Do you ever feel like your head is swimming with responsibilities, plans, appointments, reminders, obligations, and dates? If you live in fear of these things slipping through the cracks, you may be carrying the mental load in your household.
The mental load is an invisible weight carried by many, particularly those managing households and families. It encompasses the cognitive burden of planning, organizing, and emotionally navigating various responsibilities. A heavy mental load can lead to emotional strain, so it’s important to learn how to recognize it and how to prevent it from burning you out.
The Mental Load involves the invisible responsibilities of planning, organizing, remembering, and delegating tasks. A study published in the American Sociological Review describes it as "anticipating needs, identifying options for filling them, making decisions, and monitoring progress." In the workplace, this description would fit a full-time job such as Project Manager, accompanied by a hefty salary. In our personal lives, that is sadly not the case. While anyone can find themselves bearing the mental load, it disproportionately affects women, who often shoulder a significant part of this cognitive burden in their relationships.
Since it can be difficult to imagine the full impact of the mental load without an example, let’s look at the case of Tiana. Tiana is a 33-year old married, working mother of two children (2 and 5 years old). Tiana and her husband both work full time. However, Tiana bears the mental load of the household. Tiana takes care of:
Sadly, this situation is quite common in our society.
Tiana’s husband is willing to help if Tiana will tell him what she wants him to do. On the surface, this looks like an equal partnership. But while her husband will change the home’s air filters when she asks him, Tiana is the one keeping up with the schedule in her calendar, buying new air filters, asking him to change them, and reminding him as many times as needed until he does it. Tiana does all the mental work, while her husband only needs to complete the actual task when prompted.
This puts the partner bearing the mental load in the role of manager, responsible for knowing what needs to be done, delegating tasks, and overseeing everything. It is an unfair burden to place on one partner… and it is almost entirely invisible.
Recognizing the mental load involves acknowledging scenarios where one individual is consistently responsible for planning family events, remembering appointments, and managing various tasks. The toll is not just practical but emotional, contributing to stress and feelings of overwhelm. This will show up in a variety of ways, including:
Carrying the mental load for a prolonged period of time can lead to overwhelm, burnout, anxiety, resentment, and strained relationships.This can cause mental and physical health issues, and the connection to the mental load is often not considered.
If you’re realizing that you bear the mental load in your partnership, it’s time to change that pattern! Changing any pattern is easier said than done, but it will be well worth it when you find yourself with more energy and free time. Below are some ways to lighten your load:
If you’d like to lessen your mental load but are having trouble setting boundaries and prioritizing tasks, or if you’re feeling guilt around the desire to do less, therapy can be very beneficial. Consider couples or family therapy if you need a safe space to work through the issue with your partner or family as a whole. The talented professionals at Medens Health can help you identify the full extent of your mental load, decide what you want to change, and work on setting boundaries and changing unhealthy patterns. Reach out to us by phone or text at (833) 624-5400, send us a message using our online contact form, or get started here!
The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.
If you or someone you are responsible for is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should call 9-1-1 and/or take them to the nearest emergency room.