Between wrapping up work duties for the year and holiday festivities, this season can be hectic (read: overwhelming) for a lot of people, particularly for women who often perform more emotional labor in relationships and carry the burden of managing the mental load of the holidays of their whole family and household.
"Mental load is a feeling of overwhelm typically felt by women," explains Jaime Bronstein, LCSW, a relationship coach, and author of the upcoming book MAN*ifesting. "Some women feel obligated to run the household and take care of everything—arranging activities, playdates, doctor and dentist appointments, study time, figuring out the meal schedule for the week, and overall managing a home and the lives in the house."
In other words, carrying the mental load means having a perpetual feeling that there is always more to do. And during the holiday season, that feeling of overwhelm can become even more amplified when you add in all the holiday related tasks that need to be done, such as shopping for gifts, preparing dishes for family gatherings, and arranging travel plans. It's a lot. Not only that, but not addressing the mental load can significantly affect your mental and physical health, Bronstein says, because it can increase stress and heighten feelings of anxiety and depression.
The good news? Managing mental load during the holidays and beyond comes back to the basics of self-care you may already be familiar with.
1. Be intentional about carving out time for yourself each week
Although it may sound counterintuitive to take time for yourself when your to-do list is never-ending, according to Bronstein, that's precisely what can help you manage the mental load you're carrying, especially during the busy holiday season. "You will feel better and be better able to take care of your family after taking care of yourself," she says.
For this reason, she suggests being very intentional about scheduling me-time each week and communicating your intention with the people around you. "Be sincere and deliver your message with authenticity as you explain the importance of you taking care of yourself," Bronstein says. You can say something along the lines of:
Family, I love you with all of my heart. I have been feeling overwhelmed, and I need to find some time in my week to do something for myself because, as you know, I am always doing things for you, which I love. Please support me and know that by taking a little time for myself, I can show up as my best self to help and support all of you. I would love to go to an exercise class, get a manicure, or read a book; nothing extravagant. I hope you understand and can love me unconditionally the way I love you unconditionally.
"You will be surprised at how supportive your family will be when you genuinely tell them how you feel and what you need to release your mental load," Bronstein says.
One activity you can do during your weekly self-care date is journal, which can help ease a chaotic-feeling mind. "The act of writing keeps you in the present moment, and as you write down whatever weighs heaviest on your heart, you feel lighter the more you write," Bronstein says.
To reap the most benefits from this journaling practice, Bronstein advises being as honest as possible in your journal about how you're feeling—the good, the bad, and the ugly. "Your journal will receive your pain, hurts, trauma, and anything needing processing and healing," she says. "Trust that by writing in your journal, you are simultaneously healing as you release that which is holding you down inside and keeping you in a state of mental load."
Exercise is another ritual to add to your self-care checklist, especially during a busy season. Here's why: "Exercise is a phenomenal stress and anxiety reducer," Bronstein says. "When we exercise, our' feel good' neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine start firing." And it doesn't have to be an intense workout either, she adds that any type of movement is helpful, like going for a walk or attending a yoga class.
4. Ask for help
One of the kindest things you can do for yourself to help managing mental load during the holidays is asking for help, whether from your spouse, a friend, a family member, or hiring someone for support. Asking for help, Bronstein says, is a sign of strength, not weakness. "Asking for help means you love yourself and care for yourself," she says. "Once you try it, you will feel empowered."
That being said, asking for help is often easier said than done, particularly for those not used to it. Bronstein offers a few key pieces of advice for this. First, she recommends delivering the message with an "I love you" or an "I appreciate you" at the beginning, making the person more receptive to the ask.
Second, ask for help in a non-judgemental way, meaning don't blame the person, but rather explain that you'd love some help and that you appreciate the things they already do to support you.
And third, release control of how they help you by allowing them to do things their way without micromanaging. Yes, this may take some practice, Bronstein says, but to fully recharge and lighten your mental load, stepping aside and letting the person help you is crucial.
5. Seek counseling
Lastly, Bronstein emphasizes the importance of working with a therapist who can provide space for you to share your uncensored feelings without judgment once a week, particularly during a busy season. "Having a catharsis of emotions and feelings makes you feel lighter and less weighed down with feelings of overwhelm and anxiety," she says. "Therapy also helps you put things into perspective and rise above the circumstances to get a bird's eye view that allows you to navigate stressful situations."
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