The Great Exhaustion

Unpacking the Weight of Women's Mental Load in Today's Turbulent World

March 7, 2024

Unpacking the Weight of Women’s Mental Load in Today’s Turbulent World

Take a quick snap poll of the women in your life and it’s highly likely that nearly all, if not all, will express a profound sense of tiredness, even exhaustion. And it’s no wonder we women are exhausted. In a world rife with economic uncertainty and the enduring challenges of a pandemic that continues to cause ripples in our lives, women continue to take on the lion’s share of family and household responsibilities. The mere inquiry of “What’s for dinner?” following a taxing day at work and a lengthy commute home, repeated five days a week, is ample to induce a profound sense of overwhelm in anyone. This phenomenon that is happening right now, aptly dubbed “The Great Exhaustion,” is not merely a consequence of personal choices or workplace demands but is deeply rooted in systemic inequalities and societal expectations.

The “mental load”

For many women, exhaustion is not solely physical but also mental, stemming from the invisible yet significant burden known as the “mental load”. This term encompasses the myriad tasks and responsibilities that often fall disproportionately on women, including managing household chores, coordinating family schedules, schooling and childcare, and emotional labour. Despite strides toward gender equality, women continue to shoulder a disproportionate share of these responsibilities, leaving them feeling perpetually overwhelmed and drained. The mental load, which is often unrecognised and underestimated, exacts a heavy toll on the mental health of women. This unrelenting burden can lead to heightened stress, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy as they struggle to meet unrealistic expectations set by society and themselves. Moreover, the lack of recognition and support for the mental load further exacerbates these mental health challenges, leaving women feeling isolated and disconnected with themselves.

However, the stressors contributing to women’s exhaustion extend far beyond the confines of their homes. Economic instability, exacerbated by widening income disparities and job insecurity, adds another layer of strain. Those of us who are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, face the constant pressure of providing for their families while navigating workplace challenges, such as unequal pay and limited opportunities for advancement.

The influence of the COVID-19 pandemic

Amidst these overarching challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as a defining factor in the era of “The Great Exhaustion”. Only a few years ago, we were talking about the great resignation, characterised by workers reassessing their priorities and leaving unfulfilling jobs. However, the current landscape reveals a different reality. While some have indeed opted for career changes or embraced remote work, many women find themselves caught in a cycle of relentless juggling, trying to balance professional obligations with caregiving responsibilities (everyone from children to elderly parents) and household duties.

In the face of such exhaustion, there is a growing recognition of the need for mutual support and solidarity among women. The notion of “wives needing wives” speaks to the profound need for genuine connection and empathetic understanding in navigating the complexities of modern life. By fostering supportive networks and advocating for systemic change, women can alleviate the burden of exhaustion and create a more equitable and compassionate society.

As we confront the realities of “The Great Exhaustion,” it is imperative to acknowledge the interconnectedness of women’s struggles and the broader structural inequities that perpetuate them. Only through collective action, individual mental health support and a commitment to addressing root causes can we begin to alleviate the weight of exhaustion and pave the way for a more just and sustainable future that benefits our mental health.

In recent years, there has been a notable uptick in the rates of anxiety disorders among women, coinciding with an increase in diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). New studies by La Trobe University have also shed light on the impact of additional responsibilities women assumed by ‘default’ during the COVID-19 pandemic, influencing a spike in drinking among working mothers. Participants described feeling overburdened during COVID-19 restrictions because of their increased workload and lack of organisational support, contributing to heightened alcohol consumption. This trend highlights a complex interplay of societal, cultural, and biological factors that contribute to mental health challenges in women. While anxiety has long been recognised as a prevalent mental health issue, particularly among women, the surge in ADHD diagnoses among this demographic adds a new layer of complexity to the conversation.

How to address these unique challenges

Anxiety disorders, which refers to excessive worry, fear, and apprehension, disproportionately affect women, with research indicating that women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with anxiety. From the pressure to excel in multiple roles, such as caregiver, employee or business owner and nurturer, to navigating societal expectations of perfection and success, women often find themselves grappling with overwhelming stressors that can fuel anxiety.

These present day issues often link back to the roles we held in our family of origin – the caretaker, the facilitator (or enabler), the hero, the scapegoat or the lost child. Each of these roles, unchecked, can set us up to be taking on more than is rightfully ours to manage. It can set us up to not speak up for ourselves, not ask for what we need and want so we too can have a calmer and more measured life. How is it that we find ourselves always doing and managing more, rather than suggesting that everyone in our family, our partner, assist with all those life admin tasks which can, as they mount up, overwhelm us?

Professional mental health care is essential for addressing the unique challenges faced by women who are struggling. This includes recognising and validating women’s experiences and providing tailored interventions that address the intersectional nature of women’s mental health. 

Often, when we’re grappling with anxiety, depression, or even addiction, our initial instinct is to turn to a trusted friend — someone who understands our struggles and whom we feel comfortable confiding in. These wise confidants often play a crucial role in guiding us toward seeking professional help. Speaking up and asking for help is the first step in tackling “the great exhaustion”.

If you or someone you care about is struggling, South Pacific Private can help. Take a free, self assessment or get in touch with our Intake Team by calling 1800 063 332, to see if our program is right for you.

Online Self Assessments

Learn more about key indicators of addiction, trauma and mental health conditions by taking an assessment for yourself, or on behalf of a loved-one.

Recommended Reading


Newsletter Signup

Let’s Stay In Touch, Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Contact Us

If you would like more information for yourself or for a loved one, our client care team is available to take your call 7 days a week.

Call 1800 063 332

Our Address

A. 24 Beach Street

Curl Curl NSW 2096

P. 1800 063 332

F. 02 9905 9696

E. [email protected]