“Mental load” is something that isn’t often talked about in mom’s circles or self-help books, but the burden of the emotional and physiological load mothers carry can take a major toll on a mom’s health and wellbeing. Living amidst the uncertainty and stress of a pandemic has exacerbated this phenomenon. And even if there’s not much moms can do to change it, it’s still important to take note of the impact carrying the weight of the “mental load” of motherhood can have on a woman’s existence.
But what exactly is “mental load,” and who does it impact?
If any of the following scenarios sound familiar, you may be the one carrying the majority of the mental load in your family:
- Sleepless nights or bouts of insomnia
- Skipping workouts or lacking motivation to exercise
- Forgetting to eat or losing appetite
- Feeling like you’re going through the motions, or “autopilot,” in everyday life
- Spending hours writing to-do lists
- Feeling unable to rest or relax due to the pressure to get everything done
- Failing to schedule time for self-care or personal development
- Constantly thinking about and talking about your children over any other topic
- Feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day
The “mental load” of motherhood often revolves around bearing the majority of the burden of household management and childcare duties. It refers to handling the unseen tasks and work that helps keep the family intact. Mothers dealing with the burden of the mental load can get bogged down with concerns over what to cook for dinner, how many extracurricular activities children should be enrolled in, how the children are performing in school, how to manage the endless loads of laundry, who can carpool the kids to sports practices, how often “date nights” or other social activities should occur, how to find the perfect babysitter, who needs a doctor or dentist appointment and when, and much more.
And while all of these concerns have existed for many years, the pandemic has added a new layer of stress to already-overworked moms across the country: how to handle the school issue. Should children be enrolled in virtual school? Is it better to homeschool? Is this a good time to transfer your children to a charter school or religious private school? When will it be truly “safe” to send your children back to school - and will you be judged for sending your children back to on-campus activities?
The year 2020 has gotten the ball rolling for an all-out motherhood crisis!
What makes the burden of “mental load” even more concerning is the fact that it’s not just accomplishing the tasks and duties of motherhood that keeps women up at night - it’s also merely thinking about it all. Many mothers experience feelings of burnout due to the exhaustion of bearing the weight of trying to keep their families afloat during difficult times.
The burnout from mental load can lead to a number of health problems that mothers should take special notice of right away. These include:
While sleep deprivation is to be expected during your little one’s early years, lack of a good night’s sleep can last well into your child’s life if you don’t address your personal and mental health. Sleeplessness, wakefulness, daytime drowsiness, and insomnia can plague mothers that can’t shake the stress of bearing the family’s emotional burdens.
Coping with mental load can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Juggling both the physical and emotional tasks of parenthood can lead to these disorders. Women are much more likely than men to struggle with anxiety disorders, and depression is a very common issue affecting moms.
Lost your keys? Misplaced an important document? Forget a doctor’s appointment? You might be struggling with what is commonly referred to as “mommy brain,” but this may actually point to a deeper issue. Mental depletion can happen to mothers who have become absolutely overwhelmed with the mental load of motherhood. This is an actual physical/mental deterioration that can lead to memory problems or difficulty concentrating.
Dealing with mental load can lead to physical ailments such as recurring headaches and nausea. Stress, anxiety, and insomnia can all contribute to these physical health problems. Bearing the weight of the mental load can cause the body to respond to the heightened levels of stress by triggering the fight or flight response, which over time can trigger intense headaches and stomachaches.
In some cases, mothers that feel completely overwhelmed by trying to keep their families afloat can turn to substance abuse. When under prolonged amounts of stress, it’s easy for women to go from a nice glass of wine every now and then, to needing several glasses of wine each night in order to wind down at the end of each day. Women can also turn to medication abuse to alleviate overwhelming feelings of stress and fatigue.
Dealing with the majority of the mental load of a family doesn’t have to be all doom-and-gloom, though. There are ways mothers can deal with the stressors of life and parenting in positive ways. First, it is important for mothers to set boundaries, and learn how to say “no” to issues or activities that don’t matter. It is also important for moms to establish their “village,” those people that they can turn to when they need help. Lastly, practicing good self-care habits can ward off a lot of the overwhelming feelings of motherhood. Going for a run, starting a new journal, taking up painting, redecorating a room of the house, watching a movie, or cooking a new recipe are all ways moms can take time for themselves.
While the pandemic has changed life for mothers everywhere, it is important to take note of the mental load of motherhood and to practice healthy habits to ward off the negative effects of dealing with the never-ending pressures of parenthood.
Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.