Who’s caring for the caregivers?

If you’re someone who is in what’s called the “sandwich generation,” you spend a lot of time caring for others—both your aging parents and your children. As a result, you probably spend very little time caring for yourself. And this, it turns out, is a very bad thing.

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, taking care of a sick, ailing, or elderly family member can cause health problems varying from mental and emotional strain (it is a prolonged, high-stress situation, after all) to a higher risk of dying. Add taking care of kids to the mix and the risk goes up for depression and chronic illness and you experience a decline in your quality of life.

Because of the tough situation you’re in, you likely end up placing other people’s needs over yours. This leads to problems that can include poor sleep, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and skipping your own doctor’s appointments. All of this even has a term: Caregiver Syndrome.

There are some warning signs that you need to start focusing on yourself more. These include difficulty sleeping, overreacting to small issues, feeling resentful, cutting back on hobbies and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

If those sound familiar, there are some small things you can do to make your life better while still caring for those who need you. If you feel absolutely overwhelmed, talking with a therapist might help put some things in perspective and set boundaries. You also should try asking for help and engaging in short bursts of activities that make you feel more healthy (gardening, grabbing coffee with a friend, walking, whatever). And don’t feel guilty for doing those things: You can take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.

Photo credit: McBeth

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