By now we all understand why the term “sandwich generation” was coined. It’s an apt description of living life as the main caregiver for two generations, one above and one below. This person is sandwiched in-between his or her two lives, caring for aging parents while still struggling with the more traditional and already challenging routines associated with being a parent, a worker, a spouse, partner, friend, etc.
Sometimes I like to articulate the role in a slightly different manner, to aid in expressing just how pressure-filled being a caretaker in the sandwich-generation truly is: I think of this person as the bread of the sandwich — the very stabilizer of the entire family.
Today I’d like to discuss adding yet one more responsibility to the caregiver’s routine: care of self. It is the No. 1 ingredient for long-term energy and success, and without prioritizing yourself, if only for a few moments each day, you will surely attain burnout in no time — and that’s bad for everyone involved.
So consider yourself as important to your weekly calendar, to-do list or daily activities as the other family members who fill these spaces, and save a few for slots for yourself. You will be amazed by how spending a serene few moments alone, focused on your own well-being, can lift your spirits and rejuvenate your energy, and better get you through the stresses of your days.
Here are five calming ideas to get you started:
- Grab a drink. No, not that kind. I am talking about a frothy and ridiculously-priced coffee or tea from a place such as Starbucks. There is something about treating ourselves well that is rejuvenating. With specialty coffee houses located seemingly on every corner, most with drive-throughs, this is a simple stop to brighten any day. (They also have cold, bottled drinks and snacks if coffee and tea aren’t your thing.)
- Go to the library. When was the last time you spent an hour reading the latest issue of your favorite magazine — in peace and quiet? Oh, and it’s a completely free outing. County libraries typically stock the latest issues of all kinds of major periodicals. While they are available for check-out to library cardholders, anyone is welcome to come in and peruse the shelves and sit and read amidst the quietness. Bring your book, if you prefer. Just try it.
- Take a walk around the block. I learned this tip from a writer friend of mine, who swears by it as her singular remedy for head-clearing, creativity awakening and energy cleansing.
- Meditate for 10 minutes. I like the downloadable app called Headspace, which talks you right through 10 minutes of daily meditation. It may be used on any digital device. Or, check your preferred app store for a similar program.
- Soak in a hot bath or shower. It just feels good, and that’s what we’re aiming for here — simple ways to regroup in just a few moments’ time. Just as your children have scheduled bath times, perhaps you may look forward to your own 30 minutes of escape each evening
Here’s an extra tip, and it’s a vital one to accomplish most of the other five, as well as any of your own: Learn to accept help, then go out and find some, if need be. We all need to be able to phone a neighbor or a friend, or even a reliable sitter, who can come be with the kids or the parents when we need a 15-minute break. “I have got to get out of here to clear my head. I’ll bring you a Starbucks if I can drop off the kids with you for 30 minutes?” Who would say no to that. Tell your spouse or partner how helpful it would be to you if you could get even 20 minutes of silence each night, then go read in the tub, uninterrupted. Our friends and loved ones don’t know how to help us if we don’t speak up and ask first.
I hope that adding these small snippets of time for yourself into your days can be of overall value to you. Please try it for a month and see. I would love to hear your results.
All the best,
Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.