I came across a term recently that I hadn’t heard before, but it so accurately describes what many of us experience, even moreso than striving for “work-life balance” (a term that means well, like “mission statement”, but in the end has little or no practical impact). The term is “mental workload”.
Learn more about Mental Workload
If you haven’t heard of this yet, generally it refers to all the responsibilities that we take on in order to keep ourselves, and more specifically, our families’ well-being on track. It can include your mental to-do list as well as all the chores, errands, and basically what many of us think as unpaid work. It includes being the Knower of Things in a household; it is also keeping track of the family calendar, social commitments, and social media, finances, maybe even taxes.
It often means being able to anticipate needs, and taking stock of existing household inventory – groceries, clothing, gear, etc. to keep things running smoothly (if all goes well!). It also includes researching questions, issues, and options; this can be anything from choosing the best mattress to vacation planning.
If small children are part of the family, add Clothing, School, Entertainment and Playdate management to the list. And when a healthcare issue is part of this equation, mental workload increases exponentially. Often this means that performance in other areas of life will suffer; we only have so much time, energy, patience, and other resources to give. If this sounds a bit like a day in the life of the caregiver, well, it probably is.
That Invisible Feeling
Too often, those who benefit from your mental workload are unaware of all the time and effort that goes into it. Despite all that they do, caregivers may feel that their work isn’t acknowledged. Certainly, others aren’t lining up to shoulder the workload. They’re not googling things like “How can I support my caregiving friend?”. Often, caregivers must delegate and direct if they are to have any relief. A large part of the issue is that others may be so accustomed to someone else running the show that they are truly unaware of the magnitude of work required by the caregiver.
In recent years, the term “self-care” has come into our vocabulary. It’s a phrase that could initially be interpreted as self-centered, selfish. This is quickly mitigated by the modern understanding that we must take care of ourselves first, so that…(you know what’s coming, right?) we can better take care of others. Stop and think about that for a moment. The term “self-care” implies that we take some kind of a break just so that we can get right back in the game. The justification for taking care of ourselves isn’t so much about our own well-being as it is about taking care of others. Sounds kind of like an oxymoron when you think about it.
Shouldn’t self-care be an end in itself?
Positive aspects of Caregiving
Despite the stress and heavy workload (mental and/or practical), many caregivers find some degree of satisfaction in their role. It can be rewarding to care for someone who previously cared for you. It can also strengthen relationships through loyalty and commitment. Often, caregiving is an expression of the caregiver’s innate strengths and talents. Stepping away from a career in order to care for others can bring with it a sense of relief; there is something to be said for breaking free of the rat race, even if it is to shift one’s energies and focus into something as demanding as caregiving. Even though the load is heavy, it is deeply satisfying to know that you have done all you can.