Exhausted woman

Be honest: Has the holiday weekend left you refreshed, or are you exhausted right now?

The Labor Day holiday seems like an appropriate time to take a closer look at how much women work, how tired it’s making us, and the effect of all this “laboring” on our marriages and families.

Let’s start with a few important facts that provide clues about why you may be finding yourself so tired these days:

Data from a CDC survey shows that women actually do report feeling exhausted more often than men do. The difference is most pronounced in the years that most of us are raising families.

Women’s financial responsibilities in the family have increased significantly in recent years. According to the Pew Research Center, in 40% of the households that have children under 18, mothers are the primary or sole breadwinners.

Although men are certainly doing more domestic chores than in the past, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that working women are still carrying more of the housework burden.

This probably won’t surprise you, either: A study published in the American Sociological Review, found that women multitask more than men, spending 40% of their waking hours doing at least two activities at once. Most of the juggling is with household tasks and childcare, two areas in which women are often judged by others if they don’t do them well.

A study by the University of New Hampshire found that when kids were sick, 74% of mothers missed work to stay home with their sick child compared to 40% of men. Many families find that demands made by employers make it difficult to fulfill other important responsibilities, thereby constantly increasing work stress (and exhaustion).

All of this takes its toll on our relationships. We get snappy and impatient with our kids, and it’s hard to have emotional or physical intimacy with our partners when we’re so tired and stressed (See blogpost on “The Science of Flipping Your Lid”).

Speaking with the Washington Post about the topic of exhaustion, author and researcher Brene Brown notes that fear can be a barrier to fighting constant overwhelm. People in her studies have told her: “If I really stopped and let myself relax, I would crater. Because the truth is I’m exhausted, I’m disconnected from my partner, I don’t feel super connected to my kids right now.”

If you see a lot of yourself in this statement, consider these ideas for dealing with exhaustion:

1. Remember you’re not alone. First, it’s important to realize that it isn’t “just you.” Economic realities are having a huge impact on life for American families. Brene Brown reminds us that we’re also up against cultural norms that tie our self-worth to our productivity and make being constantly busy and exhausted a status symbol of sorts.

2. Do one thing at a time when you can. Make every effort to curb multitasking. Although it may seem like you’re getting more done, did you know multitasking actually reduces productivity? Not only that, it’s mentally and physically exhausting!

3. Stop saying, “yes.” Although some reasons for our busyness and exhaustion can’t be avoided, others can. As women, our default answer when someone asks us to do something tends to be “yes.” We don’t want to disappoint anyone, but we’re much more effective, and happier, when we set stronger boundaries. Limit how much you have on your plate, and you’ll have more time and energy for the people and things you love.

4. Choose you. Everyone needs time to refuel. Take time to rest, play, and do things that energize you. Taking time for you is not being “lazy;” it’s absolutely essential to your health and well-being.

5. Work together. Finally, and most importantly, work together with your partner. Instead of stewing about what your husband isn’t doing, ask for more help with housework and child care. And don’t stop him and take over when he doesn’t do things exactly your way. (See blog posts on micromanaging) Instead of trying to divide all your household tasks 50-50, look for ways to share responsibilities that play to your individual strengths. If he loves cooking and you love Quicken, for example, let him handle meal duty while you take care of your finances. All of this takes negotiation, of course, but it’s worth the effort. With all of the overwhelming demands on our families, you’ll both feel a lot better facing them as a team.

So in honor of this Labor Day weekend, make a vow to labor less, and to rest, play, and reconnect with your husband and kids much more.