The Sandwich Generation — those who are both caring for their aging parents and raising their own children — face unique stressors that most others do not. If you’re in this generation, then you know what it feels like to constantly have other people need you, to the point that you feel like you never have a moment to yourself.
Even though you feel squashed between the needs and expectations of others, you have to take care of yourself, too. Otherwise, you won’t be able to stay healthy and strong enough to continue caring for everyone who loves you and needs you. Here are some simple, free ways to start caring for yourself today.
1. Track accomplishments
When there are always more demands on your time, it’s easy to forget the things you do get done. So track your accomplishments every day. Even keeping a running list of the things you do can help you feel better about the ways you’re spending your time and energy. Remember to include relationships you invest in and people you actively care for, because those things matter, too!
2. Get more sleep
Choose sleep even when there’s more to do. Give yourself a bedtime, and find a way to stick to it. Make sleep nonnegotiable, so you have the energy and the alertness to deal with whatever tomorrow throws at you. (See also: Treat Yourself With These 7 Free Self-Care Routines)
3. Allow yourself to feel
Both children and aging parents tend to come with a lot of feelings that you may tend to prioritize. Instead of letting their feelings dominate yours, set aside some time for your feelings. Give yourself 10-15 minutes every morning or night to cry, be angry, or whatever. Enter into your feelings, give them their own time and space, and you will process them better and maintain better emotional health through a difficult time.
4. Get goofy
Are your kids being silly? Join them. Giving yourself time to play means letting loose, being free from constant demands, and remembering what it’s like to have fun. When you’re running from task to task, it’s easy to forget what that feels like. But giving yourself some time to be a goofball will make you feel better when you return to your regularly scheduled adulting.
5. Breathe deeply
Deep breaths are good for you. They help you focus, fully oxygenate your body, and help you be intentional about the pace you’re setting. Stopping every so often for three to five deep breaths will help you feel more in control, and like you can handle all of the things on your plate.
6. Talk to yourself kindly
Stop the critical voices in your head by becoming your own best friend. What would you say to a best friend facing stress like this? I can almost guarantee it’s not the same things you’re saying to yourself. Change the messages you’re sending yourself, and you will feel better about the important work you’re doing.
If hitting the gym is your thing, make sure you go. But exercise doesn’t have to be hard, time-consuming, or even cost money. It can be as simple as taking a walk. The point is to get your body moving and get some endorphins flowing. Plus, exercise helps you stay stronger and healthier, so you can continue to care for those who need you.
8. Give yourself a gift
Give yourself something that you need or want. This can be as simple as a couple extra hours of sleep or a morning off. Or maybe you need to buy yourself something, as opposed to spending your money on everyone else first. Being intentional about gifting yourself what you need — without going overboard, of course — will make you feel more valued and cared for. (See also: 8 Stress Relief Items You Need in Your Life That Are Under $20)
9. Ask for help
Whether you need to hire a baby sitter, get some help caring for your parents, or have someone else clean the house, do it. If you can’t afford it, ask some friends or family members for help. When you stop expecting to do it all on your own, you’ll feel better about the things that you do get done, and you’ll feel free to set the boundaries you need to maintain your physical and emotional health.