By Emma Johnston

4 min readPublished On: March 21, 2024Categories: Well-being
Share it:
We all know what a busy life looks like – juggling work life, home life and trying to fit in self care as well. But what do we mean by cognitive load?

More and more people (mostly women) are presenting with high levels of stress not only based on a generally busy and pressured life, but also based on a high cognitive load – the load of keeping everything that has to be done for the family and work in mind all at once. So often, even today when traditional gender roles in the family are continuing to be challenged, women still tend to don the roles of managing multiple areas of home life including CEO, chef, chauffeur, and chief problem-solver of the household.

In the often unseen realm of domestic life, women still carry a disproportionate burden of the cognitive load – the mental effort required to manage the myriad tasks and responsibilities of running a home, and the memory required to keep all things in mind from the shopping list to the sporting events, extra curricular activities and whether the nappy bag has been packed with all required things for the baby!

It is important to examine the impact on women’s well-being due to excessive cognitive load, and discuss strategies for managing or even lightening the load.

The Weight of the Mental To-Do List:

As noted above, it does tend to be women who predominantly manage the cognitive load tasks of a household including shopping lists, menu planning, the school schedules or childcare schedules, children’s birthday parties, present purchasing, doctors and other health care provider appointments, and even the overall household chores and visitors. This is why women often report feeling that their brains are constantly turning with information.

Very often women are expected to keep track of every detail, anticipate every need, and ensure that the wheels of domesticity keep turning smoothly. It’s a mental juggling act that can leave women feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and stretched thin, especially given that most women are also holding down careers as well.

The Myth of the Perfect Homemaker:

Society’s expectations of women as nurturers and homemakers play a significant role in perpetuating the cognitive load of home life. From glossy magazines to Instagram-perfect lifestyles, women are bombarded with images of domestic perfection – immaculate homes, gourmet meals, and well-behaved children. But behind the scenes, the reality is often far messier and more chaotic. The pressure to live up to these unrealistic standards only adds to the cognitive load, leaving women often feeling inadequate and overwhelmed.

The Double Shift Dilemma:

For many women, the cognitive load of home life is compounded by the demands of paid employment. Balancing career aspirations with household responsibilities often means shouldering a double shift – one at work and one at home. The result? A never-ending cycle of multitasking, stress, and guilt as women strive to excel in both spheres while feeling like they’re falling short on all fronts. It’s a balancing act that requires Herculean strength and resilience but tends to drive feelings of guilt and overwhelm.

Strategies for Lightening the Load:

So how can women lighten the cognitive load of home life and reclaim some much-needed mental space? Here are a few strategies to consider:

    Delegate tasks and share responsibilities with partners, children, and other household members. When a task is delegated it is recommended to allow the whole task to move to the other person – the cognitive load can remain if the organising or reminding still has to be done (a good example would be if your partner agrees to do the grocery shopping each week but waits for you to menu plan and write out the shopping list).

    Prioritise self-care and set boundaries to protect your mental and emotional well-being.

    Embrace imperfection and let go of unrealistic expectations of domestic perfection, or even domestic cleanliness!

    Practice mindfulness and presence to focus on the here and now rather than getting lost in a whirlwind of worry and stress.

    Advocate for systemic change to promote gender equality and shared responsibility for household tasks and caregiving duties. This is especially important in the messages we may inadvertently give our children, both boys and girls, regarding who should take responsibility for which activities.

The Power of Community and Support:

Finally, remember that you’re not alone in this journey. Reach out to friends, family, and fellow women who understand the challenges of the cognitive load of home life. Share your experiences, seek support, and lean on each other for strength and solidarity. Together, we can lighten the load and rewrite the script of domesticity in a way that honors and values the contributions of women. It can also be helpful to read more about such issues, including the highly recommend book, Annabel’s Crabb’s “The Wife Drought”.

The cognitive load of home life is a heavy burden to bear, but it’s also a powerful reminder of the resilience, strength, and resourcefulness of women.

By shining a light on this hidden burden, advocating for systemic change, and supporting each other in our journeys, we can lighten the load and create a more equitable and compassionate world for all. So here’s to the women – the unsung heroes of the home – may you find strength, solace, and solidarity in the shared experience of navigating the cognitive load of home life and problem solving ways to change this dynamic.

Recent posts