Sandwich Generation Stress: Unique Challenges and How to Manage Them

March 15, 2022

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Middle-aged adults caring for their minor children and aging parents face more sandwich generation stress than ever before. As a result, family caregiving responsibilities consume more time than ever before.

If you’re drowning in professional and home-life obligations, you’re not alone. One in seven adults between the ages of 40 and 59 care for children and an older generation simultaneously, according to the Pew Research Center.

Managing sandwich generation stress can seem overwhelming and unending — but it can be manageable. Keep reading to learn ways to reduce sandwich generation stress and find more downtime.

What is the Sandwich Generation?

The sandwich generation is a social phenomenon of ” sandwiched ” adults with the double duty of caring for their children and aging parents. It is not a specific generation based on birth years like the Baby Boomers or Millennials.

Sandwich generation caregivers face unique stresses and challenges and enjoy stronger multi-generational bonds.

Sandwich Generation Stress

People often underestimate sandwich generation stress if they have not experienced it. Middle-aged Americans must worry about inflation, income, and health care between caring for themselves, their children, and their parents or older family members.

The sandwich generation faces many trials like financial stress, time stress, emotional stress, and physical stress.

Financial Stress

Financial stress can happen when bills equal or outweigh income.

Many in the sandwich generation have stress surrounding the cost of child care, taking time off to care for older family members, and paying medical bills. Further, you have to juggle several income sources like your salary and your parent's Social Security payments.

Then, unexpected financial circumstances can complicate the situation, such as a pandemic, inflation, job loss, and constantly rising health care costs.

“My income took a big hit in 2020 when I couldn't work nearly as much while my kids were doing online school,” shared Cameron Huddleston (age 48) from Kentucky.

“I'm a freelancer, so I only get paid for the articles I write. Because I was writing less, my income was more than 30% lower in 2020. And I didn't work the entire month of January 2021 while caring for my mom and coping with her death.”

Time Stress

With more responsibilities comes more demands for your time, such as working, commuting, managing the household, caring for children, caring for parents, attending doctor's appointments, and grocery shopping.

Since the hours in a day are limited to 24, most people sacrifice sleep to get everything done. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation accumulates and affects your mind and body in a short time.

Emotional Stress

It can be emotionally exhausting when you are responsible for doing everything yourself. Maybe you are watching your parents decline, and your children face challenges in school or mental health, all while trying to navigate unexpected financial obstacles.

“My mom has been dealing with a medical condition that has left her severely immunocompromised,” shared Chris Mamula (age 45) from Utah. “I've always been a very optimistic and happy person up until the last couple of years. Since then, I've struggled with bouts of depression and near-constant anxiety.”

Chris' situation is very normal as many sandwich generation members experience depression and anxiety. Emotional stress can become unbearable if faced with a family member's death, divorce, or job loss.

Emotional stress can lead to physical stress and, in some cases, physical disease.

Physical Stress

All types of stress pile on your body like an anchor and cause physiological reactions like high blood pressure. If you ignore the health and wellness of your mind and body, it can lead to many illnesses like:

  • Heart disease and high blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Diseases associated with smoking, alcohol, and drug abuse

If unaddressed, illnesses related to physical stress can land caretakers in the hospital themselves.

How to Manage Sandwich Generation Stress

Managing sandwich generation stress is essential to continue doing what you do. While caring for others, it is critical that you also care for yourself.

Address Financial Stress Head-On

The best way to address your financial stress is to employ financial management.

Firstly is a personal finance resource that helps you manage your family's cash flow. The app is designed to help the sandwich generation manage the entire family’s budget — from parents’ accounts to teaching kids about financial responsibility.

You can view your entire family's bank, credit, and investment accounts in one place. Then, you can budget for bills across all generations, set family goals like for college, retirement, or senior care, and grow your savings.

Work from Home

Since financial stress is one of the most significant pain points of multi-generational stress, finding new sources of income will significantly improve the quality of life.

Additionally, many sandwich generation individuals find their home responsibilities force them to stop working a full-time job away from the house. But working from home is an excellent option to earn an income.

There are hundreds of ways to earn money from home, many requiring no experience or degree. If you need some new ideas on how to turn a few hours of downtime into cash, check out our comprehensive list of work from home side hustles.

Journaling and Talk Therapy

Starting a journal or talk therapy is a great way to sort through your thoughts and feelings about this challenging time.

Journals let you put your feelings, thoughts, and dreams on paper as a therapeutic release. Writing a journal allows you to track progress, achieve goals, find inspiration, or strengthen your memory.

Some find the process of writing a blog to be cathartic as well.

“The best way I deal with stress is by writing up my thoughts,” shared Sam from Financial Samurai (age 44) from California. “Dealing with stress is the main reason why I finally started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the financial crisis. Writing is one of the best stress relievers and it’s free!”

Likewise, talk therapy helps you address your feelings and provide solutions.

For example, suppose your therapist determines you’re suffering from treatable depression. They can prescribe strategies or medication to help you get through this difficult time.

Also, therapists can help you address situations where you have felt emotionally trapped by others — such as at family dinners.

Suppose Thanksgiving gives you anxiety because a family member always tries to control the schedule. Your therapist can help you set boundaries and prepare responses that make you feel empowered when you face that situation again.

Journaling and therapy can also help you prepare for money talks with your parents to address everyone’s concerns.

Exercise or Meditation

Get out into nature, go to the gym, take a walk and get some exercise.

An elevated heart rate from exercise can release endorphins that improve your mood. Moving your body also prevents weight gain, manages your blood sugar, reduces blood pressure, and improves sleep.

Likewise, meditation focuses on breathing to take you away from your worries at the moment. It can also reduce negative feelings and have lasting effects after the session.

“I've dealt with this stress in a variety of ways,” explained Chris Mamula. “One has been working with a professional counselor. Others have been making time to stay active physically, focusing on continuing my outdoor activities and developing a yoga practice.”

Hobbies and Spending Time with Friends

Take a break from the stressors of home and work and do something fun that takes your mind off your worries. Maybe you need a date night for the two of you.

You can also dive into hobbies and spend time with friends. It’s a great way to escape from your responsibilities for a while and provide some much-needed self-care.

“I have had the support of a few close friends, who've been willing to listen to me vent from time to time,” explained Cameron Huddleston. “And now that the kids are back in school, I've been able to make time to walk 30 minutes most days.”

Meal Planning or Ordering Meal Service

Cross off daily “to-dos” by meal prepping one day a week, so you don't have to worry about it for the remaining days.

There are many ways to start meal prepping. Depending on your preference, you can prepare “dump and cook” frozen packs with raw ingredients that go into a slow cooker or prepare fully cooked meals in fridge containers.

On the other hand, you may prefer to order a subscription meal delivery service. It removes grocery shopping that can take up your time. Selecting and ordering meals directly to your door only takes a few minutes.

“I went to visit my parents in December and set them up with Uber and Uber Eats so they will always have transportation and never starve,” explained Sam from Financial Samurai. “As frugal people, it’s been hard for them to order food delivery. But it’s under my account, and they are slowly coming around! I feel very relieved.”

If you'd rather not do much cooking, some meal prep services provide ingredients beginners can make in less than 30 minutes. Others bring fully-cooked balanced meals that you reheat in the microwave.

Ask for Help

There are many resources for parents and older caretakers to relieve some of your responsibilities. Start by asking friends or family for help with tasks like looking after the kids or seniors, cooking, home repair, or running errands if they offer it.

Also, you can hire help like home cleaners, babysitters, tutors, and at-home aids for seniors. Ask friends or neighbors to carpool your children if they do the same activities together.

Your elderly family members may qualify for services like Meals on Wheels. Check with local government agencies and hospitals for community resources to help you manage your responsibilities.

Get Some Sleep

Sleep is the way our bodies repair themselves. Getting enough sleep each night directly affects your performance the following day.

The benefits of sufficient sleep include improving your mood, cardiac strength, memory, immune system, and preventing weight gain.

Most importantly, studies show that your chances of having a car accident double when you drive on fewer hours of sleep. You cannot help your family if the crash puts you in the hospital or is fatal.

Final Thoughts on Sandwich Generation Stress

Although sandwich generation stress can take a toll, the rewards of caring for your loved ones can be worthwhile.

Many sandwich generation members find they develop stronger or even new bonds with their elder family members when they become caretakers. Adult children get to know their parents better as people and not just parents, so they learn more about their lives, dreams, and values.

“Having to balance how to be a parent and a caregiver for your parents is a lot to digest,” shared Justin (age 37) from Chicago. “Considering our parents did the same for their parents (our grandparents), we have some perspective and can be a lot more open around care.”

Regardless of the types of stress you face as a sandwich generation individual, you must find ways to manage those stressors. Ignoring your stress can lead to physical diseases or mental illness and put you in a situation requiring a caretaker of your own.

Fortunately, addressing financial stress is one you can address immediately. Start getting your financial stress under control by setting up the Firstly app. You can have your family’s finances organized in minutes.

As you navigate sandwich generation years, take time to appreciate the new perspective on life, and know it will not last forever. As the saying goes with most all stressful events in life, including sandwich generation stress, “this too shall pass”.


Are you dealing with sandwich generation stress? How are you coping with it?

Please let us know in the comments below.


Amy Beardsley

Amy Beardsley is a freelance writer and personal finance expert. She specializes in credit reporting, FinTech, and probate and estate planning topics. Her work has been published on Robinhood, Lending Tree, Dollarsprout, Women Who Money, and Well Kept Wallet. She’s also the founder of EarlyMorningMoney.com, a site dedicated to simplifying financial management and helping families win with money.

One Comment

  • Thanks for the writeup. I’m thinking mental health for many has declined a lot since 2020. I hope we can all spend more time outdoors, spend more time with loved ones, be kinder, and appreciate every day more!

    Sam

    Reply

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