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Mental Load - Making the Invisible Visible


There are always stressful phases and less stressful phases in life. Initially invisible tasks that have to be managed in everyday life can lead to mental load in the long run. If, for example, family life has to be planned and organised in addition to the job, this can become too much at some point. 

Read here to learn what Mental Load even is, how to recognize that you have too much on your to-do list right now, and how to reduce Mental Load.

What is Mental Load?

Mental load generally refers to the permanent mental overload that can result from organising and coordinating everyday tasks. The following three aspects are characteristic of mental load: 

  1. unsichtbar (invisible): Mental load takes place internally but results in unpaid physical work. 
  2. grenzenlos (boundaryless): Mental Load is carried into work, leisure, sleep.
  3. anhaltend (enduring): Mental Load has no start and end as it is tied to caring for others (e.g. family members).

The cognitive work of family life, such as thinking, planning, looking ahead and organising tasks for family members, meets the emotional aspects, such as feeling care and responsibility for the family. The combination of cognitive and emotional work makes mental work a load. 

The supposedly trivial tasks that are often taken on by females lead to Mental Load. Especially during the pandemic, Mental Load gained importance as the boundaries between work and leisure became blurred. The home became the workplace and at the same time the children were looked after. 

How do I recognise that I am suffering from Mental Load?

  • You suffer from problems falling asleep or sleeping through the night.
  • You feel that you don't calm down as easily and you feel more stressed than usual.
  • The question "When was the last time I actually took care of myself?" is not so easy to answer.
  • You no longer have certain social contacts or hobbies.
  • Professionally you tend to be more perfectionist, but at the same time you notice more frequent mistakes.

When does mental load become a burnout?

It is difficult to draw a clear line between mental load and burnout. If mental load is not reduced, it can lead to burnout. Mental overload can also lead to physical and psychological stress symptoms such as panic attacks, increased heart rate, tension or high blood pressure.

How can you reduce mental load?

The following tips can help you reduce your mental load:

Um Mental Load zu verringern, sollte man sich Hilfe holen und um Unterstützung bitten.

Recognising Mental Load

  • First of all, it is important to recognize mental load in the first place and to admit to yourself that you have a little too much on your to-do list right now. The statement "I have too much mental load" is first and foremost a fact and in no way reflects a personal failure. Here it is important to practice a non-judgmental and observing attitude.

Ask for support

  • Then it can help to express this state, for example by talking about it with a close person. Ask others for support!

Writing To Do Lists

  • The next step is to reduce the mental load: For example, write a list with all the to-dos and gradually cross off to-dos from the list that are less important or can be passed on to other people. 
  • This exercise can also work the other way round: What are the most important to-dos and how can you prioritise them? Reduce your list to the absolutely most important things.

Setting boundaries & saying no

  • It is important to set boundaries and practise saying no sometimes. You don't have to carry everything on your shoulders.

Set aside perfectionism

  •  Perfectionism can increase mental load. As hard as it is, things don't always have to be perfect. How does it feel to know that even 80% can be enough?

Create fixed times for rest

  • Plan fixed rest times and time slots for relaxation into your daily routine. 
  • Exercise in everyday life can also do wonders. Especially if it takes place in the fresh air. A walk or a yoga session can refresh body and mind.
  • Autogenic training and other forms of relaxation such as progressive muscle relaxation according to Jacobson or Yoga Nidra are also very helpful.
  • A regular meditation practice can support better management of the many thoughts in your head. 

Finding professional support

  • You don't always have to do everything on your own. If you notice a state of permanent burn-out in yourself and perhaps also notice physical changes, it can be helpful to seek professional support in the form of psychological counselling or psychotherapy.

Why should I reduce Mental Load?

Reducing mental stress not only has positive effects on our mental health, but also on our physical health and leads to a better sense of well-being. By writing down the "invisible little things" that occur in everyday life, what is done in everyday life becomes more transparent. As a result, work can receive much more recognition and appreciation.


Dean, L., Churchill, B., & Ruppanner, L. (2021). The mental load: building a deeper theoretical understanding of how cognitive and emotional labor overload women and mothers. Community, Work & Family, 1-17.

Podcast "Ist das noch gesund? Der Gesundheitspodcast der Techniker”: “Mental Load - Die unendliche To-do-Liste im Kopf - mit Dr. Olaf Hars”

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