Sandwich generation moms feeling the squeeze

Mothers in the “sandwich generation,” ages 35-54, feel more stress than any other age group as they balance the demanding, delicate acts of caring for growing children and their aging parents, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2007 Stress in America survey. And while nearly two-in-five men and women in this age group feel overextended, the survey reveals that more women than men report experiencing extreme stress and say they manage their stress poorly.

Nearly 40 percent of those aged 35-54 report extreme levels of stress (compared to 29 percent of 18-34 years old and 25 percent of those older than 55). This stress takes a toll not only on personal relationships — 83 percent say relationships with their spouse, children and family is the top source of their stress — but also on their own well-being as they struggle to take better care of themselves. As Mother’s Day approaches, it’s a good time for moms and their families to recognize the importance of addressing stress and managing it in healthy ways.

“It’s not surprising that so many people in that age group are experiencing stress,” says psychologist Katherine Nordal, PhD, executive director for professional practice, American 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.”

APA offers these strategies to help mothers manage stress:

Identify stressors — 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 — Are you using unhealthy behaviors to cope with the stress of supporting your children and parents, and is this specific to certain events or situations? Put things in perspective — make time for what’s really important. Prioritize and delegate responsibilities. Identify ways your family and friends can lessen your load so that you can take a break. Delay or say no to less important tasks.

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. Focus on changing only one behavior at a time.

Take care of yourself — Eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and engage in regular physical activity like walking or yoga or your weekly softball game. Keep in contact with your friends, family members. 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.

Ask for professional support — Accepting help from supportive friends and family can improve your ability to persevere during stressful times. If you continue to be overwhelmed by stress or the unhealthy behaviors you use to cope, you may want to talk with a psychologist who can help you address the emotions behind your worries, better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors.

“Mothers often put their family needs first and neglect their own,” says Nordal. “Mothers need to manage their stress for their own health benefits, and also for those around them. How a mother manages stress is often a model for the rest of the family. Other family members will imitate her unhealthy behavior.”