Prisha* is a mom of two teenage boys. Just a few months ago, indoor soccer, a new position in communications, and a side-hustle as a fitness trainer had her busy, but in a routine sort of way. She juggled everything with grace and even enjoyed the hustle and bustle of her daily life.
Her dad and step-mom, although in their 70s, were still active, travelling and enjoying life. “Life seemed to run itself,” says Prisha. “I felt busy, but I didn’t feel stressed.”
Then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. Schools closed, and for many weeks there was no plan for distance learning. Prisha added the role of homeschool teacher to her workload, which she admits has been a challenge. Her new job moved to the confines of her home, where, quite frankly, her partner has been little help. Her side-hustle was no more, as physical distancing meant she couldn’t work with clients. And her parents who are healthy and had been active before, now relied on her to be their access to the outside world.
Prisha may not have realized it, but she is an example of the so-called “Sandwich Generation,” a term used to describe adults who find themselves caring for both aging parents as well as their own children. Statistics Canada reports that in 2018 upwards of 700,000 Canadians were caring for their kids and parents, with 75% of the care being provided by those aged 45 to 64, and mainly women.1
The responsibility of maintaining the financial and physical well-being of several individuals can be highly stressful and emotionally draining during the best of times. If any part of Prisha’s situation is ringing true to you, it may be hard not to feel alone and overwhelmed. But there may be some things you can do to help reduce stress and practice self-care during this unprecedented time.
How does COVID-19 impact the Sandwich Generation?
“Suddenly adult caregivers have to face questions they may not have considered before,” says Heather Mountford, a Tax and Estate Planner with TD Wealth. “For some families, there can be tough questions around moving elderly parents out of long-term care, and perhaps into their own home. This may be an extremely anxious and stressful time.”
COVID-19 has presented additional challenges for a generation that can already be stretched thin at the best of times, adds Gina Di Giulio, Director of Mental Health for MedCan, a private healthcare clinic. “They are having to care for their parents and children with social distancing measures in place that make doing so more challenging. They are having to deal with novel situations that require additional time and attention to manage — time that is often hard to come by for this generation.”
Di Giulio says that having to add “teacher” to their role, manage their kids’ schoolwork and navigate how to do so via technology that isn’t always easy or doesn’t co-operate may bring additional stress. For those who also have jobs, it can mean having to manage their own workload and additional responsibilities at the same time, causing them to feel overburdened.
Women in particular may be feeling the brunt of it. “In about 70% of households, women tend to be the primary caregivers for elderly family members,” says Di Giulio. “Mothers also tend to put their own needs aside in favour of their children and aging parents, which greatly increases the likelihood that women in the sandwich generation will experience increased stress and anxiety.”
How can you relieve the stress?
Reducing that stress may not seem so straightforward. Conventional wisdom might suggest you take time for yourself, do things that you enjoy, and find a support network among friends and loved ones. Physical distancing measures makes that difficult.
The good news, says Di Giulio, is that there are still things that people can do to take care of themselves, and reduce their stress levels. “People can still do some of the things that they used to enjoy pre-COVID, but with some modifications given the current climate.” She says that one of the best ways to manage stress and practice self-care is to engage in physical exercise. “There are free workouts available online now for varying levels of fitness, that don’t require any equipment to complete,” she says. “Going outside for walks is still recommended and safe, so long as one adheres to social distancing recommendations.” Di Giulio also suggests maintaining a regular routine and sleep-wake cycle, and maintaining social connections through virtual video platforms.
How can we reduce anxiety about our loved-ones?
If you’re feeling unprepared and uncertain financially, that may also be a source of stress, says Mountford. Getting affairs in order to prepare for emergencies could offer some calm. Now may be the time for some conversations that have long been put off because they felt uncomfortable. “Being faced with our mortality, and the mortality of our loved ones, means that discussions should happen around estate planning, and end-of-life care,” says Mountford. “The discussion might be uncomfortable, but it can create more anxiety if you don’t talk about it.”
Mountford suggests speaking with parents to ensure they have done estate planning, and that their documents are up-to-date. “Hopefully they will share information about key players, such as the named executors and attorneys,” she says. “Find out whether they have powers of attorney and wills, where the documents are stored, and circulate copies of powers of attorney in case an emergency should arise where health or financial decisions will need to be made.”
It’s also important at this point to have open and honest conversations about end-of-life decisions. “Make sure any substitute decision makers know what wishes are in place. They are legally required to follow your wishes, whether written down or communicated verbally,” says Mountford.
Finally, Di Giulio says, “Seek out facts and calm people. Don’t allow social media to take up much of your energy and time. It’s full of misinformation and may fuel your anxiety. Most importantly, if you are feeling stressed, reach out to professionals who can help.”
*Name has been changed to respect subject’s privacy.
- Statistics Canada. Caregivers in Canada, 2018. January 8, 2020. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200108/dq200108a-eng.htm. Accessed April 20, 2020 ↩