The Weight of the Mental Load: How to feel less stressed out

counseling Lancaster, PAWe all feel it. Overwhelmed at all the things on your mental to-do list. All the things that without you would likely not get done. You know what I am talking about—the mental load that is bringing women down.

Whether you work full-time, part-time, or stay at home with your children, the amount of things on a woman’s plate each day can be just plain too much. Let me set the stage for you:

Your alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m., you pull yourself out of bed to go walk the dog, feed the cats, get breakfast on the table for your kids, jump in the shower and get yourself ready for the day, drive your kids to school (make sure little Timmy doesn’t forget his science project, or his library books). You head off to your job—or maybe you stay home, where your job is staring you in the face—and at the end of your shift you remember you are out of milk and run to the grocery store, you call the car dealership to schedule your car inspection, you cook dinner, realize you are out of underwear and throw in a load of laundry, help the kids with their homework, make sure they get a bath, get them to bed, make a note to pay the electric bill, and then face the stack of dirty dishes in the kitchen. When is it time for you?

Now, more than ever, men are picking up the slack at home. They are doing more housework, cooking meals, and helping to reduce some of what women carry on their shoulders but there is still this uncanny ability for men to shut off their brains at the end of the day. To come home from the office and unwind. Women, no matter if they have jobs out of the home or not, still find themselves working late into the night to make sure every detail is taken care of. It is in their blood, and it is a lot to take on. So why not just refuse to do it—to not take care the dirty laundry or the grocery shopping, to not take care of the car repairs, or take the dog to the vet—that is until the smell of mildew overtakes your laundry room, and you have eaten the last of what was in the cupboard. So what can we do, as women, to lighten our load, to find time for ourselves, to shut off?

1.) Delegate — and not just the chores, but the responsibilities. Maybe your husband gets the car and the bills, and you get the pets and the kids activities. Make sure you factor in the mental load.

2.) Drop your standards—things don’t have to be perfect. You need to accept a certain amount of chaos and let the rest go. You will benefit your family more if you are happy and healthy. I realize this can be easier said than done. If you need suggestions on setting boundaries, or learning to let go, it might be helpful to visit with a mental health professional who can help you create a plan.

3.) Stop trying to make life more comfortable for everyone else— if it does not directly affect you (or a young child) then don’t do it. Stop organizing and reminding everyone. Let your kids take some responsibility for remembering their homework, or getting started on that assignment; let your husband pack his own lunch, and if he doesn’t like the meals you are preparing because they fit your schedule then let him step in and take over. There is some dignity in letting everyone learn for themselves.

4.) Resist the urge to step in—your husband has started taking over bath time, and morning drop off at school, or packing lunches, rather than stepping in to “rescue” the situation because he might not be doing it the way the kids are used to, let him work it out on his own.

5.) Schedule time for you out of the house—get away from the chaos one night a week, or every-other week. Join a book club, take a class, read a book at a coffee shop, meet up with friends, go on a date with your spouse, whatever makes you happy…just do it out of the home so you aren’t tempted to do the dishes.

The hardest, and best thing you can do for yourself is to learn how to shut off, to step away, to say “no.” You need to take care of you to be at your best.

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Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC

Alison is the Founder and CEO of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice for women with three locations in Lancaster County, PA. She is passionate about reducing the stigma related to accessing mental health services. She can be reached at: alison@moveforwardlancaster.com.