We all need a little time out from time to time, right?
We become overwhelmed with life and sometimes there is no time or head space to think about our own thoughts and feelings or to prioritise them.
I was talking to my colleagues only this week about a term they had come across via a friend entitled ‘the mental load’:
‘The mental load basically refers to the invisible labour involved in managing a household and family, which typically falls on women’s shoulders . Also sometimes referred to as ‘worry work’ or ‘cognitive labour’, the mental load is about not the physical tasks but rather the overseeing of those tasks. It’s being the one in charge of having the never-ending list of to-do items constantly running in your head, remembering what needs to get done, and when, delegating all the tasks to respective family members and making sure they actually get done.’
Kelly Gonsalves, mindbodygreen.com
I’m sure I speak for many women when I say that I definitely carry the mental load in my household. And I don’t intend for this to be a bold, feminist statement or sexist in any way, as I’m sure there are many cases in which the opposite is true, but generally speaking females, particularly mothers, tend to be in a position where they have the overview of all aspects of family life.
Having been divorced and a single parent, for me this has been unavoidable and perhaps more intense at times but I think it’s the same in most households; that one person tends to carry ‘the mental load’ whether married, co-habiting, bringing up a family or maybe even running a business. (My business partner, Chris, actually brought this up in relation to a task I’d agreed to take on as he was concerned it was adding to my already weighty ‘mental load’. Bless him. I’m very lucky to work with someone who genuinely considers my needs).
Let’s be honest, in many cases, I’m sure we carry that load because we (maybe by default) choose to. We see ourselves as best placed and most capable of doing it and actually making things happen. Society often refers to the male inability to multi-task and by nature, women are far more geared up to do that. Our ingrained maternal instincts mean that we naturally put our children and families first. We think about everything we need to do for them and we prioritise that. Once we get (if ever) to the end of that ‘to do’ list, then we might consider doing something for ourselves.
With the kids around, I rarely find I can follow a train of thought, let alone an action. I make a coffee, then two hours later I find said coffee on the windowsill, freezing cold, right where I left it after dashing off to untie a knot, wipe a bottom or unglue a child from the sofa. Martha asks question after question after question all day long; many of them the exact same question on repeat but always requiring an answer. She’s constantly looking for reassurance as to what’s happening next and when she’ll be able to do the one single activity she’s been looking forward to all day or eat more food (these are often one and the same thing!). This means that getting to the end of a thought I was having or a job I was in the middle of doing, is often an unachievable feat.
At Martha’s school, when a child is feeling overwhelmed or over-stimulated (this might be because of noise sensitivities, difficulty in making choices, emotional overload or simply general frustration), they are supported over a period of time to recognise this and can hold up a ‘Time out’ card which allows them to leave the room and enter a quiet space for 5 minutes or so. A self-management technique which enables the children to recognise their own limits and take responsibility for themselves in that moment, taking time out to calm down and regulate their sensory needs; thus preventing further stress, a meltdown or disruption to the classroom. I’ve often thought how we should all embrace this idea in our own, adult lives. We could all do with a ‘Time-Out’ card for when the ‘mental load’ becomes a bit too much and we just need to escape it all for a few minutes (or a few weeks in Greece but this, I know, is fantasy!).
I find myself in a position this week, with my children spending a week of the summer holidays with their dad, and my partner Karl working away for a month, where I am completely alone. A whole week of quiet. No-one else’s needs to consider but my own. Why is it then that so far I have spent 3 of those days working (I’d planned to give myself some proper time off before fully getting back to the daily grind in September), half a day booking events and doing accounts for Karl’s business, half a day tidying the girls bedrooms, organising school uniforms and shopping for things they’re going to need for school and a whole host of other mundane tasks and household chores that (not urgently, I might add) ‘needed’ to be carried out?
In fairness, I have also integrated lots of nice things for me among all of that. I’ve taken time to read and finish a good book (Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert which has spurred me on to do more of the stuff I love like writing this blog! I recommend it to anyone looking to embrace a more creative life. Thanks for the accidental surprise Katy May!).
I also took myself to M&S and treated myself to a week’s worth of delicious, easy meals for one and a couple of pre-mix Pina Coladas (because for anyone who hasn’t been introduced to the delights of pre-mix M&S Pina – you don’t know what you’re missing!). I’ve made plans to see lots of friends who I don’t often get to catch up with, and I’ve even squeezed in a couple of good films from the comfort of my own bed. Alone. Completely alone. Did I tell you I was alone and had the whole bed to myself? Oh the joys of having a whole bed to myself and the rarely experienced, but deep love I have for ‘starfish sleeping’ – let’s not underestimate the small things. 😊
So this is a reminder to you all to take some time out. A break from the ‘mental load’. Carve out time for the things you love. It’s so important to look after yourself, make time for self-care, give yourself a break and press the reset button. Go and have a really nice coffee alone somewhere with a good book. Or spend time with friends who fuel your fire. Buy the trashy mag. Watch an old film. Devour a box of your favourite chocolates or go for a wild swim!
For those of you who don’t know, I love a wild swim (although I’ll be honest and say I’m not an all-year-rounder. A fair-weather swimmer if you like.) Sometimes the thought of dragging myself out of a warm bed because I’m child-free and can go for a wild swim seems like complete madness; but I never, ever regret that choice. The feeling of exhilaration when I first enter the water is child-like. We don’t feel those things too often as adults and it’s a friendly reminder of what it was once like to be free and without the weight of adult responsibility bearing heavy around your neck.
The closeness I feel with nature while I swim, which I’m aware sounds a bit ‘out there’ is real. The weightlessness of my body transcends to my thoughts, feelings and stresses relating to daily life and momentarily, they disappear. When I emerge, I feel new again, comforted. I feel a sense of accomplishment, of deep satisfaction. I dry off, pour a coffee and start anew. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend you do. And if Wild Swimming isn’t perhaps for you, find YOUR thing. Whatever it is that makes YOU feel that way and do it as often as you can!
I’m now making time to do some writing before going out for a long lunch with a friend. I haven’t yet managed to fit in a wild swim this week which is disappointing but the weather’s been flipping miserable so it hasn’t been either possible or appealing thus far but there’s always tomorrow …… I have one full day left and anything is possible!