How full is your plate? What’s on your mind? And not just what’s front and center—we’re talking about everything you have to think about to function every day. Now, consider how you feel about those things. All of this makes up your mental load.

It’s important to understand your own mental load. If it is causing you stress, your mental and physical health may suffer.1

Mental load, unpacked

Mental load is the mental effort you use to take care of a task.2 That effort is affected by everything else that’s on your mind. Your mental load may include relationships, work, your health, your home, etc. We all have our own mental loads. But, how we handle them differs.

A tale of two tasks

What may seem like a simple task for one person may cause another great stress. One person may do a task while thinking about calling their dad, taking their dog to the vet, organizing their child’s birthday party and getting the house ready for family to visit. The other may do the same task while thinking about an upcoming doctor appointment and what to make for tomorrow’s work potluck.

These two people have two different mental loads. How they feel about these mental loads may differ, as well. If the person thinking about calling their dad has a good relationship with him the call may energize them. But if not, it may emotionally drain them.

Prone to overload

A person who experiences anxiety may struggle more with stress due to their mental load than someone who doesn’t. For example, some people can be like saucers. Without much room on their plate, they are prone to overload. Others can be like round plates. They can fit more in their lives without much concern. And, some people can be like platters. They can feel they have plenty of room to take on more without stress.

Also, people who take on running their households are prone to more stress. This is true even when they share the responsibility with a partner.3

If you feel like you’re taking on too much, try to figure out what you can drop from your already full plate.

If you would just like to talk with someone, our Mental Health service can help. It’s confidential, and you can use it from the comfort of your home.

Learn more about our Mental Health service.

Signs of stress

It’s important to recognize the ongoing stress in our lives. It can negatively impact our cognitive performance.1 Our minds get daily workouts. Just like we can overdo our physical workouts, the same is true for our mental workouts.

Prolonged stress can put people at risk for:4

  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Unintentional weight loss or gain
  • Problems concentrating
  • Lost sleep—difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Muscle tension
  • Reduced libido

Lighten your load

If you think your mental load is causing you stress, try to:5

  • Get enough sleep. Learn more about the relationship between sleep and your health.
  • Connect with others
  • Connect with nature. It can be refreshing to take a walk, a hike or just to do something that opens up your eyes to the world around you.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals
  • Take a break. Even just 10 minutes can be enough to help boost your mental health.
  • Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol
  • Talk with someone about what’s concerning you. Our Mental Health service is a great resource.

Find my therapist

Read more about how stress affects your whole body.

Published August 4, 2023


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