How to prioritize self-care while also supporting children and aging parents.
When I say I’m a member of the sandwich generation, I’m not talking about Oscar Meyer and Wonder bread. As part of the sandwich generation, I’m one of millions of middle-aged adults who find ourselves “sandwiched” between caring for our aging parents as well as our own children.
We are defined by having at least one living parent 65 or older and raising either a child under 18, or supporting a grown child. That’s quite a load physically and financially, but almost 40% of us will tell you that both our grown children and our aging parents are relying on us for emotional support, too.
When you find yourself caring for both sides of your family spectrum in this way, prioritizing self-care can be tough. But as we all know, you can’t pour from an empty cup, and putting as much focus on caring for yourself as you do those you care for is so important to be the multitasking caregiver that you are.
I’m a father and a son, but I’m also a doctor. Sometimes it feels like I’m caring for everyone else first. This is something that fulfills me greatly, but also something that has led me to give a lot of thought to how I add caring for myself to that mix. Here are my four tips to help make your care a priority when you’re caring for the world around you, too:
It’s hard, I know. So many of my patients, friends and colleagues tell me daily, “there’s not enough time!” I get it. But, you have to make time. Exercise is not only a stellar way to stay healthy and fit, but it has a host of psychological benefits too. Have you ever noticed that sometimes it’s so hard to get yourself to the gym or outside for a workout, but once you’re done, you feel great? That’s not only because you accomplished something meaningful for your health, but also because when you exercise, it releases endorphins. Endorphins are the happy chemicals that help your body combat depression, anxiety and more. Start slow, but stay disciplined. Even 30 minutes a handful of times a week can help boost your mood and mental stamina.
Take a Breath
I mean this figuratively and literally. Deep breathing can physically reduce blood pressure, stress and anxiety. There are lots of ways to do it, but you’ll want to spend at least 5 minutes per day taking prolonged (4-6 second) breaths in through your nose, and the same as you exhale. If you try this, you’ll notice a sense of peace and calm immediately. In addition to deep breathing, though, take a figurative breath. Sit down. Get some you time. Take a 10 minute walk. Everyone relaxes differently, but building in just small breaks for you into your day can have a big impact on the way you feel.
Write it Down
Writing it down can be keeping a simple to-do list so you’re not constantly multitasking with the things you do for the people you’re caring for and all of the tasks swirling in your head. Also, consider journaling. Gratitude journals are extremely helpful for keeping things in perspective, and only require a moment of time a day. If you can take out 5 minutes each day to write down something you’re grateful for, it can shift your whole perspective and keep you focused on what’s important. Daily journaling is a great way to release the tension and a good reference point to look back on to see what triggered moments of stress and sparked moments of joy.
Ask for Help
As caretakers, we’re the last people to ask for help. Everybody needs to lean on their friends and family sometimes, and it doesn’t make you weak or incapable to ask for that help. Let a friend help you with a hefty task, or ask your child to help you once per week in caring for his/her grandparents. Make a pact with yourself to accept help when it’s offered. It truly takes a village. Don’t try to do it all on your own.
What else? What do you do to prioritize yourself care as a member of sandwich generation? I’d love your thoughts and comments!