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Sandwich Generation: 5 Steps to Prevent Caregiver Burnout

Burnouts have become an everyday staple in our society, with technology dictating our daily lives, people feel the need to work endlessly and neglect their physical and emotional health. Burnouts are a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion brought on by excessive and prolonged stress. Most people assume burnouts can only occur due to work stress, but the number of Canadian’s experiencing caregiver burnout is increasing tremendously.   

Adults age 40-65 are considered the sandwich generation- who are responsible for caring for their children and their elderly parents. These adults are at higher risk for caregiver burnout, resulting in a change of attitude from hopeful and positive to negative and pessimistic. Caregivers often forget self-care and experience symptoms of burnouts and cannot fathom how to overcome stress. 

A 2016 Canadian census found that by the year 2031, almost one in four Canadians will be over the age of 65. Stats Canada reports that 75% of Canadians who provide care for their elderly family members are between the ages of 45-65, three-quarters of those caregivers work or run a business, and almost one-third of the caregivers have children at home who are under the age of 18. Balancing the triple responsibility of caring for your children, elderly family members and work at the same time leaves little thought or time for self-care.

People are living longer as improvements in technology, and healthcare advancements have improved geriatric care. This means adult children carry the responsibility of being a caregiver decades longer than their parents or grandparents. While our society shifts to longer life spans, it is essential we are mindful of maintaining the quality of our health to enjoy our more extended stay on earth.  

If you are the primary caregiver to your children and elderly parents, here are five self-care practices you can incorporate into your life to avoid caregiver burnout. 

  1. Incorporate a weekly self-awareness check-up with yourself. Schedule twenty to thirty minutes into your weekly routine to sit quietly with yourself and perform a self-awareness check. Write down in a journal or notebook thoughts that come to your mind and how you feel about them. Examine your reaction to unpleasant news or circumstances that may have taken place recently and write down how you felt and what you have done differently. A self-awareness check helps you understand your feelings and behaviours. Weekly check-in with your thoughts and feelings will help you recognize whether caregiver burnout is on the horizon. Acknowledging your thoughts and feelings regularly will help you avoid caregiver burnout because you will be intuned with yourself and be able to take a break when you feel it’s necessary. 
  2. Examine your sleeping patterns. If you are suffering from insomnia, overthinking or restless sleep, you are most likely on the brink of burnout. Sleep patterns speak volumes to our subconscious and mental health, wellbeing. The human body provides symptoms and signals when it is off balance. It is our job to listen to our bodies and provide the necessary rest, water or minerals it needs to function at full capacity. There are many natural and over the counter sleep aids that can help you fall asleep and stay asleep all night long. 
  3. Make a list of your daily responsibilities. Sometimes we believe we can be superwoman or superman and accomplish everything on our to-do list in twenty-four hours. Sometimes we can’t get everything complete on our to-do list in the allotted time, and that’s okay. Write your tasks for the day down and prioritize your list. Highlight items that can be completed another day and tasks that must be completed the same day. Having physical proof of your daily tasks reduces anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed. Providing yourself with a perspective on your tasks will help you avoid caregiver burnout. 
  4. Deep breathing before bed. Consciously taking deep breaths in and out will decrease stress and increase feelings of calm. Include a deep breathing practice into your daily routine before bed. Stand up, and as you inhale, feel your stomach fill with air and lift your arms above your head. Then as you exhale through your mouth, your stomach should suck in, releasing the air you inhaled and bring your arms down by your side. You can repeat this process ten to fifteen times before bed and alternate between exhaling out of your mouth out of your nose with your mouth closed. Deep breathing will help you become more relaxed and fall asleep easier. 
  5. Ask for help. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it. You will not be viewed as weak or unable to manage. Everyone needs help sometimes, or we wouldn’t have inventions like cars, electricity, airplanes etc. Asking for help when you feel overwhelmed is an act of self-care and self-love. It is impossible as a caregiver to pour from an empty cup. If you have siblings or cousins who can help relieve some of the responsibility in caring for your elderly family members, reach out to them and ask for help. Call your local information center for resources that will help with your caregiver duties. Ask friends for recommendations or to help with researching personal support workers, babysitters, transportation etc. Once you seek out help, it will always find its way to you. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Being a caregiver is a lot of responsibility, but it also includes a lot of joy and love. Knowing that your loved ones are safe and happy makes all the difference to caregivers. But as a caregiver, all of your time mustn’t be consumed caring for others that you neglect yourself. It is impossible to pour from an empty cup; therefore, it’s important to incorporate daily practices that will fill your cup emotionally, mentally and physically. The first person a caregiver must care for is themselves, and then they can extend that self-love and self-care to others and avoid caregiver burnout. In closing, I will quote Robyn L. Gobin from her book, The Self-Care Prescription, “self-care is, fundamentally, about bringing balance back to a life that has grown imbalanced from too many commitments or responsibilities.”

Written by: Kezia Royer Burkett a creative freelance writer with a degree in communications and multimedia from McMaster University. When she is not writing she is finding inspiration living life, raising her son and spending time with friends and family.