Moms Caring for Children and Aging Parents Can Use These Tips to De-Stress
Caring for children can quickly leave you feeling overextended, and caring for aging parents can, too. When you’re doing both at the same time, however, it can be challenging to manage the stress. This internal battle is waged every day by mothers in the “sandwich generation.” These are women aged 35-54 who are balancing the needs of both growing children and aging parents. It’s a demanding, delicate act and it’s causing sandwich generation mothers to face levels of stress far greater than others, including financial stress. After all, when you’re trying to save for college, fund your own retirement savings, and care for your parents’ growing needs all at once, your paychecks can easily be stretched to an uncomfortable degree. If you find yourself in this situation, read on for tips to help you cope with the pressure.
The Impact of Stress
According to the American Psychological Association’s ongoing Stress in America survey, more women than men report experiencing extreme stress and admit that they manage it poorly. Almost 40 percent of women in the 35-54 age group report “extreme” levels of stress, compared with 29 percent of 18-34 year-olds and 25 percent of those 55 and over.
This stress impacts personal relationships, but also individual well-being. Self-care is important, however, and women who are struggling with the demands of caring for loved ones must recognize the role stress plays in their physical and mental health and work to manage it in healthy ways. Here are five strategies to help sandwich generation mothers manage stress:
Tip #1: Identify Your Stressors
If you feel ready to rattle off a list of a dozen things, you’re not alone! Stressors can be related to work, children, family health, financial decisions, personal relationships, mental health, and more. Try to pinpoint the exact events or situations that trigger your feelings of stress. Jotting them down on paper can be a great way to lay everything on the table and enable you to move forward.
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Tip #2: Recognize How You Typically Deal with Stress
If you’re using unhealthy behaviors to cope with the stress of supporting your children and your aging parents, it can be difficult to face them head-on. Coping mechanisms like drug and alcohol use, overeating, shopping addiction, and even exercise addiction can create more problems than they solve. Think about the specific situations that stress you out and how you usually handle them, then brainstorm a healthier strategy to implement. For instance, if you are overwhelmed with needing to drive kids to sports practices and parents to doctor's appointments, replace a typical negative coping strategy with something like delegating responsibilities or asking friends and family for help. You can also empower yourself to say ‘no’ to less critical tasks so that you can cut through the clutter and prioritize what’s really important.
Tip #3: Find Healthy Ways to Manage Stress
Sometimes, it’s not enough to discontinue your negative coping mechanisms – you should truly focus on your self-care and add healthy habits to your routine, too. Think about go-to healthy, stress-reducing practices first. This could mean taking walks every day, joining an exercise class of your choice, practicing yoga, journaling, or talking with a friend. Then, think about the self-care activities that are personal to you and make you feel renewed. Maybe you enjoy reading thrillers or taking bubble baths. Whatever it is that dissolves your stress, embrace it, and make time for it in your life.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant stress for most people. In addition to wearing a mask and social distancing, consider taking supplements including Zinc and Vitamin D.
Tip #4: Stop Neglecting Your Health
Mothers, in general, often put the needs of loved ones ahead of their own. For sandwich generation women, in particular, it’s easy to be so focused on the needs of your children and parents to the point that you forget simple things like drinking water, eating right and getting enough sleep. No matter how hectic your life may be, though, it’s crucial to take care of your physical health. If you don’t, you won’t be able to continue caring for your loved ones at the level you wish to. When you are always “pouring out” and never filling your own cup, your physical health can suffer in dangerous ways.
Tip #5: Seek Professional Support
Asking for help from family and friends can be crucial in accomplishing all you need to in a single day, week, or month and helping you persevere through difficult and stressful times. However, if the overwhelm and unhealthy behaviors are still getting the best of you, you may benefit from seeking professional help in the form of a therapist or psychologist. Mental health professionals can help you address the root causes of your stress, identify all the emotions behind your worries, and help you implement strategies to better manage physical, emotional and psychological challenges caused by your high levels of stress. Seeking help from mental health professionals still feels taboo or uncomfortable to some people, but you don’t have to travel to a professional’s office and sit on their couch to engage their services. These days, it’s possible to talk to a licensed mental health professional by text through popular platforms like TalkSpace and BetterHelp.
Final Thoughts for the Struggling Sandwich Generation Mother
It can be difficult to maintain perspective when you’re so burdened by the weight of caring for loved ones at both ends of the age spectrum. However, keep in mind that the way you manage your stress – or choose not to – is setting an example for your children every day. Becoming better at managing your stress, and doing so in healthy ways, benefits you while also creating a model your children can adopt as they increasingly face life’s stressors, too.