugs, ‘just to take the edge off’. These remedies are temporary, and will not provide meaningful, lasting relief and can create additional problems. Alternatively, stress relief in the form of exercise, respite, healthy eating, meditation, and spending time on leisure activities can have a positive impact on mood and perspective.
The multiple responsibilities required of the sandwich generation can feel overwhelming, but ignoring your own needs can prove deleterious to your health and your ability to help those around you. Ongoing intense feelings of irritability, anger and depression are real and should be explored with a professional therapist. Additionally, recognizing the need for outside caregiver assistance either from government, local agencies or family members should be part of a plan to manage your stress.