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COVID-19 and the Invisible Increase in Mental Load

COVID-19 and the Invisible Increase in Mental Load

Like most women, I assume many different roles; mother, partner, business owner … the list goes on. This means that I’m constantly being pulled in different directions, each of which feels equally worthy of my (often limited) time and energy.

To wear all the hats and handle all these diverse responsibilities, I’ve learned hard lessons in order to balance that ever-present mental load so I can focus on the right thing at the right time. (Note: multi-tasking is most definitely a modern-day myth.)

Wrangling the invisible yet constant to-do list in my head can be pretty darn tricky (as I’m sure many of you will agree) but during the current COVID-19 pandemic, and in between those super fine margins between working/parenting/adulting/staying sane), there’s an increasing chatter of STUFF going on in my head, more so than ever.

Sometimes I can silence that voice. Sometimes it goes to frickin’ town…

When is life going to get back to normal? How do I explain this situation to my daughter? When will a Tesco delivery slot become available? What else do I need to do to make my Facebook group members feel more supported? When will the shop ever have eggs? Am I spending enough time on marketing? Am I on-brand but not tone deaf? Am I over-servicing my clients because I’m worried they’re not going to see the value in what I do? Where are the dog biscuits? Who has the energy for car insurance renewal comparison sites right now anyway? Do I have enough client work? How can I keep my daughter connected to her friends? What day is it? When will I see my parents again? What’s the weather going to be like so we can play outside? Did that invoice get paid? Is everyone in this house taking their bloody vitamins? Is that a tick on the cat’s ear? What the fuck does a tick look like anyway? Can we google it? Can we afford it? Who has the energy for car insurance renewal comparison sites right now anyway? What beige meal can I concoct based on what little we have left in the freezer? Do we have any veg? When will we finish that bloomin’ jigsaw? Can everyone wash their hands? What games can my daughter play while on a video call? Where are the missing jigsaw pieces? What beige meal can I concoct based on what little we have left in the freezer? Lather, rinse, repeat!

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Being a businesswoman during COVID-19

I’ll be honest: I had a bit of a wobble last week.

This situation is scary, and it’s difficult, and we don’t know what’s going to happen next. The constant barrage of bad news and negativity is hard to wade through. I’ve gone from the frustration and denial phase slowly into acceptance and far more level-headed thinking. But my head has been getting so full in the process that something had to break, and I’m sorry to say that it was me last week.

I thought about how weird this all is and just sat… and cried… and cried.

The uncertainty of lockdown means that a lot of people need more support than ever. I desperately want to be there for my clients, while also continuing the education for my daughter Freya, figuring out how to explain a global pandemic to a seven-year-old who just wants to play at the park with her friends, and feeling like an utter failure when I put yet another beige freezer meal on the dinner table because we don’t have any fresh food in the house.

The new normal

Having a bit of a cry did make me feel better (who doesn’t love a good cathartic cry?) but it also made me realise that I was trying to do too much.

In normal circumstances, I thrive when wearing ALL the hats and I lap up ALL the responsibilities.

But these aren’t normal circumstances for any of us, and we have to remember that not living up to our normal expectations does not make us a failure or bad or lazy or selfish.

Absolutely nothing in the world is normal right now, so we can’t possibly be expected to carry on as normal! It’s important that we learn to adapt to the situation and do the best that we can – and cut ourselves some slack when things get too much.

Tips to balance your mental load

As much as we’d all love to just hide away for a few months, the world keeps turning and our responsibilities don’t just go away.

Here are some ways to better balance your mental load during this difficult time.

Focus on what you can control

For many of us, we’re used to being assertive and in control within our own little life bubbles. If you’re anything like me, the feeling of not being in control of what happens next in the world is quite frightening at times.

But there a lot I can still control – my thoughts and my actions.

I choose to stay at home, to limit trips to the shops unless it’s for essentials, to do my daily walk with my family and the dog because it brings me joy to be outside in the spring sunshine for just a little break each day.

And I choose to limit my media consumption.

Don’t get me wrong, there are people who I love dearly. But their constant negative doom and gloom attitude and latest conspiracy theories of 5G radiating into bats that are then telepathically programming toilet roll spies that are infiltrating our households? Nah, I can’t take it right now. I don’t have the mental capacity.

Consider this to be the permission you didn’t know you needed to temporarily unfollow people on social media, remove news apps from your phone, silence notification pings. Do whatever you need to do to reduce the amount of stuff that’s only going to add to your mental load.

Establish your Minimum Effective Dose

Author Dan Meredith talks about the Minimum Effective Dose. It’s about figuring out the bare minimum amount of effort to scrape by for a short amount of time. If you do anything over and above that minimum, then great – that’s a bonus. But otherwise, you’re doing just enough to keep your head above water. Nothing more.

To-do lists

Write down everything you need to do so you can keep track of your tasks. Scraps of paper, electronically, heck, on the kitchen blackboard. It doesn’t matter. Just get all that crap out of your head to lessen the mental load.

Separating tasks into categories or even allocating jobs/chores to the rest of your household will help you to focus on what’s essential right now, and figure out what can be left until you’ve got enough mental space to deal with it.

Honest, open communication

Give people honest, realistic expectations so they understand what they can and can’t expect of you right now.

This is particularly relevant in client relationships if you’re now working slightly different hours to accommodate children being at home. Perhaps you’re not checking emails as often so your clients need to text or call if they need your support. Maybe you use the out of office function to let everyone else know when you’re next going to be online. Maybe you need more scheduled calls. Maybe you need less because email is a better way to communicate for you right now.

In households, introverts are struggling with being around more people than normal, and extroverts aren’t used to working alone.

Maybe you’re more teary than normal, feeling particularly overwhelmed or disconnected.

We’re all needing to adapt as we work our way through this, so keep up the communication – whether that’s telling your household that you’re going to have 30 minutes to yourself, or deciding to organise a family Houseparty video call for everyone to get together as one, albeit virtually.

Take a moment to be present, be mindful… and breathe

If you’re feeling the anxiety rise inside you, or you notice yourself feeling more stressed/short-tempered/frustrated, take a moment to turn inwards.

Where possible, go somewhere quiet for just a couple of minutes, focus on the steady rhythm of your breathing or use a meditation app to centre yourself and allow time to process those emotions.

Be kind to yourself

Forgive yourself for not being your usual high-performing-5am-start self right now. You’re still doing your best in our current new normal. At least that’s how I’m looking at it.

Celebrate all of your victories and achievements, no matter how small. Sure, you just cobbled together the World’s Most Bizarre Yet Beige Dinner out of the freezer, but your family is safe and well and happy.

Most importantly, remember that this isn’t forever; it’s just for now.

We are in this together.

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