Emotional labor is the process of managing feelings, expressions, and actions to produce or maintain a certain emotional tone or feeling during interpersonal interactions. Many jobs require a great deal of emotional labor, such as a restaurant server or airline attendant being expected to always be smiling, pleasant, and accommodating—even if customers are rude or belligerent—or doctors being expected to have empathetic interactions with patients. In friendships and family groups, the work of ensuring individuals are feeling emotionally fulfilled—such as at holiday gatherings, on birthdays, or even while doing chores—is often designated as a role for women to manage. Preventing emotional burnout in ourselves and those we care about is not only about finding effective coping strategies when operating under a high emotional labor load, it’s about re-evaluating and clarifying the emotional labor distribution within our own relationships.
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