Mental Health

Lifting Her Invisible Burden: Lightening the mental load on women managing households

Research shows women often shoulder a disproportionate amount of the mental load of running a home, from household chores to the mental labor of anticipating needs, organizing schedules, and child care. To learn more about how to manage this mental load, we talked to Dr. Deval Zaveri, MD, medical director of the Emergency Psychiatry Services at Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC). 

“There are both cultural and individual pressures on women,” Dr. Zaveri says.

“The notion that women should be able to have it all is such deep-rooted struggle. And  if we lack in any aspect—professional, personal, social, etc.—it feels like falling. Valuing ourselves based on these standards of perfect appearances, perfect jobs and families can lead to a lot of emotional distress.” 

There are a variety of factors that contribute to the uniquely heavy set of responsibilities women carry. One is the perceived pressure of a biological clock that makes the personal-professional balance more difficult. Women are more pressed to choose if they want to have families at an earlier time in their working lives than men. This might mean raising children while trying to build a career. The pressures of social norms and ideals along with the biological and hormonal changes that occur to women over the course of their lives can predispose them stress, burnout, and significant mental health issues.

Burnout can present as:

  • Exhaustion, emotional and physical fatigue, lack of energy
  • A change in sleep pattern—inability to fall or stay asleep
  • Heightened emotional reactions, mood swings, and irritability
  • Being withdrawn and/or disinterested in things you previously enjoyed
  • Lack of energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness


So what can we do?

“Some interventions can happen at the individual level, practicing self-compassion, self-care and open communication,” Dr. Zaveri says. “Living with that concept of ‘having it all’ can be difficult. Give yourself grace, be kind to yourself. You don’t need to have everything at the same time. Rather than having it all, focus on a healthy balance in life. Dedicate time for work, time for others, and time for yourself. Self-compassion is important, but so is asking for help and vocalizing your needs.”

Communicate with your loved ones  the challenges you are facing—and what they can do to help. Just like you are there for your friends and family, give them the chance to show up for you. “When you are struggling or feeling overwhelmed, it is easier to keep  it in—but it is healthier to share it,” Dr. Zaveri says.

“You will probably realize you are not the only person experiencing these feelings. There is strength in solidarity—and sometimes you may learn from other people’s experiences.” 

Dr. Zaveri also suggests practicing self-care. That doesn’t necessarily mean a spa day or a manicure. Self-care could also mean investing in your physical and mental wellbeing through reading, exercise, and practicing relaxation. It can also be learning new skills, seeking opportunities of professional growth, or anything that makes you feel fulfilled. 

Mindfulness practices like appreciating and being present in the moment, feeling gratitude and valuing what you have are important aspects of self-care too. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy the things you currently have by focusing on what you think might be missing.

To partners, families, and friends, if you are concerned about a woman in your life—check in on her. Recognize the work she does every day. Share your willingness to step in and help on certain tasks. She'll appreciate help even more if asking for it isn't another task on her list.