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Caregiver Stress. I had no idea such a diagnosis existed, but I was familiar with the symptoms of exhaustion, tension, and anxiety. I was traveling two hours one way to visit my father as he battled esophageal cancer all while holding down a fulltime sales job and caring for three children. The Sandwich Generation–caring for parents while raising children. The Sandwich Juggle, as I call it. The tug of caring that pulls you in two directions at once.
When the doctor suggested hospice care , my family was still deep in the stages of denial. We were hoping for a miracle. My mother shouldered most of my father’s daily care– keeping track of numerous medicines and managing his needs. One by one, my siblings took turns helping my mom out. During the last month of my father’s life, I stayed at their house fulltime. It took every ounce of strength to keep going while trying to handle sales and worrying about my kids. The stress level was quite high with my siblings and me–as we each had our own ways of holding everything in. At various times, emotions spilled over, causing deep divides among us. Little did we know, the stress of caring for parents while parenting ourselves was taking a toll. If only we could have recognized it–then perhaps we could have handled our own care differently.
Recently, my mother experienced a dizziness episode and it resulted in emergency surgery while in another state. I wasn’t able to be there for her, but thanks to technology, we were able to stay connected.
The Sandwich Juggle is quite real for many parents today and as a result, Caregiver Stress is often present. Here’s the thing, to be able to adequately care for others, you have to care for YOURSELF first. If you’re running on fumes, it’s really tough to provide good care for anyone else. The give, give, give mode usually ends up in exhaustion, tension, and anxiety. Once it does, you have nothing left to give.
Ironically, even though you feel like you simply have no time for yourself, the solution is to make time for yourself–to recover, rejuvenate, and renew your energy. Once you do that, then you have more energy to give to caring for others. For that, I recommend a dose of M & Ms: meditation, massage, music, and muse.
Meditation: Yes, it sounds so frou frou, but it works. Take time to slow down, breathe, and go within.
Massage: Ok, some of you might be complaining about this suggestion (I can’t afford it, I don’t like anyone touching me, I can’t friggin relax when I’m so uptight) but the human touch is one of the most healing touches there is. You can pay someone for a massage, you can get a significant other to give you a shoulder and neck massage, you can buy a roller at Target and just roll over some areas of tension–there are lots of creative ways you can use massage to relieve caregiver stress.
Music: The soothing sounds of your favorite song or an upbeat tune can turn your energy around. If you need a good cry or a trip down memory lane, choose some music that is meaningful to you. If you need to fire up your energy, play something wild and get on your feet. Shake it out.
Muse: Let the creative part of you out to play a bit. Write. Paint. Plant something. Innovate. Change up your thinking and take a break from the stress of care giving.
And hey, if you really want a bowl of M & Ms– dive in.