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Feeling the Squeeze: The Stress of Caring for Two Generations

Coping with caring for aging parents and your own family.

Diana, a highly successful lawyer with a busy private practice, came to me in crisis. "I can't do it anymore," she said. "But I can't not do it either. When you've used up all your waking hours and it's still not enough, how do you make a choice between taking care of your children who need you, taking care of your parents who need you, and taking care of your job which I need so that I can afford to take care of everyone I'm taking care of?"

If you're feeling this kind of squeeze between two generations, you're not alone. Commonly referred to as the "sandwich generation," millions of middle-aged people are finding themselves exhausted and overwhelmed by the stress of caring for both their children and their aging parents while also managing their income-generating jobs and keeping their partners happy--all at the same time. And because women typically assume more child care, elderly care, and domestic responsibilities than men, they often suffer the brunt of the stress.

According to a survey conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with the AARP, an estimated 65.7 million people in the United States serve as unpaid caregivers. The majority of these caregivers (66%) are women, and for many, it's taking its toll. In fact, the American Psychological Association discovered that more women than men in the "sandwich generation" report experiencing extreme stress and feel that they manage their stress poorly.

A recipe for burnout? Absolutely. In fact, caregiver burnout is becoming a leading cause of burnout among women who are juggling career, child care, and the care of elderly parents.

Warning Signs of Caregiver Burnout:* Fatigue that doesn't resolve with a good night or two of sleep

* Feeling little or no satisfaction in what you do

* Persistent feelings of helplessness or hopelessness

* Neglecting your needs because you don't have the time, energy, or motivation to take care of yourself

* Increased irritability, impatience, frustration, and/or anger, including toward the people you are caring for

* Ongoing feelings of sadness and/or frequent crying spells

* Changes in eating and/or unplanned weight loss or weight gain

* Insomnia or hypersomnia

* Loss of interest in people or activities that were once enjoyable

* Physical symptoms, such as headaches or heart palpitations

* Chronic worry or anxiety as to how you will manage everything on your plate

Lessening the Squeeze: If you're feeling squeezed by the responsibilities of caring for your own family as well as your aging parents, here are a few suggestions to find more balance and better manage your time and your stress.

1. First and foremost, take care of yourself. If you aren't in good emotional or physical health, how can you expect to care for others who need your help? Sleep as much as possible, eat a healthy, balanced diet (even fast food restaurants are offering healthier choices), and carve out some time for yourself, even if you can only spare a small amount. This kind of basic self-care will give you the energy you need to better handle your responsibilities.

2. Recognize your limitations. There comes a point in time when you cannot do it all. When you get to this point (preferably before), ask for help. The least expensive help will come from recruiting other family members and dividing responsibilities. Even children can do some things to take some of the responsibilities off of your plate. Neighbors or friends of your parents may also be willing to alleviate some of your burden by occasionally taking your parent to an appointment or even doing something as simple as checking on them from time to time.

3. If family and friends aren't options, you should consider hiring a caregiver, part-time or full-time, depending on your parents' needs and your financial resources. If finances preclude hiring someone, look into community resources through your local senior center or church or synagogue. These organizations also may be able to offer recommendations for other services or agencies that can assist you.

4. Plan for the present as well as the future. Discussions with your parents about their wishes for now and in the future are important, including conversations about the importance of wills, power of attorney, and signed releases of information. Although broaching these subjects may seem awkward, it's important that these issues are resolved early on so that you and your parents are on the same page as far as their current and future care.

5. Invest in a good day planner. Organization is a key to good time management. Use the planner as your master calendar to keep track of all of your appointments as well as the activities of your children and your parents. Also use it to remind yourself of things that are coming up that you need to plan for such as ordering supplies, scheduling services, filling or renewing medications, etc.

6. Save all contact names and phone numbers, such as doctors, pharmacists, aides, etc., on your cell phone to save yourself time when you need to reach these people.

7. Keep a folder of all important records, such as your parent's medical care, insurance cards and policies, social security card, confidentiality waivers, prescriptions, wills, etc., so that they are all in one place and at your fingertips when you need them. In fact, in today's increasingly mobile society, it may be helpful to keep one copy in your home and one copy in your car.

8. If your parent(s) live far away, consider relocation. Distance between you and your aging parents can be one of the most time consuming aspects to elder care so, if possible, you should consider moving your parents closer to where you live (or in some cases, into your own home).

9. If relocation is not possible, try to schedule your visits so that they coordinate with appointments, medical consultations, and other activities that your parents need you for, Also, try to set up a local support network while you're in town that can assist you and/or your parents when you're not in town.

10. If you feel as if you've tried everything and you still feel overwhelmed, consider professional counseling. A counselor who specializes in elder care and stress-related problems can provide ongoing support and resources to help get you through what is likely to be one of the most challenging times in your life.

If you have other suggestions that have worked for you, feel free to share with readers by commenting below.

© 2011 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved