From taking a break to communicating with spouse, how women can ease mental burden of unpaid work during COVID-19
Whether she’s a mom or not, women have certain culturally prescribed gender-assigned roles which they are held responsible for.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced a large part of the population to stay at and work from home. This, in turn, gave a lot of people a rare glimpse into what actually goes into maintaining a smooth-running household -- the mind of the woman. Yes, the average woman — whether she is working from home or not — does a lot more work around the home, and does it both seamlessly and effortlessly. Or so it appears.
Invisible labour and women’s role
The fact is that while the extra labour a working woman or the daily and non-stop labour a stay-at-home wife or mother provides is significant — and your household would never run without it — it’s also largely invisible. This invisible labour isn’t just the chores you do -- it’s the planning you have to do to fit in those chores, the shuffling you have to manage to get everything done on (or before) time, and the filling in you do for everyone else who’s not available to do their part. Continuing to work like this, without recognition or remuneration, can increase the mental load a woman carries, which can have a huge impact on her overall well-being.
This is an emerging concern for both the Indian economy and the healthcare sector. As an Indian study in Palgrave Communications in 2019 pointed out, the unpaid domestic work done by women is an indispensable part of the economy, especially since only 22 percent of the female population is recognised to be a part of the nation’s workforce. And yet, economic policies fail to give value to the contributions of women in the household, make them visible or recognise their efforts as work.
The mental load of invisible labour
But if the work that you do every day is not recognised as actual work, does it affect your mental health? Of course, it does. A study in published in journal Sex Roles in 2019 pointed out that women are often assigned the role of “captain of the household ship”, and end up bearing sole responsibility for managing everything from bringing up their children (including meeting their emotional, educational and nutritional needs) to household tasks like cleaning and cooking.
This is indeed a lot of work and lack of support and recognition for this labour can lead to ill health, including dissatisfaction with life, resentment towards the spouse or partner, feelings of emptiness and emotional overload -- and this can very often lead to depressive disorders too. Another study in Current Psychology in 2020 throws a different type of light on this issue.
Getting “mommy brain” is something a lot of new mothers are accused of when they exhibit symptoms like forgetfulness or lack of attentiveness. While the symptoms are correct, the name does not correctly portray the real cause. Women not only go through a cascade of hormones, sleep deprivation and other issues which can be very overwhelming but also bear the primary responsibility for the newborn. The study insists that “mommy brain” is a cultural phenomenon, and its symptoms actually indicate that a mother is stressed, overextended and unsupported.
Tips to deal with the load of invisible labour
Whether she’s a mom or not, women have certain culturally prescribed gender-assigned roles which they are held responsible for. The lack of value attached to it and recognition for it can affect every woman’s mental health. Here are a few things every woman should, therefore, keep in mind.
- Be aware of the role you play in your home, including the most menial and effortless of tasks. Change starts with you, so if you recognise the work you do and appreciate your own contributions, it’ll help you feel productive and aid your self-esteem.
- Learn to take a break often. You might not have assigned holidays like other workers do, but that doesn’t take away the fact that you need rest and time to rejuvenate.
- Communicate your need for support to your spouse, partner and family. Admitting that you need help is better than overworking yourself until you fall sick, or are psychologically overwhelmed.
- Socialise with other women who share your circumstances and create a support group. This is often referred to as “mothering mothers” and is reportedly effective.
- Teach children — and other adults too — that all types of work deserve equal respect. Formal economic recognition for household labour might be a long way, but teaching children will definitely make this invisible workforce more visible.
For more information, read our article on Women’s Health.
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