You are doing it all. All. Of. The. Time. You are balancing your home, kids, and work. There are doctor’s appointments, sports events, and laundry that needs to get done. What needs to be defrosted for dinner? You still need to get birthday gifts too…
And the list goes on and on.
Have you heard of the mental load? It’s the invisible load that most women carry. It’s all the little things that are constantly running on your mental to-do list. Or, all the things that could make up a full-time job. But, one that you don’t get paid for. Can you imagine if you had a personal assistant that took care of all those things? It really would be a full-time job! In fact, sometimes this mental load can get to be too much, and counseling for women may become important for the individual’s mental health.
What is the mental load?
Often, the mental load is also known as “worry work” or “emotional labor.” It is the thinking, planning, and worrying that goes into managing a family and home. In fact, single and childfree people carry a mental load as well. These are the minute details that planning for appointments, meetings, errands, and working out. Even cooking meals account for a large amount of our brain’s capacity! And it’s exhausting. Plus, when you have other people and animals in your household to be concerned about… WHEW!
Why are women most often impacted by this stress?
Women, specifically mothers, carry an immense mental load. In fact, some seek out counseling for women to help deal with the stress. And often, even if you have a partner that shares the work, it’s likely that you still do all the behind-the-scenes stuff. Coordinating carpooling with other parents, signing permission slips, packing lunches, and washing jerseys are all exhausting tasks because they add up. And even when you’re focused on something important, you find yourself thinking “Oh yeah, I can’t forget to do that!”
Typically, one parent in the family carries a much heavier emotional or mental responsibility in the home to ensure everything runs smoothly. Yet, because women tend to dive into organizing and caring for, and nurturing others, they often carry a very heavy mental load. And this is not to say that partners and spouses do not help in sharing the labor of a home. But, even in homes where partners equally share household and parental responsibilities 50/50, one tends to take on all the extra mental “stuff.”
The Mental Load During the Pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were some aspects of the mental load that women didn’t have to worry about. For example, sports practices, carpooling to school and packing meals ahead of time. While these logistics of day-to-day life were not as much of a focus, the worrying about everything COVID took up lots of mental space.
Mothers had to worry about germs, getting the virus, mask-wearing, and socially distancing for not only themselves but also little humans! This was a time of great uncertainty. And as the organizer of the home, many mothers became concerned about finances due to job loss, lack of childcare, and financial strain. And we cannot talk about COVID without mentioning work from home.
Women now had to instruct virtual homeschool for their children, support their partner while working from home, and have a full workday themselves. This was a monumental shift for families across the nation. And it added layers of invisible labor to women’s plates.
Impacts of the Mental Load on Women with Anxiety, Stress and Burnout
Managing all of the things all of the time is one of the things that lead to stress and anxiety for many women. Life is constantly busy and you don’t ever get a break. So, the mental load that women take on can also have impacts on emotional, physical, and mental health. So much so that counseling for women might be beneficial.
Impacts of Anxiety Symptoms on Women
Do you ever find that even when you take a vacation, you need a vacation from your vacation to catch up on your to-do list? Have you ever taken a week off work to do nothing? To only take care of you? If the answer is no, well, join the club. Women seldom take real time to care for themselves.
The emotional and logistical labor of the mental load can make you feel very anxious. And if you have struggled with anxiety symptoms in the past, it makes sense that the mental load of motherhood would trigger it again. Many women have internalized messages from the world that they need to handle all life’s tasks. All without complaining, without asking for help, and with a smile. These societal pressures can exponentially increase anxiety, which may warrant counseling for women.
Impacts of Consistent Overwhelm and Burnout on Women
Regardless of your beliefs, you can’t “power through” all the time. Humans cannot go, go, go forever without a break. Consistent overwhelm will turn into burnout at some point. Burnout happens when you have been under constant stress for a long time. It leads to emotional, physical, and mental fatigue. And when you’re burnt out, you can’t support anyone in your life. Ever heard of “you can’t pour from an empty cup?” Yep, that’s what I’m talking about.
Managing the Mental Load: Counseling for Women
While there is no direct “treatment” for women’s mental load, there are some recommendations for managing it.
When you are under extreme stress, it can be hard to find time or energy to do things for yourself. It’s easier to focus on your to-do list and your friend’s and family’s needs. That way, you don’t have to look inward and think “what do I need?” And avoidance like this is common for women. Taking a pause can make you feel unproductive, unhelpful, or even selfish. None of these things are true. Instead, they are from the messages women have received for generations.
This is where self-care comes in. And no, not the “glass of wine and a bath” self-care. Constructive self-care centers on carving out time for yourself to do something that brings you happiness, joy, and peace. It’s not productive in the sense that the focus is not to “do” something, but just to exist. Examples of constructive self-care could be sitting outside for ten minutes without distraction, saying affirmations to yourself in a mirror, journaling, spending time with a friend, or even talking to an anxiety therapist.
True self-care aims at “filling up your cup.” The phrase “you can’t pour from an empty cup” highlights that you can’t care for or support others if you are not taking care of yourself. Yet, women and mothers are often prioritizing others’ needs before their own. Even though adding one more thing to your list seems impossible, adding self-care in some way will make a major difference.
Setting and Maintaining Healthy Boundaries
An often overlooked aspect of self-care is setting boundaries. You can set boundaries with your spouse, your friends, your children, and even yourself. When you set a boundary, you are essentially stating what is and is not appropriate with you and when.
Here are some examples of setting boundaries regarding managing the mental load:
- Explaining to your children and partner that a particular thirty minutes are set aside every morning or night for you to be alone
- Discussing the mental load and its impacts with your partner. Then asking for support with particular tasks
- Setting aside time for yourself before bed without your phone
- Coordinating one night a week for your partner to watch the kids while you meet with a friend
Anxiety Treatment for Women Can Help
Coming to terms with the mental load, then learning to manage it, is not easy. And, figuring out what self-care and boundaries look like for yourself can be overwhelming. Our anxiety therapists work with women of all ages to help untie some of the tangles that come along with mental load, anxiety, and burnout.
Begin Anxiety Treatment in Orange County, CA
You don’t have to deal with the mental fog of anxiety alone. Our Orange County, CA-based therapy practice is home to caring therapists that can help you feel more at ease in your own body and mind. To begin anxiety treatment in Orange County, CA, simply follow these steps:
- Click here to schedule your first session or set up a free consultation
- Meet with a member of our team who specializes in anxiety treatment
- Start managing your mental load and overcoming anxiety
Other Services Offered at Moxie Family Therapy
Anxiety treatment is not the only service we offer from our Orange County, CA-based counseling clinic or through online therapy. Other services offered by Moxie Family Therapy include counseling for women, counseling for young adults, counseling for college students, couples counseling, counseling for teen girls, counseling for children, play therapy, art therapy, and family therapy.