Our Endless To-Do Lists
Of course, some laundry, organizing, and cleaning is unavoidable—those dishes aren't going to do themselves. But experts argue that women are too mired in obligatory domestic duties (see What Women Can't Let Go), and it's making us miserable. "We've focused so much on how work impacts family, but we haven't heard as much about family impacting family. However, that dynamic powerfully affects free time," says Galinsky.
Never-ending to-do lists aren't bad just for our psyches (and our relationships) but also for our physical health. The stress hormone cortisol has a strong diurnal pattern—it peaks shortly after waking and drops throughout the day. The steeper the decline from afternoon to evening, the healthier and less stressed you are, since elevated end-of-day cortisol levels have been linked to burnout, depression, and earlier mortality.
We all need time to relax, and chores are getting in the way. In a study published in 2011 in which sociologists followed 30 couples (all of whom worked more than 30 hours a week), tracking their activities every 10 minutes and taking saliva samples, both women and men who devoted the most time to housework had higher levels of evening cortisol. Why? Housework is, well, work, so it's more likely to keep your cortisol spiked than is doing something that's calming.
"Our bodies need to recover physiologically after work," says Darby Saxbe, one of the study's coauthors and a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. "These couples were returning to homes where dinner needed to be cooked, laundry needed folding. Instead of unwinding, these couples took on more work." (If this sounds familiar, take comfort in the fact that you now have a scientifically legitimate reason to cut back on housework after 6 P.M.)