Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"Sandwich Generation" Feeling Stressed

On February 15, 2008, the Pennsylvania Psychological Association circulated an article entitled "Feeling pulled in too many directions" by email to its e-newsletter subscription list.

The article addresses the stress felt by the "sandwich generation" in caring for both children and elders, while trying to sustain themselves.

I found its subject relevant to this Blog, its observations accurate, and its practical tips useful. So I asked Marti Evans, the Conference & Communications Manager of PPA, for permission to reprint it here; and PPA agreed, where credit is given.

PPA is a membership organization for licensed professionals.

The mission of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association is to advance psychology in Pennsylvania as a means of promoting human welfare through activities that:
  • Educate and support the professional development of our members
  • Educate the public through disseminating and applying psychological knowledge
  • Maintain and build organizational strength
  • Advocate vigorously for public access to psychological services
Like so many professional associations with an educational outreach, PPA offers useful information to the public on its website:
  • Other Online Resources -- A brief list of links to psychological organizations, addiction-related websites, and other resources.
  • Multicultural Resource Guide -- a 25-chapter discussion guide about diversity: "This guide grew out of the desire to provide the psychological community and the citizens of Pennsylvania with information about the commonwealth's and the nation's ethically and culturally diverse populations with whom many psychologists interface and serve daily."
You can subscribe to PPA's very worthwhile, periodic "Public Information E-Newsletter" here to receive information & updates, such as the article that follows.

The Pennsylvania Psychological Association Offers Tips for Managing Stress

You have a nice house, a great job and healthy children, but somehow the prime of your life is starting to feel, well, less prime than you had imagined. Those Americans in the "sandwich generation" (ages 35 to 54) report the highest level of stress, according to a recent national poll by the American Psychological Association.

Caring for aging parents and simultaneously raising children can leave many 35 to 54 year olds with high and untreated levels of stress. In fact,nearly two out of five Americans 35 to 54 years old report extreme levels of stress (39 percent vs. 29 percent of 18 to 34 year olds and 25 percent of 55+), and experience their highest level of stress for 8.2 days of each month, compared to 6.5 days for 18 to 34 year olds and 6.9 days for those over 55.

Furthermore, members of this generation report that their stress negatively affects others, citing relationships as a top stressor. In addition, 81 percent cite work or workload and money and housing costs as an extreme source of stress.

"It's not surprising that so many people in that age group are experiencing stress," says Dr. Andrea M. Delligatti, President of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association. "The worry of your parents' health, and your children's well-being as well as the financial concern of putting kids through college and saving for your own retirement is a lot to handle. The key is recognizing your stress and implementing healthy behaviors to address it."

The Pennsylvania Psychological Association offers the following tips for parents:

Understand how you experience stress. Everyone experiences stress differently. How do you know when you are stressed? How are your thoughts or behaviors different from times when you feel calm?

Identify your sources of stress. What events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to your children, family health, financial decisions, work, relationships or something else?

Recognize how you deal with stress. Determine if you are using unhealthy behaviors (such as smoking, drinking alcohol and over/under eating) to cope. Is this a routine behavior or is it specific to certain events or situations? Do you make unhealthy choices when you feel rushed and overwhelmed?

Take care of yourself. Eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and engage in regular physical activity. Ensure you have a healthy mind and body through activities like yoga, walking, working out at the gym or playing sports. No matter how hectic life gets, you need to take care of yourself -- which includes making time for yourself -- so you have the mental and physical energy to care for your parents and children.

Find healthy ways to manage stress. Consider healthy, stress-reducing activities -- taking a short walk, exercising or talking things out with friends or family. Keep in mind that unhealthy behaviors develop over time and can be difficult to change. Don't take on too much at once.

Focus on changing one behavior at a time. Reach out for support. Accepting help from supportive friends and family can improve your ability to manage stress. If you feel overwhelmed by stress to the point where you cannot perform your daily activities, you may want to talk to a psychologist who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors.

Learn your own stress signals. People experience stress in different ways. When you are feeling stressed, you may have a hard time concentrating or making decisions, feel angry, irritable or out of control or experience headaches, muscle tension or a lack of energy. Gauge your stress signals.

To learn more about stress and mind/body health, visit the Pennsylvania Psychological Association's Web site, or the American Psychological Association's Consumer Help Center.

Update: 02/26/08 @ Noon:

On February 22, 2008,
The Capitol Times (Madison, WI) posted an article that confirms, with studies & practitioner commentaries, the main point made by PPA above.

In "Midlife depression on upswing", reporter Anita Weier noted two recent national and international studies that support the point: "Middle age is proving to be an increasingly difficult time, when people can be overwhelmed with depression and even contemplate suicide" * * *.
An analysis of U.S. death rates by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the suicide rate among 45- to 54-year-olds rose nearly 20 percent from 1999 to 2004, more than all age groups.

In 2005, the suicide rate for those age 35 to 54 was 31.4 per hundred thousand, and the rate for those age 35 to 64 was 45.3 per hundred thousand, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

A study of 2 million people from 80 nations by researchers from the University of Warwick and Dartmouth College found an international pattern of depression and unhappiness in middle age. Those researchers found that the probability of depression peaked around the age of 44 for British people, while in the United States the peak of misery came at age 40 for women and 50 for men. * * *

John Martin, Ph.D., a psychologist at Psychiatric Services in Madison, was not surprised by the findings, because those in mid-life -- Baby Boomers in particular -- are facing a mass of stressful problems.

"We are seeing clinically folks in that mid-life range who are facing a sandwich situation, having kids at an older age and still some obligations to them, and having parents who require some care," Martin said. "There are relatively few resources available to really support that position. We have all kind of learned to put your nose to the grindstone, which isolates us more and takes us out of the sources of support that could combat depression."

The boomers are also facing financial stress and ever more multi-tasking at work, he said.

"This is expected at everybody's job, but it is really multi-interrupting," Martin said. "They are working really hard and not seeing much come back to them, in money or appreciation. They are not seeing results from their efforts. They come home after work and say, 'What did I do?'" * * *