Let me tell ya, it ain’t easy being a middle-aged woman in the Sandwich Generation. I can almost hear thousands of women in my position reading this and thinking, you got that right.
Being a member of the Sandwich Generation means I’m ‘sandwiched’ between raising children while also caring for elderly parents. Almost 25% of adults are in this time of their lives under these same circumstances. And the majority, for whatever reason, are women.
Even doctors confirm being sandwiched is downright depressing. And the problem with depression at this age is that it can easily lead to heart disease.
What’s worse — studies show the link between depression and cardiovascular conditions may be stronger in middle-age women than in men or older women. Women who are age 55 and younger with moderate or severe depression are more likely to have coronary artery disease. And we also face a heightened risk of having a heart attack or a stroke, or dying of a heart problem.
These findings were first reported after a three year study concluded in 2014. Since then, doctors have looked for ‘hidden’ risk factors that may be causing an increase in depression and subsequent heart issues. One of those risk factors seems to be these expanded caretaker roles.
It is one of the reasons why primary care doctors ask questions about your mental health during an annual physical exam. They are looking for signs of excess stress or depression. If addressed early on, mental health treatment may lower the risk of heart attack, and maybe even help avoid depression altogether.
This makes it particularly important for “sandwiched” women to protect their hearts. We can do this by getting regular check-ups to identify traditional risk factors for heart disease (i.e., obesity, smoking, diabetes and family history). Once the risks are isolated, it’s time for lifestyle changes; this means exercise, eating healthy and getting adequate sleep. While you can’t blame all of this on family issues, the stress of middle age seems to be hitting women especially hard. The balancing act between caring for loved ones and caring for yourself takes a definite toll.
Guilt plays a big part of that. Caregivers often feel like they are neglecting something or someone; and then they don’t make time for self-care. Add to that working outside the home, and you have a pressure cooker on the verge of overheating. While there is no easy solution, experts say there are steps you can take to lower your stress temperature. Creating a sense of order and structure is a good starting point.
Think of your day in terms of ‘blocks of time’ and then combine tasks when possible. Doling out responsibilities can be a big help too. Experts also say it is also important to ask for help if you need it. You can also reframe the situation into a positive: caretaking for elderly parents is the chance to create memories with them that also include your children. In subsequent years, it may mean the world to your kids.
A final note, while we might put pressure on ourselves to be everything to everyone, it’s important to keep in mind that Superwoman only exists in the movies.