Are you responsible for all the household planning? Do you do all the housework? Are you always thinking about everyone else’s well-being? You may be carrying a mental load—an intangible but very real burden. Here’s how to recognize and lighten this invisible weight.
What is the mental load?
Constantly thinking about everything you need to plan, manage, and accomplish can become mentally and emotionally exhausting. This is known as the mental load, and it can make your brain feel jam-packed.
As you know, life often moves at a frantic pace. We want to succeed at work, have a social life, spend quality time with our family, take care of others, and—if we get to it!—find time for ourselves. All this can become overwhelming and you may start to feel stretched thin. Without even knowing it, you could be experiencing the effects of your mental load.
A heavy mental load can make your mind feel cluttered and fuzzy. You may also feel helpless in the face of everything you need to do or plan. Everyone carries a mental load at some point, whether they’re married or single, a parent or caregiver, a student or worker. It’s something you can experience in both your personal and professional life.
That’s why it’s important to take care of your mental health. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, speak with your loved ones or a health care professional before the stress and anxiety become too intense.
The mental load and family life
Having children comes with its own unique responsibilities. Being a parent is a juggling act! You’re constantly planning and organizing multiple tasks at once to ensure your children’s well-being. Once you add in other responsibilities and tasks, like taking care of your home, going to work, doing activities, and managing your finances, your mental load only gets heavier if it’s not shared.
In some families, the entire mental load ends up on one parent’s shoulders. This can happen regardless of whether a couple is together or separated. If you’re a woman, you’re more likely to carry a heavy mental load. Historically and statistically, women have been more involved in organizing and managing the family and home.
The mental load at work
If your mental load is cluttering up your mind on a daily basis, thoughts will likely come up at the wrong time. You may start to worry about your kids when you should be focusing on work, and vice versa. In the middle of a work meeting, you might get distracted by thoughts related to your family life: “I have to pick up my kid from daycare soon,” or “I need to make sure the house is tidy before the guests get here tomorrow,” or maybe “I have to go grocery shopping.” Conversely, you might miss parts of a conversation during a dinner with friends because you’re thinking about a work project that’s due next week.
How can you recognize your mental load?
Here are some signs that you’re carrying a heavy mental load:
- You get stressed about small tasks. You feel like you don’t have enough time to get everything done.
- You’re constantly making lists. You’re afraid of forgetting things and spend more time making to-do lists than completing tasks.
- You’re always thinking about something else. Your attention varies from one activity to the next because your mind is buzzing with so many thoughts.
- You feel overwhelmed, tired, or stressed when you think about the tasks you need to accomplish every day.
- You have many responsibilities as a parent or partner. You make the appointments, coordinate multiple schedules, make mental grocery lists, plan upcoming vacations, pay the bills, and more.
Planning vs. execution
The most significant part of the mental load is planning. In other words, the person who plans the tasks within a couple or household carries a heavier mental load than the person who executes them.
Delegating tasks is helpful, but if you keep doing all the planning, you won’t lighten your mental load. To truly clear your mind, you need to share, delegate, and prioritize the planning and organization as well.
How to lighten your mental load
Set priorities and standards
If you’re in a relationship, a good first step to reducing your mental load is to sit down with your partner and identify your shared responsibilities. Together, choose which tasks are essential and top priority. Then, determine what standards you’re aiming for when performing these tasks. This way, you’ll both have a clear idea of what needs to be done, and it will be much easier to ensure a fair division of labour. For example, you could take care of the finances and housework while your partner makes the meals and takes the kids to soccer practice.
If you’re single, you’ll need to decide which tasks are most important and which can be set aside or postponed. You can’t do everything perfectly, and that’s okay! Give yourself realistic goals. Your brain will thank you!
In all cases, planning things out in advance will help you make fewer and shorter to-do lists. Having a system in place will also help you better manage the unexpected.
Know your strengths and limitations
It’s okay to set boundaries and to say no. When your schedule starts to overflow, you need to learn to prioritize the projects and activities that are most important to you. Get comfortable putting yourself first at work and in your personal life. Of course, it’s not always easy!
Finally, don’t be afraid to acknowledge the work that you and your partner do. Celebrating small victories can have a positive impact!
In the chaos of everyday life, remember to carve out some time for yourself. No matter how busy you are, it’s important to stop and relax. After all, taking breaks is productive! When you’re well rested and your batteries are recharged, you can tackle your daily tasks head-on. With a lighter mental load, you’ll also have more time to plan activities that make you happy, like a spa day or weekend getaway in nature.
Last updated on February 23, 2023
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your mental load, speak with your pharmacist. They can answer your questions confidentially and tell you what options are available. Feel free to visit a store near you.
Here are a few more articles to help you take care of your mental health
Stress and its impact on your health
How to care for your inner beauty