The mental load of women: how to let (some of) it go

Mental load of women and motherhood

The mental load of women is high, and we frequently admit that we’re tired, talked out, and just want to get all the things managed and under control. But where does that leave you? And how do you find time for yourself, honor the things that are important to you, and not be left running on fumes 100% of the time? The minutes and hours you need are within reach, but it takes a mindset shift that’s completely worth it.

What is the mental load of women?

The mental load is all of the unseen, invisible tasks, work, and needs that are constantly in a woman’s head. This mental load has to be carried by someone, and women are the ones usually left doing it.

Unpacking the mental load: how control and binary thinking mess with goals, happiness, and life

With many women we talk to, letting go of any of the pieces of everyday life seems impossible. I can’t say no. No one will do this but me. If I can just manage all of this, then everything will be okay. Because I have to spend my time doing this, I don’t have any time for me. The huge toll on our own dreams and passions and well-being can’t be understated, from disconnecting from our feelings to stress that leads to gut health, hormone imbalances, and beyond. But what’s really underneath those feelings are usually two things we can do something about to align with our purpose: be present and create more energy for ourselves.

How boundaries can help with the mental load women carry

Boundaries are healthy. But life coach Valerie Friedlander reminds us, “Boundaries aren’t making all the decisions for everyone around me. This doesn’t work long term and it’s not good for our relationships because it’s singular. Boundaries are conversations. They’re not walls. I always use the example: I need better sleep. When my husband comes to bed late, it wakes me up. The boundary here isn’t: I need more sleep, so you need to figure it out and stop waking me up. It’s a talk. A dialogue. We have to say: This is what I’m feeling. What could we do to make this work better?”

Why is that so hard? Our brains aren’t meant for reasonable conversations when we’re stressed out. We end up trying to control outcomes by laying down the law. That’s because all of the adrenaline and cortisol your body is producing is focused on survival. “Physiologically, when we are in fight-or-flight mode, your brain blocks options,” Valerie says. “You can’t see choices or ways to make things truly better.”

But when you can step back, you can have conversations that improve your life and realign your energy. Instead of reaching breaking point and screaming: I can’t do this! You never help me! we can understand that always-or-never thinking like that isn’t helpful or true. And then, we can have conversations that unburden us from the mental load. A good place to start? Valerie suggests saying: “I don’t want to carry or manage all of this on my own. How can we share this responsibility?” Will it be perfect? No. But unless and until there’s conversation about your emotional energy boundaries with a partner, you can’t begin to reclaim it, either.

How letting go of control in this specific way frees up time, energy, and emotional burden

“So many women are compassionate and empathetic, and the world needs that. Being able to connect with people and being considerate of them is a positive. It’s a superpower. But there’s a difference between caring and controlling, even though our society conflates the two,” Valerie explains. We try to control situations through my-way-or-the-highway boundaries. We have to remember it’s also possible to care for someone or something without having to or trying to control them. 

When we try to control others as a way of caring, it feels like we’re being loving. But are we being loving to ourselves? We’ve tied our worth to “If they’re happy or okay, I’ll be happy or okay too.” The problem with this is, to a large extent, we can’t control other people’s feelings, responses, or behavior. When we try, it takes up a ton of emotional space and adds to our mental, social, emotional, and even physical load. 

“Other people can be responsible for their own feelings,” Valerie says. “Realizing that is taking back your power instead of giving it away to someone else’s actions. If we can let go of trying to control people’s reactions and thoughts, we can free up time to water our own garden.”

From mental load to realigning your energy

Setting boundaries and giving up our control of others’ reactions and feelings helps you realign your energy and find balance. It creates enough space to help you show up and live in a way that makes room for what you feel is important. When you don’t feel so weighed down by shoulds, you can make conscious choices and lessen the load you’re carrying rather than holding onto everything out of perceived necessity or out of fear.

How a coach can help you work on boundaries 

Working with a professional can be life-changing when it comes to setting boundaries, letting go of the need to control, and finding what matters to you. Because they’re educated and trained specifically in coaching, life coaches can work with you one-on-one or in small groups to help you question what’s holding you back—and where you want to go.

With Valerie Friedlander CPC, ELMP
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