I was a little surprised recently when a close friend—and then a few days later a patient—asked me what I meant when I said they seemed to be suffering from the stressors of being in the sandwich generation. Not only am I very aware of my own experience of being in a sandwich generation situation, but also because sandwich generation is not a new term. Originated by the social worker Dorothy Miller in 1981, the term made its way to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 2006—referring to a group of people caring for their aging parents while also caring for a young child or young adult child living at home. The needs of aging parents can vary greatly from needing help with driving to medical appointments, to requiring supervision for safety, to needing to live with you full time.
These adults, usually in their 40’s and 50’s, feel “sandwiched” between trying to meet the needs of their aging parents and raising kids. Some research shows that almost 50% of adults in the U.S. fit the definition of being in the sandwich generation. Also, not surprisingly, the majority of these caregivers are women who feel anxiety and depression in response to trying to meet so many important familial needs.
Understanding the emotional and financial burdens on this population seems essential since it’s a growing group in our country. With improvements in healthcare and people living longer every decade, it seems adult children need to be involved in their parent’s care for more years than ever before. Additionally, more young adults ages 25-34 live with their parents in recent years due to difficulty finding jobs and high costs associated with living independently. Caregivers feeling sandwiched between the needs of their kids and parents can try to engage in certain thoughts and behaviors to manage the stress that is leading some of them down a serious path of exhaustion and anxiety:
- Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge you have a lot on your plate, and you may be doing the best you can with the resources you have.
- Self-care MUST make the list of priorities. You can NOT give to everyone else without tending to yourself. There must be time for your own needed healthcare, appointments, and daily mental health breaks. Even if they are small in size, like ten to fifteen minutes for deep breathing, stretching, or listening to music, it can make a world of difference.
- Engage the help of others whenever possible. Try to get other extended family members, community members, or paid help involved in caring for aging parents—think outside the box if you have to.
- Don’t be afraid to seek help. Contact a therapistor a doctor/medication if your mood has significantly changed how you feel and can function in different environments daily.
Dr. Hayley Hirschmann is a clinical psychologist in private practice with the Morris Psychological Group, P.A. in Parsippany. Practice specialties include treatment of adult depressive and anxiety disorders and grief management.