The Holiday Mental Load For Women Is Out Of Control

The Mental Load For Women During The Holidays Is Out Of Control

December 16, 2019 Updated May 4, 2020

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Scary Mommy and George Marks/Getty

The holiday season is the most wonderful, magical season of the year. Well, that is, unless you are a woman. Then it’s one of the most grueling, stressful, overwhelming, anxiety-producing times of the year.

If you are a fellow vagina-owning or female-gender-identifying person you know exactly what I’m talking about.

A recent survey from Mt. Sinai Hospital on Long Island, NY found that women under 50 are the most stressed as the holidays approach. This makes sense, since many women under 50 are likely working, managing a family, or are just the ones generally expected to manage every aspect of the holiday season so that those around them can experience all those warm, fuzzy feelings the holidays evoke. Sigh.

The survey found that women under 50 are stressed about just about every aspect of the holidays. Family and finances topped the list, but it really wasn’t just one thing that caused stress. Rather, it was everything taken together. You know, finances, family, overscheduling, shopping, you name it.

“Women under the age of 50, especially those who work outside the home, feel the most stress during the holidays and at home, levels that impact their mental and physical health,” the hospital wrote in a press release.

61% of the women surveyed used exercise to cope, and 54% talked (i.e., vented) to friends to alleviate some of their holiday stress. However, said the hospital, “a concerning one in five women under 50 use alcohol or drugs to relieve stress” during the holiday season.

We women are the gift buyers, the present wrappers, the decorators, the Elf on the Shelf movers, the cookie bakers, the gingerbread house crafters, the Christmas dinner chefs … the list goes on.

Yes, this is very concerning, indeed, especially when you think about that fact that it actually doesn’t have to be this way—that others could really pitch in to make the holidays less stressful for women. (Pipe dreams, I know.)

Now, obviously there are some exceptions here. There are some women who don’t put their all into the holidays, or are simply not interested. Some women genuinely relish and enjoy all the holiday to-dos, even if they are exhausted by it all. And there are some men who step up to the plate big time. (Thanks, dudes!)

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But, for the most part, almost every aspect of holiday prep falls on our shoulders–and it’s too freaking much. We women are the gift buyers (for everyone, including the folks our spouse is supposed to buy gifts for), the present wrappers, the decorators, the Elf on the Shelf movers, the cookie bakers, the gingerbread house crafters, the Christmas dinner chefs … the list goes on.

We are also the planners. We handle all the “invisible” aspects of the holidays no one even thinks about or notices. We make sure the kids have supplies for their class parties and that whoever needs to show up to those does. We coordinate everyone’s holiday and travel plans. We make sure everyone gets visited or invited to our events. We make sure the kids have shit to do over the endless days of the holiday break…and we try to make all that as magical as possible too.

And of course, many of us are also the family budgeter, making sure to stick to a budget, hitting up sales, and stretching our dollars as far they can possibly go. We create abundance even if our bank accounts can’t manage it. For us, if there’s a will, there’s a way.

We make sure all this shit goes off with out a hitch, so that everyone can enjoy it all and take in the glittery, pine-scented wonder without a care in the world.

But how are we supposed to actually enjoy any of it? Ugh. This is a question I ask myself every damn year.

My family celebrates both Christmas and Chanukah. We keep it very, very simple. We set up a small tree, and put out a few menorahs. We basically just buy gifts for our kids and a few teachers and family members.

And yet. Every December, I am a total wreck. There are always more presents to buy than I expected. Some extra person (my great aunt, my husband’s boss, etc.) needs a last minute gift. With eight days of Chanukah, then Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Years, there is always, always something else to coordinate or plan.

How are we supposed to actually enjoy any of it?

Then there’s the fact that I am a working mom, and I need to bust my ass for the first three weeks of December to get all my work done so I can take off for my kids’ school break so that we can all be together, festive and cozy.

But that means that the exact time that I am working double time to get all my work done is exactly the same time I am working my tail off buying shit and sprinkling holiday dust over everything.

I feel exhausted and stressed just thinking about all this and writing it down. It takes a toll on my mental health, for sure, and although I seem to manage the stress in healthy enough ways, it sucks that I have to bear the brunt of it all in the first place.

My husband helps, as much as he can. He is super involved with our kids and will care for them anytime while I shop or plan or whatnot. But he just doesn’t have the inclination, interest, experience, or know-how to deal with all the other aspects of the holidays.

Having him take part in more of the mental load around here is something we are working on, and it’s going fairly well, so there’s that. But meanwhile, I expect to be stressed and really feel unable to fully exhale till about January 2nd or so.

But hey, at least I know I’m not alone here. I think it’s time we all started acknowledging that at least 80% of the joy and wonder of the holiday spirit is due to women. Not Santa. Not mistletoe. And not that damn Elf on the Shelf.

So go ahead and thank a woman this holiday season for all she’s done. Thank yourself too. And then treat us to a long, uninterrupted Christmas nap, please and thank you.