I first heard about ‘The Mental Load’ only recently from a friend. It’s a term that resonated with me. Then I received an email, ‘We need to talk about the mental load’ from my “Business Chicks” networking forum. I googled it and was surprised to find a lot of commentary on it. It’s a ‘thing’.
After I wrote this I shared it with my hubby and the kids. It created a very animated discussion and I actually ended up adding a few things, with thanks to our male family members.
The mental load can affect all of us, disrupting our wellbeing and depleting our energy and happiness in the process – if we allow it.
In this post I share my thoughts on this familiar and heavy topic. Yet does it need to be? Perhaps not. We have a choice, so bare with me while I share the background, a perspective that’s not being talked about and 15 simple ways to lift the mental load.
First up – what is it?
This is an excerpt from the article I read, ‘Understanding the mental load, what it is and how to get it under control’ by Leah Ruppanner on the ABC News site, http://www.abc.net.au/news/health
“The mental load is ‘all the mental work, the organising, list-making and planning, that you do to manage your life, and that of those dependent on you. Most of us carry some form of mental load, about our work, household responsibilities, financial obligations and personal life; but what makes up that burden and how it’s distributed within households is not always equal.
The mental load includes the planning work required to ensure the children make it to Bollywood dancing, the refrigerator is stocked for dinner and the smoke detector battery gets replaced. It’s incessant, gnawing and exhausting, and disproportionately falls to women”.
The term came to light earlier this year when a French cartoonist by the name of Emma gave form to the concept in her cartoon “You should have asked”, (which went viral).
The written advice I read focuses on letting go or outsourcing house and family duties e.g. dividing the ‘to do’ list, deferring responsibilities to house members, allowing men to step in and do ‘things’ there way, as well as for us to care less, worry less. A simplified summary.
The mental load is real. Yet does it need to be? Perhaps not. We have a choice, bare with me while I share some background and explain.
As we discussed in the car …
Men carry the mental load too and it’s a heavy load but with a singular focus, whereas for women it’s multi layered and faceted. Lots more thinking and pondering, it’s simpler for men. And assuming there is a partner and the chance to share the load with them. Which may not be the case. Making the load more difficult to lighten for many.
• For women the mental load is coupled with an emotional load. Something men tend to carry far less e.g. worrying over the childrens’ wellbeing, when they get sick or IF they get sick. Worrying if we’re mothering right or doing enough for the kids? Worrying if we’ll be able to get back into a career? Worrying we’re not doing enough at work? And so on… Exhausting in itself.
• For women these loads are especially heavy in the early years of transitioning into motherhood. When can experience a sense of loss of independence coupled with a gnawing doubt over if we will ever return to a successful career. All while immersing ourselves in self-doubt as to how to mother, what our babies and children need to thrive and surviving on little sleep if any. On top of this is coming to terms with a new sense of self and place in the world with very little, if any, support.
• The health consequences. If this load for men and women is left unattended it can trigger dis-ease, stress and burnout, autoimmunity, a lack of productivity, feelings of de-motivation and unhappiness and commonly for women post-natal depression, post-natal depletion or even, chronic illness.
While many of us have worked out how to lift the mental and emotional load, which is fantastic and I hope freeing! For others it’s not so easy and you’re not alone. Personally, it’s something I’ve been working on a lot in the past year and a half. Before I get to that though let’s understand why women are more susceptible.
My recent reading suggests;
• We take more on, and with an attitude of ‘if we don’t do it, who will’?? (See below for some answers)…
• we are conditioned as children to be the ones responsible for the housework and managing the home, given dolls and vacuum cleaners to play with etc…
• we are expected to stay home with young children and, while we are home, we might as well put on a load of washing and tend to home duties etc… ” It’s on our minds.
Yet I reckon there are bigger societal pressures at play and they’re not being talked about.
1. The digital age. We inherit and role model behaviour from our Mothers who did it all and it was certainly busy for them too, however they weren’t raising families in the digital age. An age that has sped up communication and life, astronomically. In general, at the same time our communities and extended families have shrunk. There is less support for us while we are working longer hours outside the home and our children are more active outside the home. Understandably, we have a LOT more on our mind.
And importantly, the war…
2. The world wars. The wars that removed men from our lives. Leaving women to quickly enter the workplace, often fulltime. It was something we’d been longing for, but it came at a cost. All of a sudden we were carrying the responsibility for finances, child rearing and managing the home. A lot to bare.
When the war finished women had stepped into the shoes of men and at the same time discovered a financial freedom they hadn’t known personally or professionally. The financial gains were important to maintain, however, what I see is that after the war women maintained their dual roles that were traditionally split. At the same time when men did return home, there was the emotional and mental scarring of war, which probably meant women had to continue their dual roles to support their men through this incredibly difficult time.
It was a pivotal time in our history that might also help explain some of the heavy mental load we carry today. A load we’ve inherited and role modeled from our incredibly strong and capable female ancestors.
But times are very different.
It’s time to lighten the load and stop ‘soldiering’ on.
It starts with me.
It’s up to me as an individual to take responsibility for dismantling my mental load and to show my children how to do it or to not carry it in the first place. No-one else can do this. Just me.
Here are a few things helping me lift the mental load. If you can relate, I hope it helps you too;
1. Awareness. Stopping and taking time to slow down and be aware of how I’m feeling. What am I thinking that’s causing those feelings? If we’re busy running through our ‘to do’ lists it’s difficult to have this awareness. Taking time to stop and take a couple of deep breathes, meditation, a morning routine and The Happiness Hunter Bootcamp has helped.
2. Spring cleaning and decluttering. A cluttered home and environment adds to our mental clutter. De-cluttering frees mind space, boost energy and works wonders. A month ago I had a BIG clean up of the kids craft area. It was on my mind – then gone. I also had a lot of work coming up. I knew I had to clear that area to clear my mind and be as productive as I could be. Check out Fiona Reddings recent video on de-cluttering and Lisa Corduffs upcoming de-clutter challenge. It’s time for a spring clean!
3. Taking a leaf out of the same book my husband is reading! Taking it one (or a couple) of things at a time, trying not to multi task.
4. Embracing my femininity and the incredible energy that comes with that. Qualities that came to the fore when I had our children. It’s a natural uplifting energy that’s powerful in its ability to nurture, nourish and heal if we allow it.
5. Natures medicine. Spending time outside everyday and being present to the miracle and wonder of Mother Nature. It helps put life into perspective. It’s calming and grounding.
6. Enlisting a support team. I’m not designed to do this alone. I’m continually learning how to quiet my mind from my amazing coaches and mentors. Asking for help where I need it, (the hardest thing I’ve learnt to do). It’s very hard and not as much fun doing it alone.
7. Energy medicine. Helps release old self sabotaging beliefs and stuck emotions that can trigger dis-ease. I use kinesiology, chiropractic and other modalities that help immensely. Regular exercise, meditating and a beautiful early morning routine also helps my energy and lift my mental load.
8. Above all else, being kind to myself. Showing self-compassion, including meditating, walking, regular exercise, prioritising these and the things I love to do and make me happy.
Other things that have helped;
9. Lowering expectations of what I expect others to do.
10. Sharing the load. Communicating with my hubby about how I’m feeling, what I’m juggling.
11. Journalling. Writing it all down, prioritising, delegating and dismissing as much as I can.
12. Freeing the guilt. Making new choices guilt free, as hard as it is. Guilt is often an inherited belief we need to let go.
13. Saying ‘no thank you’. To invitations that we can say no to or we don’t want to do or have time to do.
14. Less worrying about doing it all. Trying one of these ideas listed here instead. (and how does worrying help anyway)?
15. Outsourcing where possible. Cleaning, home deliveries, child-care, coaches and mentors. What can someone else do or help you with.
As women the mental load we carry about our families wellbeing is one of the heaviest. It was for me. It’s why when I work with individuals I invite husbands and partners to join us in our sessions and vice versa. It shares and lightens the mental (mother) load a little. It shifts the responsibility to shared responsibility and places everyone on the same page, working as a team. It’s important and it accelerates results. It’s strategies like this I share in my short coure, ‘Our Happy Children’ and mentoring programs.
As my friend said, something has to give and most commonly it’s looking after ourselves either with healthy food, exercise or sleep. But does something have to give? Perhaps trying a few of the ideas above first, just might help. And if not please seek professional help or coaching. Life is a gift to short to be weighed down mentally and emotionally.
The mental load is tiring, stressful and occupies expensive real estate in our minds. It comes at a cost to our health, our relationships, our sense of purpose and our inner happiness.
Yet, dare I say it, it offers a wonderful opportunity for personal evolution… if we allow it.
Now I’d love to hear from you. What are your thoughts on the mental load?
‘When we give ourselves compassion, we open our hearts in a way that can transform our lives’
~ Kristin Neff
In recent years there’s been lots of talk on ‘self love’ or ‘self care’. It’s an important practice to help restore emotional wellbeing. It’s something, especially as Mothers and being busy, we easily neglect, and to be honest, something I’ve found difficult to grasp.
Until self compassion came along.
I recently went to a talk on self compassion. The presenter, Amy Finlay Jones, is an academic with personal insights into self compassion after suffering a chronic illness in her youth.
She shared the more self compassionate we are, the more emotionally well we are. The more self compassionate we are the better we manage stress and the more resilient we are to stress.
Managing stress (emotional and neurological wellbeing) is one of the 3 pillars in my approach to wellness. I was intrigued to learn the strong connection between high stress and low self compassion and vice versa.
Stress is a close companion of dis-ease.
It’s easy to conclude the more self compassionate we are the happier and healthier we are.
Amy shared that self compassion is actually more important than a current hot topic in the wellness world… Mindfulness. Here’s why;
Self compassion is defined as, ‘extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering’ i.e. it’s like extending the same care and concern towards ourselves – that we would to a close friend. To feel compassion for another or for ourselves (rather than mere pity), means that we realise that feeling of suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience i.e. we are not alone. This in itself can give a feeling of relief and a lightening of the mental (mother)load.
This really came home to me. The way I talk to myself sometimes actually a lot of the time, is not the way I would talk to a close friend – ever! ‘Can’t’, ‘Won’t’, ‘Lazy’ ‘Stupid’ etc etc… Rarely a kind word. I’d never say that to a close friend, so why do I say it to myself? I’m sure you can relate. Then imagine how that makes me FEEL?
I’m reminded of Fi Redding, The Happiness Hunter who talks a lot about awareness – and for good reason.
First, we need awareness.
With awareness we are present enough to hear what the voice in our heads is telling us i.e. what we’re creating within ourselves and our lives everyday. Which is then when mindfulness, meditation, walking etc comes into play. The perfect tools to help us become aware of the conversation in our minds and to therefore consciously upgrade it.
Take a moment to check-in with how you’re talking to yourself? Are you being kind or beating yourself up? If you’re like me, and for most of us, I suspect it’s the latter. You’re not alone. Most of us verbally ‘beat ourselves up’ and it’s actually an evolutionary survival mechanism we’ve developed to protect ourselves. However in our busy modern lives this mechanism no longer serves us and if we don’t act on it, can actually sabotage our emotional wellbeing and our happiness.
Personally I’ve found it’s easy to be happy when I’m kinder to me. It starts with me and – it’s an inside job.
11 simple ways to cultivate awareness of thoughts and self compassion;
Do what you know brings you back into the present moment. Whatever works – practice more of it. Notice how you FEEL in those moments? What’s that little voice saying and orchestrating? And allow yourself to feel feelings (not brushing them aside and moving onto the next thing). Be kind.
What about our children?
The talk I went to was in regard to cultivating self compassion in our kids as a way to safeguard their mental / emotional health. They’re less likely to relate to the first 5 ideas above, however what we can do is;
It’s not rocket science, however it’s hard and it needs practice.
We are human beings. Not human doings.
With it’s similarity to kin, I wanted to know the origin of the word kind. The word “kind” is one of the oldest in the English language. It originally meant “nature.” Kindness is our nature. It is innate. It is … natures medicine. I love that.
The psychologist Blair Justice wrote,
“Letting ourselves feel that sense of wonder that surrounds us every single minute is what elevates our hearts beyond a mechanical pump and turns them into instruments of love and kindness.