“Sandwich Generation” Feeling Stressed

A blog & resource by a practicing & teaching lawyer in Pennsylvania for law students, consumers, & professionals about Elder Law, senior lifestyles, longterm care, “End-of-Life” & health care surrogate decision-making, estate & personal planning, fiduciary administrations (by agents under powers of attorney, custodians, guardians, executors/administrators, & trustees), elders’ dispute resolution, and Orphans’ Court litigation in this Commonwealth, with reference to trends nationally.

On February 15, 2008, the Pennsylvania Psychological Association circulated an article entitled “Feeling pulled in too many directions” by email to its e-newsletter subscription list.

The article addresses the stress felt by the “sandwich generation” in caring for both children and elders, while trying to sustain themselves.

I found its subject relevant to this Blog, its observations accurate, and its practical tips useful. So I asked Marti Evans, the Conference & Communications Manager of PPA, for permission to reprint it here; and PPA agreed, where credit is given.

PPA is a membership organization for licensed professionals.

The mission of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association is to advance psychology in Pennsylvania as a means of promoting human welfare through activities that:

• Educate and support the professional development of our members

• Educate the public through disseminating and applying psychological knowledge

• Maintain and build organizational strength

• Advocate vigorously for public access to psychological services

Like so many professional associations with an educational outreach, PPA offers useful information to the public on its website:

• Other Online Resources — A brief list of links to psychological organizations, addiction-related websites, and other resources.

• Multicultural Resource Guide — a 25-chapter discussion guide about diversity: “This guide grew out of the desire to provide the psychological community and the citizens of Pennsylvania with information about the commonwealth’s and the nation’s ethically and culturally diverse populations with whom many psychologists interface and serve daily.”

• PA’s Professional Psychologists Practice Act (PDF, 13 pages)– A link to the law governing psychologists in Pennsylvania, posted by the PA Department of State.

• Psychology for the Public — Updates & resources for the individual and businesses

• American Psychological Association’s “Help Center” — A link to resources offered by the affiliated national professional organization.

You have a nice house, a great job and healthy children, but somehow the prime of your life is starting to feel, well, less prime than you had imagined. Those Americans in the “sandwich generation” (ages 35 to 54) report the highest level of stress, according to a recent national poll by the American Psychological Association.

Caring for aging parents and simultaneously raising children can leave many 35 to 54 year olds with high and untreated levels of stress. In fact,nearly two out of five Americans 35 to 54 years old report extreme levels of stress (39 percent vs. 29 percent of 18 to 34 year olds and 25 percent of 55+), and experience their highest level of stress for 8.2 days of each month, compared to 6.5 days for 18 to 34 year olds and 6.9 days for those over 55.

Furthermore, members of this generation report that their stress negatively affects others, citing relationships as a top stressor. In addition, 81 percent cite work or workload and money and housing costs as an extreme source of stress.

“It’s not surprising that so many people in that age group are experiencing stress,” says Dr. Andrea M. Delligatti, President of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association. “The worry of your parents’ health, and your children’s well-being as well as the financial concern of putting kids through college and saving for your own retirement is a lot to handle. The key is recognizing your stress and implementing healthy behaviors to address it.”

The Pennsylvania Psychological Association offers the following tips for parents:

Understand how you experience stress. Everyone experiences stress differently. How do you know when you are stressed? How are your thoughts or behaviors different from times when you feel calm?

Identify your sources of stress. What events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to your children, family health, financial decisions, work, relationships or something else?

Recognize how you deal with stress. Determine if you are using unhealthy behaviors (such as smoking, drinking alcohol and over/under eating) to cope. Is this a routine behavior or is it specific to certain events or situations? Do you make unhealthy choices when you feel rushed and overwhelmed?

Take care of yourself. Eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and engage in regular physical activity. Ensure you have a healthy mind and body through activities like yoga, walking, working out at the gym or playing sports. No matter how hectic life gets, you need to take care of yourself — which includes making time for yourself — so you have the mental and physical energy to care for your parents and children.

Find healthy ways to manage stress. Consider healthy, stress-reducing activities – - taking a short walk, exercising or talking things out with friends or family. Keep in mind that unhealthy behaviors develop over time and can be difficult to change. Don’t take on too much at once.

Focus on changing one behavior at a time. Reach out for support. Accepting help from supportive friends and family can improve your ability to manage stress. If you feel overwhelmed by stress to the point where you cannot perform your daily activities, you may want to talk to a psychologist who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors.

Learn your own stress signals. People experience stress in different ways. When you are feeling stressed, you may have a hard time concentrating or making decisions, feel angry, irritable or out of control or experience headaches, muscle tension or a lack of energy. Gauge your stress signals.

To learn more about stress and mind/body health, visit the Pennsylvania Psychological Association’s Web site, or the American Psychological Association’s Consumer Help Center.