Woman Cooking Turkish Gozleme

What are Care Tasks?

The visible and invisible load of care tasks

Care tasks describes any task, chore, or errand that is required to care for self and keep life going. Typically, these tasks are recurring, never-ending, and are required to be completed in order to "get on with living." The overarching tasks of feeding, cleaning, and health and hygiene (both on for yourself and those for whom you are responsible) may seem like simple or noncomplex tasks to most. But when you actually break down the amount of time, energy, skill, planning, and maintenance that go into care tasks, we begin to see that they are not always simple. For example, the care task of feeding yourself is not simply the act of putting food into your mouth. It is also making time to purchase that food, deciding what food to purchase, knowing what nutritional needs should be guiding your decisions, being knowledgeable on what foods meet those needs, planning how to prepare that food and setting aside the time to do so, ensuring that feeding comes at correct intervals, and taking into consideration health needs and preferences of all people you are feeding. It also requires the energy and skills necessary to plan, execute, and follow through on these steps every day, multiple times a day. It requires the coping skills to deal with any barriers related to one's relationship with food and weight, a lack of appetite due to medical or emotional factors, and the frustration tolerance to deal with any messes you may create in the process. You must have the emotional energy to deal with the feeling of being overwhelmed when you don't know what to cook, the anxiety it can produce to create a kitchen mess, and possibly the skills to multitask while working, dealing with physical pain, or watching over children. 

We can do this same exercise with cleaning. Cleaning is an ongoing task made up of hundreds of small skills that must be practiced everyday at the right time and manner in order to "keep going on the business of life." First, you must have the executive functioning to deal with sequentially ordering and prioritizing tasks. You must learn which cleaning must be done daily and which can be done on an interval. You must remember those intervals. You must be familiar with cleaning products and remember to purchase them. You must have the physical energy and time to complete these tasks and the mental health to engage in a low-dopamine errand for an extended period of time. You must possess the faculties to process any sensory discomfort that comes with dealing with any dirty or soiled materials. "Just clean as you go" sounds good and nice, but most people do not appreciate the hundreds of subtle skills it takes to operate that way and the thousands of barriers that can interfere with learning or executing those skills properly. 

Continuing on, health and hygiene are far more complex than "eat healthy and shower." You must possess the social skills to call the doctor and attend appointments. You must have the time and energy to fill prescriptions and again, the executive functioning to take them everyday. Even tasks that appear to be secondhand thoughts to most people--brushing your teeth, washing your hair, changing your clothes--can become almost impossible in the face of major mental illness, physical disability, or executive dysfunction.


Even when one possesses optimal mental and physical health, care tasks can become insurmountable in the face of some pretty simple life changes. Having a baby, losing a spouse, coming down with a debilitating illness, or having to pick up a second (or third) job can quickly make care tasks switch from something done on "auto pilot" to something that can only be done with purposeful thought and energy expenditure, of which someone in these circumstances may now have none to spare. 

When barriers to functioning make completing care tasks difficult, a person can experience an immense amount of shame. "How can I be failing at something so simple?" they think to themselves. They are unlikely to reach out for help with these tasks due to intense fear of judgment and rejection. As shame and isolation increase, mental health plummets. Self-loathing sets in and motivation vanishes. The critical internal dialogue quickly forms a vicious cycle, paralyzing the person even further.