5 Ways COVID 19 Increases Mental Load

by | Jun 26, 2020 | Uncategorized | 15 comments

How COVID Increases Women's Mental Load and Emotional Labor

We’re finishing up our mental load series at Bare Marriage!

I’ve got one more important thing to cover on Monday–why we all need time to ourselves–but we’ve covered a lot of ground this month. And I’ve had so many people write in and tell me: “I finally have words for what I’m feeling!” Which is a great feeling for me!

I originally planned this series to run in April, but then COVID hit, and I thought that doing a series on housework wasn’t really a good thing to do when everyone’s lives were upside down. But when it looked like this was going to last a while, I thought I may as well jump in anyway. And the more I think about it, the more applicable I think it is for what we’re going through right now.

So here are 5 reasons why COVID makes mental load worse.

1. Big life events are now much more complicated

Life goes on, even in a pandemic. People still move, babies are born, people die and need to be buried. But given the pandemic, all of those major life events, which are full of additional mental load and stress at the best of times, become much more stressful in a pandemic.

The TLHV team has had a bit of a baby boom in the last year. Three millennials on staff with the blog have had babies in the last year (two in the last month) and another is currently 31 weeks pregnant. As for the Gen Xers? Well, we’ve all become grandparents for the first time in the last year. Every birth except Alexander’s last October has been complicated by COVID-19. And all the new babies make decision-making about self-isolation that much more challenging. Baby showers are cancelled, it’s harder to get things you need, and on and on.

Trips to see extended family have been cut. We are helping to plan a wedding and the pandemic just adds layers and layers of additional complication and difficult decisions.

Keith’s great-aunt died of COVID last week, just a few weeks shy of her 90th birthday. It’s very sad that we won’t be able to have the funeral we would have liked and that the card caravan that was planned by family for her big birthday was obviously no longer possible. Mourning during the pandemic is difficult and I’m sure many of you are going through that.

Rebecca and Connor bought their new home just before the cases exploded in Ontario and they moved up their closing so they could be in their new home before the stay at home order. They had to move by themselves and haven’t been able to get “plugged in” to their new community because it’s not yet safe to do so.

Joanna’s husband Josiah lost his job as a lawyer due to COVID 19, and while they were fortunate that he got a great new position, it’s located in the Canadian arctic (seriously). They’re planning an extremely complicated move to Iqaluit, Nunavut scheduled to begin when the little girl they are expecting is less than a month old. Selling a house, quarantining, getting as much family to visit without risking the baby’s health and while dealing with border closures (Joanna’s parents live in the U.S.)… it’s a lot.

The military families on staff are on high alert and are in a state of uncertainty while they wait for new trajectories and orders. They’ve had to give up their expectations and plans for the next year and are now unsure of how things will move forward. That’s just the news from my small team… and I’m already exhausted just reading it! (Side note – check out the new staff photos on the home page). I don’t know what “big things” are happening in your family right now, but I’m sure there are big things. There always are. And whatever added layers of complexity you’re dealing with, I just want to say that I’m sorry you’re going through this. It’s not fair.

2. Everyone is home, so there’s more to do

The mental load is simply bigger because the house is being used for more than it used to be. Kids who were in school are home now, and they understandably make more of a mess since they’re in the house more. Plus, everyone has been cooped up for so long and spaces need to be used in new ways. That means new chore charts, figuring out new routines, and troubleshooting what isn’t working. That’s a lot more mental load! 

And if everything is opening up where you live, there’s the added dimension of figuring out your new normal.

3. Formerly mundane tasks are now uber complicated

Take grocery shopping. Never the most fun of tasks, now you’ve got so many extra things to keep in your mind. Avoid touching produce, follow the flow of the store, stay 6 feet from people, and on and on. Doctors appointments need to be figured out – do you need to sort out an online system? Are you going in because you have to and therefore need to deal with all sorts of new regulations? Or are things being rescheduled indefinitely? All three of those scenarios add to the mental load associated with them. Whatever errands you need to run, they are ALL more complicated due to the virus. Bank hours are different, there are now people at the doors making sure it’s safe to go in, and on and on. No wonder we feel exhausted after a quick errand run.

I bought a new computer (online) a few weeks ago, and the wifi is doing something wonky. It won’t detect any networks unless I run network diagnostics, in which case it immediately detects them and will go online. But every time I try to go online I have to go through this rigamarole. Now, it’s just a hassle. It’s not terrible. But to get it fixed, I have to stand in line at Best Buy, 6 feet apart from everyone else. We keep going by, and the line is too long to stand in the sun like that. So I don’t know when I’ll get it fixed.

4. Job loss is very common, and always horrible

Many of you have had jobs disappear due to the pandemic. And with job loss comes a crushing mental load of a to-do list. Calling insurance providers to figure out coverage, dealing with applications for unemployment or other government benefits, job hunting, adjusting the budget to hopefully stay afloat until work returns. And after job loss, purchasing decisions become more complex and difficult, too. Where can you cut back? What is truly necessary? And on and on it goes. If you’re dealing with reduced work or job loss, please know that we are praying for you and we wish we could do more.

5. Kin-keeping is harder

We talked recently about kinkeeping and how vitally important it is. But, as with everything else, COVID makes it harder. How do you see family members who live abroad when borders are shut? Are you getting groceries for elderly relatives? How do you manage visits to see a new baby – who self-isolates when? Here’s Joanna sharing the added layers of complication they’re facing,

I’m expecting a new baby in August and we’re moving to the arctic in September. We won’t return south for awhile, six months minimum. It’s a lot to navigate at the best of times. If it weren’t for the pandemic, we’d have a revolving door of people coming to help with the baby and meet her before we head north, but that just isn’t possible. Plus, we have to trust family members to self-isolate before visiting to an extent that we feel comfortable with, which is hard. Everything is way more complicated and I frequently feel like the “bad cop” and that’s tricky, even when I know I’m doing the right thing by my baby and myself. There are so many more decisions to make, so many more difficult conversations to have, and so many unknowns to navigate.

Joanna Sawatsky

All of this is to say–give yourself a break if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

So many of you have said that the term “mental load” encapsulates what you’re feeling. So just recognize that it’s a real thing, and that it’s worse right now than it’s been in a long time. And that’s okay.

But maybe also take this time when we are home more, and when there is a more obvious problem, to talk to your spouse about it! Work through the first two posts in the emotional labor series, and read about the Fair Play solution. Listen to some of the podcasts. And I hope that this series has given you words for what  you’re feeling!

So there you have it, 5 ways that COVID makes mental load more challenging. I’d love to hear what your experiences with mental load and the coronavirus pandemic have been. Let me know in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Lisa Johnson

    Thank you Sheila for doing this series. It has brought up so many important issues! I always appreciate your courage in venturing into topics that aren’t “safe” to call for things to change.
    For me the hardest part about Covid has been how it has affected my kids. They have had difficulty with online school so that adds a lot of mental load to help with homework and planning in ways I wasn’t required to before. .
    But the biggest change has been dealing with the emotional labor of how being isolated has affected my kids. Not being able to see their friends, birthdays and graduations that can’t be celebrated in normal ways. So much anger, sadness and anxiety in so many kids!
    Trying to figure out what is safe for then to do. How to deal with parents who don’t follow recommendations. Gatherings your kids want to go to where masks are not being worn or social distancing enforced. Dealing with people who think it’s all a fake media hoax.
    Being isolated can trigger things like eating disorders or depression or emotional outbursts. How in the world can I deal with all that too is a huge issue!
    Not to mention stress on marriages to try to balance out some of the load.
    It’s not just the daily grind stuff that is hard but the mental load and emotional labor/mental load of how to help others while you are trying to keep yourself afloat.
    Sometimes it’s all so overwhelming with no end in sight. Although I was familiar with Eve Rodsky’s book before, I have been helped by reading your posts.
    I feel like you and Rebecca and all your team are fighting for the dignity of women. You soldier on even when people push back in the inevitable sadly common in Christian environment ways (“you’re bashing men, women have gender roles to do
    X”, can’t you just not speak up so there is peace?”)
    It makes me feel more hopeful about Christians and less alone so I want to thank you for that.😀

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You’re so welcome, Lisa! I’ve really appreciated your comments this month, too. We are definitely fighting for the dignity of women, and also for the emotional health of both men and women. The current framework doesn’t help either of us very much. I hope we can get back to sex & marriage advice that honors both spouses and that puts Jesus at the centre as we spur one another on to love and good deeds. That seems fairly basic, and yet so often we have gone astray of that, and I find it very tragic.

      • Lisa Johnson

        I appreciate too that you focus on what is healthy for men too. It’s so often pitted as a zero sum thing that if women are seen and treated with fairness that somehow men are not.
        I’m sure you will agree that fighting for the dignity of women also helps men. It restores healthy relationships individual, family and societal ways.
        It’s not a zero sum thing. As I’m sure you’ll agree, I also think we should fight for the dignity of men And I appreciate that you do that too.
        For example, it was a powerful idea that we devalue men when we teach that men don’t have the ability to have self control and they must lust and can’t be around women in healthy ways. Like men are animals without control. Men deserve to have their dignity restored there.
        Or as you also addressed is wrong that men aren’t “manly” unless they assert authority or want love too and not just respect. Lots of terrible teaching about men that distorts their humanity.
        I want the best for all the men I love like my husband and son as much as I want the best for myself and my daughter. We are so much stronger working together than focused on authority and strict gender roles that distort things to cause pain and suffering for everyone.
        Thanks again!

  2. Becky

    I’ve struggled with worry for most of my life, and I honestly think this pandemic may be pushing into anxiety. Between sick relatives, job loss, grieving the loss of all of my music teaching and orchestra practices (I’m not sure if or when it will recover, since the flute is apparently now a weapon of pestilence or something), trying to keep little kids busy and burn off energy mostly inside, trying to figure out workarounds for potential closures while schooling my kids this fall, and then basically everything in my country being bad news right now…it’s a lot. I end up crying on the phone with my mom at least once a week now, freaking out about things like my kids’ social development, when they aren’t allowed to be near other kids or see people’s faces because of masks, and everything is telling them to stay away from people to be safe.
    There’s a spiritual mental load, too. Not being able to go to church has been a huge factor within my family. I’m thankful that we have the technology to get the streaming services, but losing that Christian community has been so hard. My husband, especially, has had a hard time with that angle, because he really depends on starting his week with that to strengthen his faith, and just listening to sermons online doesn’t quite do that for him. My church isn’t open yet, since we have a lot of little kids that can’t have nursery and a lot of older people, but the one that my parents and brother’s family go to is. So he started going there with our oldest son a couple of weeks ago, while I stay home with the younger two. Even though it’s not our church, and we both want to go back to it as soon as possible, just physically being in any church made such a quick difference in his ability to deal with this.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I get it, Becky! And I’m so sorry about your music classes. That’s so tough. It has been such a hard time for so many, but I can’t imagine having what is almost your whole life go up in smoke like that. I’m so sorry. I hope you can get back to some sort of Christian community soon, whatever that may look like. And I hope you can take some down time to care for yourself with your anxiety.

  3. Nathan

    > > It’s so often pitted as a zero sum thing
    Very true. I don’t want to dig too deeply into this example, since we want to avoid politics here, but some groups over the years have worked to build up the self esteem of young girls. That’s a noble cause, but some of those people seem to think that the only way to do so is to tear down the self esteem of young boys. That’s not healthy for anybody. I see no reason why we can’t build everybody up to be happy and confident with themselves.

    • Lisa Johnson

      It’s hard to get the balance right of helping boys and men while also acknowledging the discrimination and disrespect that females have endured historically that males have not.
      I think the problem comes when people see trying to acknowledge the misogyny and sexism that creates a need for change as “man-bashing.”
      Like the posts here pointing out the unbalance in mental load and mental labor that has been met with charges of “men bashing” or too many female voices so not going to listen.

      • Lisa Johnson

        There are so many things that need to change for boys and men to flourish.
        They are hard to change though because it often it requires the buy in of men to change what it means to “be a man.” As well as changes from women.
        It’s a difficult dilemma.

  4. Nathan

    And I want to add my thanks to Sheila as well for this topic. I try to notice things and do them on my own, but I never really thought about the mental load (keeping a schedule in your head, juggling priorities, noticing when things need to be done) can often be more stressful than the physical labor itself.
    The going to the beach scenario was a great example. To Donny, going to the beach means grabbing some bathing suits and towels, getting into the car and going. But to Marcia, it means packing food, toys, sunscreen, diapers, organizing everything, taking care of the baby, and so on.
    Also, when one person does ALL of it, it can get even more stressful.

  5. Wild Honey

    THIS, “Everything is way more complicated and I frequently feel like the “bad cop” and that’s tricky” from Joanna. Thank you for acknowledging this.
    There are so many unknowns out there regarding this disease, and most of us are just trying to make the best decisions we can with what information we have at the time. Respectful disagreement and dialogue over the best course of action is one thing, but the complete lack of grace and loading on of guilt trips from loved ones who should theoretically know better (are Christians, mature, etc.) has been a complete shock and is definitely not helping anything.
    I keep reminding myself that this is their fear speaking, and to not let a temporary situation permanently damage the relationship, but it is so hard.

  6. Nathan

    > > people see trying to acknowledge the misogyny and sexism that creates a need for change as “man-bashing.”
    That’s very true, since many people can get overly defensive and read more into things than are actually there.
    The specific instances I was thinking of were some t-shirts and buttons made in the 90s with such winning slogans as
    “Boys lie and stink”
    “Girls rule, boys drool”
    “Boys come from the stupid factory”
    “Boys are stupid. Throw rocks at them”
    That last one actually had a picture of a girl throwing a rock at a boys head.
    Thankfully, such things are a tiny minority, and most things (like this website) are an honest and supportive discussion of how things are and how to make them better.

    • Lisa Johnson

      Agree 100%.
      More recent slogans like “the future is female” are problematic too imho.
      We shouldn’t elevate females above males to correct imbalances.

  7. Nathan

    One thing I’ve learned from the mental load series, mostly from the “is your wife no fun” topic.
    I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but I’m struck with how often women in pop culture (books, tv, film) are portrayed as anti-fun buzzkills. The poor boyfriend/husband just wants to enjoy life sometimes, but the girlfriend/wife hates anything that brings happiness, only wants to do housework, tells her husband that the things he likes to do are stupid and wrong, and thinks that once people become adults, they should never do anything relaxing or enjoyable ever.
    Like I said, specific examples escape me, but I know I’ve seen it before. And that may very well have grown out of the fact that women more often than not carry the bulk of the mental load

  8. Amy

    We have been engaged for a year and a half and are about one month away from our wedding date. We always wanted a small wedding so we thought everything would be fine. But the last week has brought news of covid spikes that have caused some questioning. Do we still go forward with our wedding for 30 people? Is it wrong to have our parents there who are in their late 60s/early 70s? What if they catch covid from someone at the wedding or traveling to get there? But is it loving to tell them not to come?
    We know we don’t want to wait another year (and who knows what next summer will look like). So is it best to do an elopement? Then what about siblings who still want to come to that? Would our parents be hurt if siblings come because they are younger and therefore more “safe” and our parents aren’t included because we worry about their safety because of their age? Ugh!!!!! I truly don’t know how to handle this. We want to love our family and friends and are not sure exactly what that looks like right now. Love in “come celebrate with us” or “stay away we want to make sure you’re safe”(even when they aren’t worried).
    Prayers for God’s will and clarity right now would be so appreciated. Thanks for acknowledging the mental load surrounding these situations. Covid truly sucks….

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s so hard, Amy! I think whatever you do, it would have to be a “social distancing” wedding, where everyone is apart from one another. And if you’re indoors, you should likely be wearing masks. If that’s not the kind of wedding you want anyway, then maybe elopement is the answer. Or you each take one or two siblings and have a very, very small ceremony, spend a ton of money on just a photographer and get some amazing pictures, and then have a huge party in two years! I’m so sorry this is happening to you right now. I feel so badly for all the couples getting married this summer. But if you can weather this storm, your marriage will likely be awesome!


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