Feeling Overwhelmed? Here Are 8 Ways to Reduce Your 'Mental Load'
Do you frequently feel exhausted or overwhelmed? Do you feel like the world is falling apart and you’re the only one holding it together? Well, if you do, you’re not alone. Burnout is a very real part of life. But what can you do if you are mentally drained? If your thoughts are constant, erratic and unrestrained? Try not to stress, at least not yet. The first thing you need to do to clear out the clutter is to understand it.
“Mental load is a term for the invisible labor involved in managing [life,] a household, and/or family,” Kelly Gonsalves, a contributing editor for Mind Body Green, explained. “Sometimes referred to as ‘worry work’ or ‘cognitive labor,’ the mental load is about not the physical tasks but rather the overseeing of those tasks.”
Your mental load encompasses everything from organizing and scheduling to planning, reminding and remembering. Or, to put it another way, the term “mental load” is used to describe the weight of your thoughts, fears and feelings.
The good news is you don’t have to struggle and just suck it up. Here are eight tips to reduce your mental load.
1. Share your thoughts, feelings and frustrations with a loved one.
If you are feeling burned out, know this: You are not alone. Millions are struggling to manage their mental load, especially right now as the pandemic makes the logistics of everything more complicated. But you do not have to carry the proverbial cross alone. Talk to your spouse, partner or another trusted loved one. Let them know what you are thinking and feeling. Express your struggles and frustrations and what your pain points are and work together to see how they may be able to support you.
2. Ask for help.
Speaking of help, from home stressors to work, the only way to truly reduce your mental load is to reduce your mental load — you will need to try to take tasks off your plate. To do this, you will need to ask for help if you can. When you ask for help, be clear on what it is you need. Delegate when possible or speak with your family, boss or others who have a say in your responsibilities about what you can do.
“Reducing your workload could be key to helping you get through the day feeling better,” Elizabeth Scott, a wellness coach, author, and health educator, told Very Well Mind.
3. Make self-care a priority.
While adding another task (self-care) to your to-do list may sound strange, especially if you are overwhelmed and overworked, taking time to care for yourself is important. In fact, research suggests self-care can improve your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. What’s more, finding creative ways to release stress will likely help you relax at least a little and make you better equipped to handle the challenges of life. So run, swim, sing, dance, craft or try to find an hour of quiet time to read. The point isn’t what you do, it is that you do something you find calming or enjoyable.
4. Get a change of scenery.
When you are feeling drained or strained, it’s important to try and take a step back. Running full steam ahead will only run you into the ground. “A change of scene[ry] or a change of pace is good for your mental health,” the Mental Health Foundation wrote. So pause, take a breath and take a walk if you can. If it’s not possible to go outside or take a walk, there are other creative ways to get a change of scenery. Many museums, aquariums and zoos have livestreams or virtual tours that can help you feel like you’re somewhere else for a while.
5. Learn how to say no.
Once you’ve found a way to manage your responsibilities in a more sustainable way, you need to find a way to protect your time and energy. Otherwise, the tasks, obligations and expectations will likely creep back in and increase. Of course, if you’re a people pleaser this is easier said than done. Being courteous and assertive with your boundaries can help, especially learning to say “no” without shame, remorse or guilt.
6. Learn when to say yes.
Just as important as knowing when to say no is knowing when to say yes. After all, most people focus on what they have to do but not what they want to do. But knowing what brings you joy and doing those things is imperative to your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Simple pleasures can make a big difference during busy times, and they help balance out an otherwise heavy schedule.
7. Plan and prioritize your day.
While it may seem either counterintuitive to plan your day, especially when planning can make you more anxious and stressed, writing things down may actually help. “Being able to see the mental load makes it less in your mind,” Sophie for Sustainably Lazy wrote. “This means other people in the home can help out.” Write out a to-do list, prioritize it and plan to complete not the whole list but two or three tasks a day. You will feel accomplished and relieved. You can also add self-care or fun activities into your plan so they become a regularly scheduled part of your life.
8. Set realistic expectations.
And finally, another great way to reduce your mental load is to set realistic expectations that take into account your need for down time. After all, if you are overwhelmed, it may be because you are trying to do too much. “Lowering your expectations can help you reframe how you view your relationships with [work and] others,” Angie Won of Supportiv said.
Know there are only 24 hours in a day — 24 hours to eat, sleep, play and work. Realize you are only one person — one person who can only do so much. Accept that things will fall through the cracks. No one is perfect. You will slip-up, mess up and make mistakes. And that’s totally OK.