Everyone carries a mental load, but it’s heavier for some than for others. The term ‘mental load’ refers to the burden of daily obligations that we must mentally account for, prepare for and carry out every day, including household and, if applicable, child-rearing related tasks. It's also been called 'the second shift', and more often than not (though not always) the burden falls to women.
Studies have shown
— and continue to show — that women are the prevalent managers of household tasks. Even though people are increasingly talking about this phenomenon, it is not a newly noted idea. In 1996, sociologist Susan Walzer published Thinking About the Baby
, a research article that looked into this invisible yet draining work. After interviewing 25 husband-wife couples, she discovered that women did significantly more emotional, intellectual and logical work when it came to household upkeep and childcare.
While men may be asked to take out the garbage, it’s often women who notice that the garbage needs to be taken out. And the laundry detergent, milk and toilet paper that seemingly magically appear before the laundry amasses, or the cereal’s poured, or a bathroom crisis occurs? Usually it’s women who notice that these supplies need to be replenished.
Again, we realize that it isn’t always the women who go out and get the necessary household staples, but there is often an unspoken and unchallenged assumption that women are in charge of ensuring these things are replenished in order for household operations to run smoothly. Men are simply helpers. Being the domestic manager can be a heavy load to carry, and come the holidays, it becomes even weightier.
Between arranging and hosting gatherings, shopping for and wrapping birthday and holiday gifts, volunteering and chauffeuring, and cooking, baking and cleaning, the mental load can become almost unbearable. But before we get into a full-blown discussion on gender politics, let’s remember that the burden can fall to men as well. So, putting these politics aside and focussing on the point of this article (i.e. to help you live as healthfully and happily as possible) let’s focus on recognizing the impact on your well-being of shouldering this load.
Here’s how an unmanageable mental load can affect your health:
- Decrease in the quality and duration of sleep
- Lack of energy
- Reduced focus and drive
- Compromised immune system
- Increased anxiety
- Increased stress
Stress is a double-edged sword because while it is a symptom, it also causes all of these side-effects. And we’ve already talked about how stress can seriously impact your ability to function mentally and physically.
So, if you’re serious about keeping yourself happy and healthy for life, you’re going to have to remember to prioritize. Prioritizing isn’t just a matter of trying to decide what to do first: it’s a matter of deciding what’s worth doing at all.
How do I learn how to prioritize effectively, you ask? We cover that, and over 50 other tips to conquer the holiday season in our FREE Holiday Survival Guide! Download it below!