If you’ve ever sat down to complete a task while at the same time dealing with the stress of planning out several other things, you’ve experienced the invisible, seemingly endless work called “mental load.” Mental load is the sum of the behind-the-scenes responsibilities you have to keep in mind to keep your career, family, and household running smoothly.
For example, a mother may be at work, organizing her daily office duties, while at the same time making lists in her head of what she needs to tackle when she gets home. What food is already in the kitchen and what does she need to grab from the grocery store to make dinner? What time should she leave in order to beat traffic, and should she text her partner to pick up their kids from school, or will they even know the school pick-up routine? Speaking of school, winter vacation starts soon, meaning a whole new routine will need to go into effect — and at the same time, holiday decorating and shopping still needs to get done.
All of this thinking, pre-planning, and mental organizing that occurs before any task is actually tackled, is considered a mother’s mental load. This type of emotional labor essentially doubles the actual work that needs to be done, increasing stress levels significantly and even causing resentment in partnerships and marriage. Although a lot of us have the idea we can handle it all, since the responsibility to do so has been ours for so long, it can actually be beneficial to reach out for help.
Where Did the Term “Mental Load” Come From?
The term mental load was recently popularized in a comic by cartoonist Emma Clit titled “You Should Have Asked.” The cartoon describes the day of a woman, a working mother, trying to juggle everything from work duties to her home life, while at the same time stressing out over future tasks and not being satisfied with the balance between what she does and what her partner does.
Does Mental Load Affect Women More Than Men?
Statistically, women are the ones managing the household(even as they become more prevalent in the workforce), this invisible work often falls on mothers. Picking up the kids from daily activities, preparing meals, doing the laundry, making sure they’re dressed, helping with homework, and all the paperwork that comes with school — these are all tasks that increase the mental load on mothers.
According to a parenting study commissioned by Bright Horizons in 2017, women are three times as likely to be the runner of their children’s schedules, and two times as likely to be the sole individual responsible for making sure all family chores and routines are handled.
Why Am I Taking on Mental Load?
You may feel like taking on more than your fair share of mental load comes naturally to you. As women, we have been socialized to feel a sense of duty and expectation in fulfilling the role as caregiver, nurturer, and homemaker. Keeping things running smoothly and making others happy can give you a nice feeling, but too much work can be detrimental to your mental health and cause resentment toward other members of your household who may not be helping out as much as you need.
What Can I Do to Minimize My Mental Load?
Dividing up or equalizing your mental load is unfortunately not easy, since once you make a job of asking for help and having to brief someone on what that entails, it runs the risk of becoming another task on that invisible to-do list. However, reaching out and ensuring your partnership or marriage takes on more of an equal balance can be advantageous to not only your own mental health, but the health and happiness of your household as well.
Another option is hiring a personal assistant. Take a moment to write down all of the planning, scheduling, and organizing that goes into your daily life, and consider hiring a personal assistant to take care of things such as grocery shopping, housecleaning, running errands, and making appointments. A personal assistant can help lighten your mental load and make the day run smoother by taking care of recurring tasks that otherwise clutter your mind.