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The Mental Load: How Gender Roles Impact Women’s Health


Woman overwhelmed with mental load of managing home and family

You come home from a busy day at work, scanning the space and noticing the list of things that need to be taken care of: dishes in the sink to be washed, laundry that needs to be folded, dinner that needs to be prepared, and the list goes on. As your mental to-do list grows, you begin to weigh and prioritize what needs to happen and when. This constant juggling of household needs, work, and the needs of others leaves you feeling drained and overwhelmed.


If this sounds familiar, know that you’re not alone. Despite progress in gender equality, women still shoulder the majority of household responsibilities, including the invisible “mental load.” This disproportionate burden strains women’s mental health, contributing to increased stress, anxiety, and depression.


In this article, we’ll explore the toll that this psychological stress can have on women’s mental health and well-being, as well as actionable ways women can protect their mental health and manage stress.


What is the Mental Load?

Mental load refers to the invisible labor of running a household and family. It includes everything from keeping track of everyone’s schedules, grocery lists, household chores, pet and childcare needs, and beyond. 


Many women find they have a constant running to-do list in their minds, thinking things like:


  • “What’s for dinner tonight?”

  • “Do we have enough dog food to last through the week?”

  • “I should really pull some meat from the freezer to thaw for tomorrow.”

  • “I need to schedule a dentist appointment for next month.”

  • “Did I remember to pay the electricity bill?”

  • “Don't forget to RSVP to Sarah's birthday party.”

  • “I should call my mom to check-in.”

  • “Need to start thinking about our summer travel plans.”

  • “Don’t forget to use those veggies in the fridge before they go bad.”

  • And so on.


Research shows that women with male partners spend significantly more time on things like childcare and household chores, even when both partners work full-time. Because women tend to bear the brunt of household labor, they keep track of countless details and tasks to ensure that things run smoothly. This constant planning and organizing can lead to increased psychological stress, overwhelm, anxiety, and burnout.


How Stress Impacts Women’s Mental Health

The mental load and unequal divisions of household labor can take a toll on women’s mental health, leading to increased stress, anxiety, and even depression. 


Anxiety

Constant worrying about the present and the future can become a persistent feature of everyday life for many women, but sometimes it can turn into an anxiety disorder. In fact, women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety compared to men. The persistent pressure to fulfill various roles and responsibilities can lead to overwhelming feelings of apprehension and worry that interfere with daily functioning. The constant anticipation of potential stressors and the inability to control anxious thoughts can exacerbate symptoms, making it challenging to manage everyday tasks.


Depression

The chronic psychological stress that many women experience can also lead to depression, which is more common in women than in men. The burden of managing multiple roles, combined with societal expectations and limited support systems, can contribute to feelings of overwhelm and burnout. Moreover, the emotional labor involved in managing relationships and resolving conflicts within the family can be emotionally draining. 


Physical health

Although we often think of them separately, mental health and physical health are closely linked, with both impacting each other. Psychological stress can weaken the immune system, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, lead to digestive problems, and impair sleep quality. Women experiencing high levels of stress may be more prone to adopting unhealthy coping mechanisms, further impacting both their physical and mental health.


Strategies for Managing Stress and Reducing Women’s Mental Load

To reduce stress and the negative impacts the mental load can have on women’s mental health, consider adopting some of the following strategies.


Share the load

If you’re feeling the strain of the mental load, talk to your partner about dividing responsibilities more evenly. Work together to come up with a strategy that works for you and your family - perhaps taking turns planning and cooking dinner or alternating who handles the kids’ activities each week. Sharing responsibilities can help reduce stress and make things feel more balanced.


Set boundaries

The mental load can feel endless if you don’t set limits. Set limits on what you can realistically handle and communicate these boundaries to others. Recognize that it's okay to let others forget things or make mistakes - you do not need to be solely responsible for managing others' needs and priorities. Set boundaries and get clear on what’s yours to manage and what should be the responsibility of others.


Focus on what’s in your control

It’s easy to become overwhelmed when your attention is drawn in a million different directions. Instead of spending your time worrying about the future or letting yourself become overwhelmed by “what ifs,” focus on managing the aspects of your life that you can influence. Whether it's setting realistic expectations, fighting perfectionism, or communicating what you need, focusing on what’s in your sphere of influence can reduce overwhelm and help you feel more in control.


Try stress reduction techniques

Incorporating stress reduction techniques into your daily routine can help alleviate psychological stress and promote relaxation. Explore activities such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation. Engage in hobbies and activities that bring you joy and fulfillment, whether it's spending time outdoors, meeting up with friends, or moving your body in ways that feel good. 


Talk to a therapist

Seeking support from a mental health professional can be invaluable for managing stress and addressing the underlying causes of the mental load. A therapist can provide a safe space to explore your feelings, identify coping strategies, and develop healthier ways of managing stress. 


Support for women

Finding a Therapist for Women’s Mental Health

At Westmoreland Psychotherapy Associates, we’re here to help you navigate the complex emotions and societal pressures that contribute to the mental load. Our team of therapists can support you on your journey to reduce stress and improve your mental well-being. Contact us today to get started.






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