NORFOLK, Va. -- Are you a member of the Sandwich Generation? If you are a thirty or forty-something adult child caring for your elders and your own children, you are a member of the Sandwich Generation. Our society teaches us that adults should be able to care for themselves, but with families dispersed across the country, the struggle to balance caregiving for parents and children can be daunting.
Striking a Balance
When we are overwhelmed and exhausted, the word “balance” is more about juggling. Self-care articles tell us to find balance, to take time for ourselves, and that we can’t care for others if we aren’t caring for ourselves. Below are two simple techniques to help you find emotional and mental balance. If time is an issue, set a soft-toned timer to 3 minutes before starting either of these exercises.
Breath is life. We breathe in life-giving oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide and toxins. Most of us take a shallow breath into our chests, and when we experience stress our breath shortens and quickens. This stimulates the adrenaline response, so essentially our bodies are always in “fight or flight” mode. Take a moment to notice how you breathe.
- Close your eyes and start to deepen your breath.
- Once you have connected with your breath, move your inhale down to your belly, puffing it up like a balloon.
- Draw that breath up into your chest, feeling your ribcage expand and your collarbones lift.
- As you exhale, feel your chest settle, ribcage contract, and belly deflate.
- Continue this breathing pattern as you feel your body’s systems slow. Notice the slowing of your heart rate and the general sense of calm that washes over you.
When life is overwhelming and we are stressed, we can feel like our heads are spinning. This scattered, disconnected feeling is brought on by -and exacerbates - stress. Learning to ground frenetic energy is key to focusing, helping us prioritize the decisions we make and actions we take in order to be good caregivers.
- Find a quiet place. Stay standing if you need to keep your energy up, sit down if you have a few minutes to relax.
- Begin by breathing deeply. Try to cultivate the breathing technique above.
- As your energy evens out, visualize the parts of your body that are in contact with the floor or chair. Feel those places grow heavy, drawn down by the Earth’s gravity. If you’re standing, try to press your feet down hard. If you’re sitting, try pushing down through the sit bones and thighbones.
- Continuing to breathe purposefully, imagine you are sending energy down into the ground. Straighten up through your spine and imagine you are growing taller.
- Allow your thoughts to grow unfocused and cloudy. Don’t attach to anything tightly, and when you start following a thought down a path, come back to your center and allow the thought to drift off.
The more you practice these exercises, the easier it will be to incorporate them into your daily life. Learning to manage stress through breathing and grounding is a simple way to push the “pause button” when caring for others becomes overwhelming. Take three minutes to care for yourself; you deserve it.