We often cite the disproportionate ‘mental load’ carried between men and women, but what does this term actually mean?
Well, in essence, it refers to all the mental work that goes into making life function.
From school pick-ups, to playgroups, to doctors appointments, domestic labour, grocery lists, bills, car services, admin, and everything in between.
And guess what? Women are still picking up the slack here in a big way.
We’re paying a high price for a culture hinged on stress and burnout — more than ever against the backdrop of the pandemic.
It’s for this reason that media magnate Arianna Huffington launched Thrive Global.
It’s a platform helping the world’s leading enterprises and their people build healthy habits and navigate challenging periods with less stress and greater resilience.
Now set to launch in the Asia Pacific, with the support of Data-Driven Marketing & Advertising (ADMA), Huffington is focused on changing mindsets and ending stress and burnout to ensure women can pursue careers freely and not leave the workforce prematurely — a concerning trend at present.
“Too many women feel like they’re being forced to choose between being successful in their jobs or being successful in their roles at home,” Huffington tells Women’s Agenda.
“We can see this in the staggering statistic that, in the US alone, of the 1.1 million adults who left the workforce in August and September, 800,000 of them were women,” she says.
In Australia, as of July, the workforce participation rate for women was 59.9%, 10 points lower than that for men.”
She describes women’s mental load as one of “the biggest pain points” for companies currently, but emphasises this needn’t be the case.
“We have to make sure that women are not left behind by the pandemic, and that we don’t allow all the gains that women have made in recent years to be lost,” she says.
“To do that, companies can help by creating workplaces where employees don’t feel like they have to be ‘on’ 24/7, where they’re able to say goodbye to their workday and get adequate sleep and maintain a healthy relationship with technology.”
ADMA chief executive Andrea Martens agrees, and adds that in recent years too much pressure has been on women to pursue the unattainable, “perfect life”.
“It appears that as women rise, their wellbeing declines as they struggle to keep all balls in the air,” she says.
“Personally, I believe that women themselves are reticent to speak up on these issues and their own needs because they are concerned that it will mean that they have to forego the progress they have made in the work world, and that it will strengthen the naysayers that believe that they can’t in fact have it all.”
Enabling women to fulfil their career goals while balancing family and their own mental wellbeing and health needs to be cast to the top of the priority list for organisations serious about systemic change.
When I share statistics with Huffington about Women’s Agenda’s latest sleep research, in which we found that one-in-four women in Australia were struggling to sleep at night, she’s not surprised, and underscores the extent of collective anxiety in the wake of the pandemic.
“It’s a challenge so many people are facing right now,” she says.
“In ordinary times, sleep is essential to every aspect of a person’s wellbeing. In extraordinary times of uncertainty, anxiety and stress, getting the sleep we need is more important than ever.
“Sleep is the foundation of both a strong immune system and psychological resilience — the very things we need to navigate this pandemic.”
She also suggests that ‘sleep’ lies at the core of the Thrive Global ethos.
“It’s rooted in microsteps: small, science-backed actions we can start taking immediately to build habits that significantly improve our lives,” she says.
For Huffington, a favourite sleep microstep is to escort her devices out of her bedroom before bed.
“Our phones are repositories of everything we need to put away to allow us to sleep — our to-do lists, our anxieties, and the demands of the day. So, charging our phones outside our bedroom helps ensure we’ll also wake up recharged.”
She also recommends a “news cut-off time” at the end of the day.
“Being informed of course helps us feel more prepared in a public health crisis, but we also need rest, and setting healthy limits to our media consumption can help us recharge and put stressful news into perspective.”
Her final tip? Gratitude. One of “our most powerful emotions”.
“It often starts with taking a moment to be grateful for this day, for being alive, for anything,” she says.
So before going to sleep, write down three things you’re grateful for.
This has been shown to lower our stress levels and give us a greater sense of calm.”
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.