By Debbie Lyn Toomey
My first job was working at a local sub and pizza shop. It was great! I gained so much from that job that if I didn’t work there, I wouldn’t have had a Junior prom date, met my future husband, or learned how to make a killer sausage, pepper and onion sub. The wide range of multitasking life skills that I learned from making subs prepared me for what lay ahead in life as a wife, mother, professional, and daughter of aging parents. It helped me accept being sandwiched. I am a part of the sandwich generation, a generation that has her own family and aging parents.
The term “sandwich” generation was coined by social worker, Dorothy A. Miller MSSW. She described them as a generation of adults who are “sandwiched” between their own parents and their grown children and subjected to mental, emotional, or financial stress. The Pew Research Center states that, “one out of every eight Americans between the ages of 40 and 60 care directly for an aging parent while an additional seven to ten million Americans help their parents or other aging relatives even from a long distance.” This number is expected to increase due to the number of aging baby boomers.
Don’t get me wrong! I am not complaining. In fact, I consider myself extremely lucky. My life is full. It’s wonderful to live close to my parents because we get to look out for each other. For example, my three boys help out with the garden, snow shoveling, and heavy lifting. At times, I make extra food to drop off to my parent’s house and vice a versa. It’s a win-win situation. I get to look after all the people that I love closely. I consider it an act of love, a duty, and a blessing; not a burden.
Life is good when everyone is healthy. It’s not so good when someone gets sick or needs surgery. I remember getting a case of “walking pneumonia” after helping to take care of both my mother who had her first hip surgery and also my father who needed emotional support. The stress from worrying about my parents, working a full-time job and taking care of my own family made me get sick. It wasn’t until I saw the doctor weeks later, after feeling weak and short of breath, that I found out I had pneumonia!
The stress of it all made me sick. I felt worried about my parents. I didn’t sleep well from working different shifts at the hospital and also from being worried. I became impatient and irritable with my family about little things because I was tired. I would cry when no one was around because I didn’t want people to think I was weak or afraid. This negative spiral of stress and worry eventually made me ill. I will never forget that time because it was then that I realized how important self-care is for caregivers.
My bout with pneumonia gave me a self-protective and self-loving view of health for the caregiver. Here are five tips that can help the sandwich generation or caregivers become more stress resilient:
1. Positivity: See this time in your life as special because you are at the peak of your life. A time when you know better and can do better for those you love. The more you see the good in this situation the better. It will fuel your spirit instead of making you feel bitter and burdened. See all the good in your life.
2. Sleep: The more sleep you can get the more you will be effective and emotionally fit. Sleep is your best ally during these stressful times. Take naps when needed. Close your eyes and rest.
3. Savor: Open your eyes to all the love you have around you during this time in your life. Be grateful to have your kids, your spouse, and your parents around. Someday, someone will not be there and everything will change. Open your eyes and your heart.
4. Outlet: Give yourself permission to feel angry, frustrated, or resentful. You are human and these are normal feelings to have when something is not right in your life. A great way to let go of these emotions is talking with someone who cares about you. Give yourself permission to be human.
5. Exercise: Physical activity is great outlet for stress. It is a great use of your energy and it will make you feel better about doing something proactive towards your health. Take walks or go for a run to clear your mind.