Make your 'mental load' easier to manage

Accept that you can't do it all - and don't feel guilty about asking or even paying for help

•Schedule flu shots.

•Decorate house for Halloween.

•RSVP to the charity event.

•Call the orthodontist.

•Buy birthday presents.

•Text friend about carpooling.

•Find someone to paint the dining room.

•Choose paint colour for the dining room.

•File health insurance claims.

•Bring snacks to the soccer game.

•Make arrangements for neighbour to take care of the dog.

Tired yet? The many - and extremely varied - tasks involved in managing a household have become known as the "mental load".

Although this topic has gone viral in recent months, mental overload (as I've always called it) is something I've been discussing with clients in my organising business for more than a decade.

Staying organised is hard when you're constantly jumping from one thing to another and have only a few minutes to spend on any one task.

There's no doubt that gender roles pertaining to parenting and housework have evolved over the past 75 years and in some ways are more equal today.

But in many relationships, women are still disproportionately responsible for managing their children's lives and running the household, and the amount of work involved in doing those two things has increased exponentially.

Kids start to have homework at younger ages than in the past, parents are expected to be at their children's schools more often, and kids are involved in many more extracurricular activities than they were 50 years ago.

The constant stress of trying to stay organised - and to remember to execute so many tasks every single day - is affecting women's relationships with their spouses, children, friends and colleagues. They are experiencing mental, emotional and physical fatigue trying to stay on top of it all.

There are no easy solutions, but these are a few things I've learnt that can help create more balance for couples struggling with hectic commitments.

CLEAR COMMUNICATION IS KEY

You may feel like you've had the same conversation with your significant other a million times, and yet nothing ever changes.

But if you are constantly stressed, tired and overwhelmed, and resenting your partner, you have to keep communicating until you reach some understanding.

Many people assume their partner will realise they're exhausted and step in to help, but I promise that's never going to happen.

If those are your expectations, you're going to be continually disappointed. And, sometimes your spouse genuinely doesn't know how to be helpful.

Be clear about your needs and ask your partner to take full responsibility for one or two specific tasks. Take 10 minutes at the start of your weekend to talk about the calendar. Look at ways you can divide and conquer tasks or pair an errand with a kid's activity nearby.

GIVE YOUR SPOUSE A JOB AND WALK AWAY

This is hard, especially if your significant other hasn't consistently been responsible for any one thing for your family. It would take more time to explain to your spouse what needs to be done and how to do it than it would to do it yourself.

But take the time to clearly explain what you would like to happen. Once the two of you have agreed on a division of labour, you have to let go and allow whatever happens to happen.

No managing, no reminders, no helping, no excuses. You can't ask people to do something and then try to manage how they do it. Delegate and take it off your list.

TAKE THE TIME TO FIND HELP

Many of us are so busy trying to just make it through each day that we never have enough time to focus on the one thing we really need to do: find help. It's hard trying to figure out what kind of help you need. Finding the time to search for that person is even harder.

But, if you can dedicate a couple of mornings to finding someone to help you with even one or two things, that is time well spent.

If your spouse is unwilling, incapable or unavailable, it's not only okay to ask for help, it's imperative for your mental health. Hire a helper, babysitter or cleaner - even occasionally - if it's in your budget.

DON'T IGNORE THE PROBLEM

While many women (and some men) struggle to keep everything running smoothly, they also often simultaneously feel resentful - and guilty that they feel resentful.

They have a loving partner who may be supportive in many ways, even if he or she isn't helpful at managing things at home. They are aware that people all over the world are suffering in ways they can't even imagine.

But realising you can't do it all feels like failing. And beating yourself up because you feel selfish makes you feel even worse.

If you don't have any time to take care of yourself, you're unhappy with your significant other or you're too tired to spend meaningful time with your children, then it's a problem in need of repair.

Take it seriously.

WASHINGTON POST

•Nicole Anzia is a freelance writer and owner of Neatnik.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2017, with the headline 'Make your 'mental load' easier to manage'. Print Edition | Subscribe