While mental load overwhelm is painful, I think there is something to rejoice about the fact that it finally has a name and is spoken about on various platforms. Finally we have a name for the invisible “to do” list we carry in our heads. The list that causes so much mental load overwhelm. At last we have a reason for feeling overwhelmed even though, on the outside, it appears we have it all figured out.
Mental load overwhelm ‘is, actually, a thing’ (as my daughter would say)
What is it?
The “mental load” really refers to all of the planning, organising and execution of tasks required to keep a family and a household functioning optimally. It includes planning meals and knowing when bills need to be paid. There is remembering to call granny for her birthday and organising cupcakes for the bake sale next Tuesday… The list goes on. And on. And on.
It is a funny thing, really – The way the mental load and its related overwhelm slowly creeps up on you as you mature into motherhood. We start out childless and move into our own flats. That comes with some responsibility but, let’s face it, not much. Then we acquire a partner and, sometimes, we acquire the responsibility of some additional housekeeping chores.
If life travels along the normative path then we may buy a house and move up in our career. We slowly acquire the associated responsibilities that come with these gains. And before long we add kids to the mix.
We may not even have noticed how the pile of things to do slowly moved from a small mound to an enormous, unseen mountain. One that now includes keeping nap times and awake times in mind while timing breast feeds and knowing how many diapers are left so we remember to get some in the next shop run.
It is an ever evolving beast of a thing.
The type of “to-dos” simply change as our kids ages change and our own lifestyles change… It never gets easier, or less, as far as I can see. It has shifted to planning playdates, remembering sports gear, organising money for the bake sale, party planning and the constant decluttering of old un-used toys, gear and clothes that are too small.
We need to stop and fully grasp just what it is that is happening in our minds. What happens with the endless, unseen list of things to remember, plan and execute. It is much like continuous multitasking, but just in the mind – Multitasking of thoughts and actions…All. The. Time.
There is a, literally, never ending mountain of washing, perpetual dishes, coupled with continuous complaints about what has not been done and what isn’t fair. There are ongoing complaints about dinner choices, lunch options and shortages of sugar supplies. And then there is the complete helplessness of a child (or husband) who cannot find their whatever-they-are-looking-for-this-moment and must have your help. This. Minute!
No wonder mental load overwhelm is a thing!
So what can we do to combat it?
Yes, we have heard it all before: Do less. Delegate. Practice self-care. Have more fun. Exercise… And I am sure you have tried many of these suggestions to greater or lesser effect.
But there is one thing we must know about mental load overwhelm. And it is a hard truth.
It is self-perpetuated.
Our belief that, as women, we multitask better and organise better than men is part of the problem. Our societal norms that women generally cook, clean and look after the household is another. The dynamic in our relationships is co-created and maintains the belief that mothers do it all. They remember, organise and execute child and home related tasks while men earn an income keeps us loaded with the mental stuff.
So if it is self-perpetuated then it can be shifted.
1. Stop the multitasking myth
Let us be clear here: Multitasking is a myth. Yes, You can do more than one thing at a time, but you cannot do it well. And it taxes the system. Think computers with many programs open at the same time – the RAM gets depleted, the programs slow down and maybe you get that dreaded message; “this program has performed an illegal operation and will shut down”.
We are no different. We need to learn to shut down some of the mental operations and focus on one task at a time.
Time blocking is a great tool to use here. Setting aside specific times to attend to household chores, planning chores, spending time with kids, hanging out, doing work and so forth. In this way you can batch together tasks. For example; cleaning, dishes and some laundry. Then later focus on planning next week’s meals, organising the family calendar and prepping the week ahead.
Make sure you set time aside to be present. With the kids, with your partner but also with yourself. Just take a moment to breath and get present. It slows you down and helps to close some of the ongoing, overwhelming programs that are running in the background.
Trust me on this: Being present truly beats overwhelm
2. Get clear on needle movers vs. time wasters
It is clear that we need to start valuing our own time, interests and priorities more. When we take on everything it is very difficult to create space for the tasks and activities that really fuel us. And in many cases we fill our schedules with tasks that we do not enjoy or that bore us to tears. We tend to remove the ‘to-do’s’ that we enjoy because we simply do not have the time or mental energy for them when all is said and done.
The frightening thing is that this leads to resentment. A feeling that things are just “not fair” as we watch our kids and partner engage in the activities that bring them joy while we slog away at all the other stuff that needs doing.
So overcoming the mental load overwhelm is all about putting yourself first sometimes. Get clear about the tasks and activities that move your needle. In other words, the tasks that feel good, move you toward your goals and feel progressive. There are other tasks on your schedule that, no doubt, could be viewed as time wasters. These are the bits that actually suck your energy, take time away from other important tasks or, simply, bore you to tears.
Time wasters need to be identified and fast. Then you need to figure out whether they can be delegated or reworked to take up less space on your ‘to-do’ list. When we reduce their real estate then we free up land for the needle movers and begin to feel better about all we do.
3. Outsource and spouse-source
If we are doing too much then it stands to reason that we ned to do less. When we have managed to determine the tasks that we actually want to do, or at the very least, don’t mind doing, then we can get rid of the rest.
Outsourcing includes making use of home cleaners, laundromats, online shopping and delivery, errand runners and even personal assistants. Even using babysitters to fetch and carry kids could be an outsourced task that saves you time.
There is absolutely no shame in outsourcing the tasks that do not bring you joy.
Your primary task as a mother is to be a good mother and ensure a happy, healthy family. You cannot do this well when you are feeling burnt out, tired and overwhelmed. So outsourcing is often a simple solution to a complex problem. Even if you only outsource one or two things – it makes the world of difference in removing the time wasters from your list.
Spouse-sourcing is another solution, but may seem simpler than it sounds. I mean, if getting your partner to take on 50% of the load was as easy as that you would have done it ages ago, right?
But sometimes having those courageous conversations with our partner is exactly what is needed. We have even set up an adults chores list in our home as a reminder of what needs doing. I mean, the kids have one, so why not the adults? Fair is fair, right?
If you’re interested in spouse-sourcing and unsure how to go about doing it you could try your hand at a game of “Fair Play”, which is explained and outlined in the book by the same name.
This is a great card game played with your partner that helps you create a more fair division of labour within the home. If you are interested, you can buy the book
>>> right here <<< and give it a go.
The Crux Of It
At the heart of the matter lies our own need to take on all the tasks. Maybe we believe they wont get done well enough if we are not in control. perhaps this speaks to our inherent need to be in control of all things?
Whatever the reason, if we want to reduce the overwhelm that comes with the mental load then we need to take ownership of our role in its creation and how we maintain it. Then we need to take some active steps in changing things so that we are no longer the only captain of the family/household/children ship.