At this time of year especially, the juggle and pressure of all the things on a “To Do” list can feel unbearable. I first heard the term “Mental Load” In this rather amazing cartoon which you can read here . However I don’t think that this is solely women or parents who carry the mental load. Many men also feel pulled in multiple directions: work, relationships, family, financial pressures can all add to the same burden and stress.
At Christmas time it can feel that our mental load is becoming more than we can bear. Can we afford all the gifts we want to buy? Can we survive 3 days under the same roof as our Relatives without going crazy? Can we put on a “good front” in front of others so no one guesses that our marriage is in crisis?
There are no easy answers to any of this, but here are a few ideas which you could try to reduce and relieve some of internal pressure which can build up over time.
- Put yourself in Time Out. We all need a break from other people sometimes. That doesn’t make you a bad friend, parent or child. It’s ok to be alone and take some time away, especially if you feel your mental health is suffering. Make sure you tell someone that you need a bit of space, and then remove yourself from the stress, even if only for 5 minutes. Going for a walk, having a bath, doing some gardening- whatever you need to just get your head back into a more balanced place.
- Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect! In fact it never is! Even if you think that everyone else is having a perfect time, the chances are that they are dealing with their own struggles. Aim for “good enough”, but don’t put yourself under pressure for everything to be perfect. After all, bills still need paying, children still have tantrums, families still bicker, no matter what the time of year is!
- Practice deep breathing. When yoh feel stressed and anxious, your body produces adrenaline, known as the “fight or flight” hormone. This hormone is beneficial in many situations, such as sharpening your focus before an exam or getting your body ready to run away from a fierce dog. However it is also produced when we feel stressed and can lead to adverse physical affects such as feeling shaky, sweating palms, shortness of breath, nausea and a racing heart. Deep, slow breaths slow down your heart rate and the speed of any adrenaline coursing round the body, and allow you to feel calmer. Practice your slow breathing in non-anxious situations first so you feel skilled in this method. A good approach is breathing in for 4 beats, hold for 2, and then slowly release the breath for another 4 beats.
- Ask for help. Often we carry a mental load because we assume no one else will help or understand why we feel stressed. We make these assumptions without actually checking them with the people around us! Try sharing your worries with your partner, family or friends and even just talking about it can make the burden feel more manageable. Even better, you may be surprised with the offer of practical or emotional support from others.
- Start with the easiest jobs first. You may feel that your list of jobs and responsibilities is overwhelming. However try to start with the simplest, easiest jobs first- perhaps booking an online delivery slot or buying some stamps for Christmas cards. Whatever feels straightforward. Then work up to dealing with the bigger and more stressful tasks, as you get more confident and less overwhelmed by the other (now solved) jobs.