THE MINDFUL LOAD
It may come as no surprise that mental health issues affect men and women differently. This has to do with both biological differences between men and women, as well as societal differences.
Did you know depression and anxiety are more prominent in women? In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, "women are twice as likely as men to experience depression during their lifetime." (link)
Why does this happen? Let's talk about it!
One explanation for this is that women tend to bear a lot of the mental load in relationships. The term mental load was first coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in her book The Second Shift. In it, she describes how women are often responsible for taking on additional tasks at home that fall outside their paid work hours and which are not compensated financially or otherwise. She refers to these tasks as "emotional labor," which includes things like planning meals and coordinating childcare arrangements.
We keep track of household finances. We’re the ones who remember birthdays or anniversaries. Grocery lists need to be made and then we run to the store (sometimes forgetting that list we just made). The kids need new shoes or a permission slip signed or there’s a class project that requires a trip to Walmart for craft supplies (always the night before). Bathrooms need to be cleaned. Laundry needs to be folded and actually put away. Sheets and towels should be washed weekly. The vacuum broke so we need to find a new one. Have we changed the HVAC filter this year? Did I remember to weed the garden? All this while balancing our work life, friends, family obligations, and trying to squeeze in just five minutes where no one’s bothering you.
In order to carry this mental load, we have 100 mental tabs open in our heads with all our tasks, reminders, things to think about, future events, and so forth. And even if we don't know exactly what each one means or does, we do know that if we don't take care of all those tabs… Well, bad things happen!
Even when we're trying not to think about something, we're still thinking about it—and then worrying about whether or not we remembered it! Women are constantly multitasking—even when they're trying to relax. If you've ever tried to take some time out of your day to sit down and read a book or watch a movie, you know what I'm talking about. Your brain will immediately start spinning with all the things that need to get done at work, all the people who are expecting you to respond to them, all the little things in life that require your attention.
For many women, this feeling can be debilitating, and it can lead to a variety of mental health issues. The mental load is one of the most stressful parts of being a woman. We've been carrying it for centuries, and it's time we stop pretending like it doesn't exist. The constant weight of this mental load can, and has, led to burnout.
This burnout isn’t always obvious, either. It can be a slow string of behavior changes and physical symptoms that you might not relate to this mental load burnout. The following is a list of possible burnout and fatigue symptoms that you might not know could be related to mental load burnout.
- Irritability and frustration with things you aren’t normally frustrated with
- Sudden bouts of anger or losing control
- Headaches first thing in the morning
- Extreme stomach cramping and even nausea
- Extreme fatigue, especially in the afternoon
- Changes in appetite
- The inability to sleep or stay asleep
- Inability to focus or concentrate on a task
- Forgetting important things more and more
- Muscle pain, especially in the neck
- Lack of enthusiasm and inability to find joy in daily activities
This is why it's so important for us all to take care of ourselves! Why it’s important to bring more attention to the mental load we carry. Why it’s important to learn how to effectively manage and delegate tasks, and above all, prioritize self-care practices. By acknowledging the mental load we carry and taking actionable steps to alleviate it, we can create a more balanced and fulfilling life.
If you're a woman, you probably know what it's like to carry the mental load. You may even be feeling overwhelmed by it right now. The good news is that there are ways to manage your mental load--and they don't require any special skills or talents!
The first step towards managing your mental load is recognizing that it exists in the first place. Many people struggle with this because they think they should be able to handle everything themselves without help from others, but this attitude only makes things worse when it comes time for work or school assignments and other responsibilities outside of family life (like taking care of pets).
Here are some ways to start healing from the burnout:
Communicate your issues with your partner or with your supervisor. Use I-statements to communicate what you need - “I need x task taken off my plate”, “I need x chore done so I can focus on y”. Clear communication is the key to start delegating tasks off your mental checklist and to let them know your expectations, wants, and needs.
Set up clear boundaries for yourself and learn to say “no”. No is okay to say. I promise the world will not implode if you refuse to chaperone your niece’s birthday party or take on that new project at work because you’re already at (or over) max capacity. It’s okay to set boundaries, even with people that you love, so that you don’t overburden yourself and you can take time to detox from responsibilities and stress for a while.
Create a support network. It's important to have people in your life who can help you with the things that are too big for you to handle alone. It could be your partner, family members or friends--just make sure they're people who will listen without judgment and offer their support when needed.
Schedule mindfulness and exercise into your routine. Whether it’s a yoga class, a 30-minute walk, tai chi, or meditation, it allows our mind and body to reset and recharge. These breaks help release endorphins, the feel-good hormones, which not only boost our mood but also improve our resilience to stress. Additionally, taking time for ourselves can aid in releasing muscle tension, promoting relaxation throughout our body. This, in turn, contributes to better sleep quality, ensuring we wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges of daily life.
Eating healthy foods plays a crucial role in maintaining our mental health, as nourishing our bodies with the right nutrients can significantly impact our mood and stress levels. When we're stressed, it's easy to fall into the trap of making poor eating choices, often seeking comfort in high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. However, prioritizing a well-balanced diet rich in whole foods, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help stabilize our blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and support brain function. As a result, we're better equipped to manage stress and maintain a positive outlook on life.