“Before healing others, heal yourself” –Lao Tzu

There is a growing population of people caring both for their elderly parents and their own children. They are better known as the “Sandwich Generation”, folks who seem to be doing it all-career, and caring for both older and younger family members. According to a poll taken in 2011, women between the ages of 45-64 had the lowest well-being of any other gender or age group. Today’s superwoman is most likely to fill up her calendar with too many obligations, skip meals and not get enough sleep.

Meet Linda, a 54 year old executive friend who works from home. Her husband, also a high-powered business man spends many hours away from home. Linda cares for her teenage daughter from a previous marriage, who is about ready to leave for college in the next year.  In addition, her husband’s children, who are in their 20’s occasionally, live with them.  “It’s nothing short of chaos,” Linda says. In addition, Linda cares for her elderly father, who lives independently in a town not too far from where she lives. “I just feel guilty that I don’t spend enough time with my father, husband or children.” She goes on to say that she felt torn apart.

Linda forgot to mention one person to care for: Linda. When are all of your efforts enough?

There seems not to be an easy answer in this situation. However, one thing is crystal clear: You have to care for your needs. Your energy tank will quickly run on fumes without proper nutrition sleep and time to yourself. You’ve got to refill your tank in order to effectively care for other people.

Here are some warning signs that you are spreading yourself too thin:

• Your easily frustrated, short-tempered and lack patience
• You are fatigued with problems getting or staying asleep.
• You feel “wired but tired”, anxious and worried
• You think that there is not enough time in the day possible to get everything done.

Break the cycle of always putting others before you. You deserve every ounce of love and caring that you give your loved ones. When stressed it’s easy to distort the perception of how much time you have in the day. Really pay attention to where time is leaking in your day. Guard your resources carefully. They are the very thing that will strengthen your efforts and feed your soul.

Remember, you are not alone.  There are other people, maybe right next door that share the same beliefs and frustrations you do. Maybe there are responsibilities that you can share with the next person to carpool the kids or taking turns driving them to sports events. Become very familiar with resources for the elderly. These are ideas that just scratch the surface and are individual to every person’s situation. The main idea to take away is that if you try to do it alone, something has to give. And that something could very well be your health.

Are you in this situation? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Leave your comments below!

For over 25 years in the health care profession, Lisa Birnesser has studied stress relief techniques and have helped thousands of people reduce stress in their lives. Lisa specializes in stress management coaching by helping people do what matters most every day.

6 thoughts on “Stress and the Sandwich Generation”

  1. I'm convinced that over-care-taking is a leading cause of illness in our culture.  I'm reminded of the air-mask rule "put your own mask on first".  

  2. This is so important for today's lifestyles.  I am not in this boat as my Mother has taken care to make sure she is taken care of – as did her mother…however, my Step-Grandma didn't.  I keep telling my Mom to just let someone else who is blood related to handle it, but she says no one will/can and so she has found herself in this boat despite all good intentions. : /

  3. Hey Lisa–Great post about the sandwich generation!  My mom was diagnosed with COPD in 1999, and in 2003 I moved about 7 hours away from her.  Her condition deteriorated and the guilt about being away got the better of me, so I moved again in 2005 so that I was only about 90 minutes from her.  The shorter drive time was much easier as she continued to get worse, and my great sense of guilt was somewhat alleviated.  Trying to run a biz and look in on her was challenging — I'm not sure how I would have handled it if I had kids. And, taking care of myself wasn't my priority. 🙂  She passed away in 2008, so even though my life was tougher then, I don't really regret anything in hindsight.

  4. Lisa, wonderful words.  I see this trend in so many of my mommy friends!   Sometimes we have to be reminded or we don't even notice that we aren't treating ourselves nicely, so thank you!!

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