Stress and Sandwich Women
At an evening networking meeting not so long ago I was talking to a bank manager about the stresses people were experiencing as a result of the recession and how hard we were all having to work to make ends meet. He bemoaned his long day which had started with a breakfast meeting and would finish when he got home at about 8pm. Happy man! My day had also started early, 6.30 to be precise, preparing breakfast, getting my son off to school (making lunchbox, checking games kit etc), fitting in some rushed cleaning and house-tidying, flinging some clothes in the washing machine before heading off to start work at 8.30. Into my working day I squeezed minor but essential tasks – renewing the car tax, calling the vet, checking in with older children who are both at university and quite a lot of other stuff, and then a visit to my very frail, housebound elderly parents-in-law. And my day was going to end not at 8pm after the meeting, but after I had spent some time with my son talking about his day, homework etc, hanging out the washing and clearing up the supper dishes – oh, and getting ready for the next day. A typical day in the life of a middle-aged woman!
In 1981, Dorothy Miller coined the term “sandwich generation” to refer to those middle-aged people who find themselves supporting both young and older family members. Crucially her definition stated that the sandwich generation did not receive reciprocal support from the people they cared for. And in 1998 research by Maaike Dautzenberg and others pointed out that most of these intergenerational caregivers were “often women dealing with the complex role configurations of wife, mother, daughter, caregiver, and employee”.
So a big welcome to all you Sandwich Women!
Most of us cope reasonably well with combining the demands of looking after those who rely on us and our work life pressures. But sometimes just trying to be ‘normal’ about it all can be just too hard. Marian Keyes blogged about her depression earlier this year and the Daily Mail columnist Allison Pearson shared her experiences in the Daily Mail under the heading “Depression’s the curse of my generation and I’m struggling in its grasp”.
The Health & Safety Executive has a big push on at the moment around stress, depression and anxiety in the workplace, which is just one of the arenas inhabited by the sandwich woman. What would be really good is to know that there is support and help in the other areas of our lives. But part of our problem lies in the fact that we sandwich women facilitate the lives of our dependants so well that in a way we are disempowering them from taking a part in our own welfare. So perhaps we might step back and review just how much of what we do we might be able to devolve or delegate. In my case, as a widow with no husband to share the load, I share the care of my elderly parents-in-law with a close family friend. Without her input my intergenerational care load would be unbearably heavy.
With so many roles you might have as a carer, supporter, breadwinner, facilitator, not to mention all the secondary ones like driver, cleaner, receptionist, cook, etc, if you feel overwhelmed, under resourced and lacking in support this can so easily lead to feelings of tiredness, lethargy, lack of motivation, anxiety, indecision or loss of appetite and insomnia. These are just some of the things that could flag up the onset of depression and the effects of stress. Before you get here try to put in place some safety valves, talk to someone, look for support, explore options of what you could say no to without increasing your stress levels. And try some simple techniques like meditation and deep breathing to get some space and give you some minutes to yourself.