A Kaiser Permanente psychiatrist offers tips for caring for yourself while caring for others.
Interview by Dolores Radding
According to the National Family Caregivers Association, more than 70 million Americans can call themselves members of the “Sandwich Generation.” Many have aging parents or relatives who need caregiving and children still living at home who also need help and support.
Mason Turner, MD, assistant director for Kaiser Permanente’s Regional Mental Health Services, will talk about dealing with the stresses of being a dual caregiver during the next Health Talks Online free webinar, on Wednesday August 7, at 12:30 p.m. In a preview of his talk, Dr. Turner recommends strategies to help adults tending to two generations of loved ones.
Describe some of the stresses of the Sandwich Generation.
They experience basic caregiver stress, and the stress of multiple expectations. They may still be working, so they’re trying to juggle a lot at once. Time and energy become critical issues.
Imagine that you have a parent living with you who needs to go to a medical appointment. Then add in a teenager or young adult child who needs help with homework or a resume. You need to put in a certain number of hours at work, and your spouse is on a business trip. You can see how things can quickly escalate.
How is that stress affecting caregivers?
Because caregivers dedicate so much time to taking care of other people, they may feel they have no time to take care of themselves. No time for exercise, eating right, preparing healthy meals, or taking care of routine health matters. Plus, they’re dealing with the negative health effects of being under a lot of stress.
A 2010 study in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology found that multigenerational caregivers were less likely than non-caregivers to check food labels and choose healthy foods, less likely to use seatbelts, and less likely to exercise regularly.
What are some strategies for dealing with the stress?
I like to think of stress management as having three levels. The first level is figuring out ways to limit your stress. It’s basically learning how to say ‘no,’ and understanding what you can say ‘no’ to, and what you can’t.
The second level is when you’re already busy—building in small bits of time in your day to do things that will help you feel better. It’s carving out a few minutes for relaxation, meditation, exercise, or putting together a healthy meal.
The third level is for when you’re feeling totally stressed-out. This is about getting things back under control and making very tough decisions. Things like choosing to get in-home care for your parents, taking leave from work in order to manage a particularly difficult period of time, or having hard conversations with your family about your limitations and need for self-care.
If you’re experiencing severe stress, that’s limiting your ability to function at work or at home, you may need to seek help from a mental health professional.
What else would you like our readers to know?
Another helpful strategy for controlling stress is to try to limit surprises. The less surprise you have about something, the less stress. This is especially true about financial stressors, which create some of the most stressful situations. Financial planning is one piece of it. It’s also important to understand your own limitations around using your finances to help take care of people around you.
There also can be an upside to all this. Caring for others when you have the capacity to care for yourself first can be very satisfying. And in most cases, stresses around caregiving will cycle; they’ll come and go, and they are generally for a limited time.
If you’re taking care of an aging relative, the time you spend caring for them is also an opportunity to talk with them, hear stories about their lives, and perhaps reestablish a connection that had been lost.
Register for Dr. Turner’s free Kaiser Permanente Health Talks Online.