To say that being a parent can be tough is an understatement – but as all moms and dads know, it’s one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. While the strain of a global pandemic and subsequent shift of societal norms has undoubtedly been difficult for all parents, mothers in particular are feeling intense strain. Through our work at Jewish Family & Community Services’ Dupont Counseling Group, we’ve noticed the acute impact that the last few months have had on moms. We’ve helped many of them find peace and balance with strategies for self-care that are important to share – but first, one must examine the causes for chaos.
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 crisis stopped almost every aspect of day-to-day routine and structure on a dime. One morning, children were in school, restaurants were open, and businesses were functioning as normal, but seemingly the very next day, everything shifted. This abrupt change – caused by a then largely-unknown virus – was anxiety-provoking on its own. Add in strict social distancing mandates and the inherent isolation they caused, and a perfect storm began to brew for parents.
Both stay-at-home mothers and those in the workplace began to not only take in the stresses of their own roles, but also absorbed many of the challenges faced by their children and partners due to the pandemic. School-aged kids were suddenly unable to see their friends, and toddlers were suddenly without childcare. And while many parents split duties, women often take the brunt of a family’s “emotional labor” or “worry work,” also known as the mental load.
The mental load encompasses not the physical tasks, but rather the overseeingof those tasks. It means you are the one curating and managing a never-ending to-do list in your head: what needs to get done, for who, and when – then, delegating those tasks and making sure they actually get done.
One study published in the American Sociological Review explains mental load as the responsibility of “anticipating needs, identifying options for filling them, making decisions, and monitoring progress.” The burden of a family’s mental load often falls heavily on moms and can sap time and energy even more during times of uncertainty. For many, the recent stress they’re feeling is due in part to a much heavier mental load managing an unexpected turn of events. The simple solution is to take time to release yourself from the mental load whenever possible.
With many families spending more time together under the same roof all day long, taking a few minutes to be alone and unwind seems nearly impossible. So how can moms find ease among the mental clutter? In short, prioritize your solitude and make mental health maintenance a habit.
A great way to ease into taking time for yourself is to wake up before the rest of your household. Whether it is an entire hour early or just a few minutes, this quiet time allows for uninterrupted peace where nothing is needed from you. It is simply time to refuel, reflect and breathe before the rest of the day takes over. In fact, Psychology Today notes that even just 30 minutes of solitude per day helps reboot the brain, enhance concentration and productivity, and can even improve relationships. It’s important to normalize alone time so that you can allow your mind to truly relax.
As a counseling group, we know that in addition to finding quiet time for self-care, it is equally important to take time to prioritize mental health. There is never shame in reaching out and asking for help – especially now. The current climate has added new hardships for every walk of life, increasing responsibilities and knocking many families off course. Seeking counseling services not only helps to reframe and find new perspective throughout troubling times, but also to provide new strategies for effective parenting during the pandemic.
Antiquated ideas about counseling and therapy unfortunately still carry a negative stigma, but any counselor will tell you that one of the best things you can do for yourself – and your loved ones – is to share your thoughts, emotions and worries with a professional. A therapist or counselor can help you find clarity in problems big or small while giving you strategies to overcome anything life throws at you.
Fortunately, seeking professional help is easier than ever. Many mental health providers – including Dupont Counseling Group – are now offering tele-counseling sessions: video chats or phone meetings that effectively serve as a remote counseling session. In fact, we’ve held hundreds of these sessions with both new and existing clients over the past several months. So, for mothers at home who may not be able to leave to attend a counseling session, know that options exist that make it easier than ever to prioritize your mental wellbeing.
From setting an earlier alarm and seeking out solitude to booking a counseling session with a professional, there are many helpful ways for moms to avoid burnout during difficult times. Our counseling group accepts many insurances for our therapy services, and we offer sliding scale pricing to help both families and individuals afford the extra support they need.
Remember: no matter how hard you try, you can’t pour from an empty cup. One of the best things moms can do for themselves and their loved ones is to prioritize their own mental wellness – and keep their cups full.Lorna Wittenrich is the Director of Clinical Services and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Jewish Family & Community Services’ Dupont Counseling Group.