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Managing our mental load is recognised as an essential skillset in the modern workplace. But it’s not just a problem at work; it affects us in everything we do.

What is our mental load?

It’s that myriad of items that need to be remembered, planned for and executed in our daily lives. It’s those inner thought processes running behind the scenes when we’re having a conversation, attending a meeting or lying in bed trying to go to sleep.

“Did I take the chicken out of the deep freeze to defrost for dinner?”

“Will Johnny remember to take his asthma medication before his soccer training?”

“I need to double check that refund landed in our bank account.”

Why managing our mental load matters.

Left unchecked our mental load becomes a cognitive menace leading to more mistakes, forgotten appointments, poorer decisions and foggy thinking. Stress levels rise and emotions become labile. Sleep patterns are disrupted and self-care takes leave of absence; the gym membership remains untouched and the intermittent fasting book is lost under the growing pile of take-away cartons.

It’s a miserable, exhausting and guilt-ridden place to be.

You can take back control by managing our mental load!

It’s time to take the pledge and do things differently. Become the boss and take control of your cognitive load management (CLM).

1. Excuse me, why are YOU doing all the thinking?

Women carry the greater mental burden than men. This is because despite working couples sharing more of the home care and duties, women have failed to fully relinquish the role of domestic goddess and CEO of domestic management.

It’s time to abdicate and step down graciously from expecting perfectionism in yourself or anyone else and delegate responsibility.

If you are micromanaging the kids and spouse, stop!! Continuing to triple check everything because you doubt their capacity to remember, means you’re facilitating their lack of obligation to contribute.

Next time there’s no milk for breakfast, celebrate you’re on the path to enlightenment and shared remembering.

2. It is not time’s problem

Feeling time poor makes our mental load feel heavier. Time is what it is. How you spend that time is under your control, even when it doesn’t feel that way. Accepting you won’t achieve everything on your to-do list today, reduces tension and helps you plan for tomorrow.

Trying to squeeze more items into an overfull day doesn’t work; neither does extending time spent on a task. It’s time to place boundaries on when stop work or switch off from technology to alleviate some of the burden. 

3. Practice the gentle art of doing nothing

This can be a tough because we have taught ourselves to be continually busy. Chilling out to relax with a coffee or to daydream looking out of the window, helps our subconscious to make better sense of our world.

Try it and opt for the guilt free version.

4. Get creative

Life can be messy. Worrying about upsets and quarrels overloads our mind making it hard to think about anything else. Break the cycle with some creative expression, whether it’s learning to dancing the salsa, throwing a pot or joining a choir. By stepping outside your ‘usual’ way of doing, you transport your thinking to a new more positive space.

5. Meditate mindfully

When our inner critic is yelling in our ears, reminding us we’re not good enough, that we’re a failure and an imposter, it can feel hard to let go and free ourselves of the emotional baggage that we saddle ourselves with.

Until inner voice earplugs become available, meditation is a great way to reduce stress, hone attention and keep you in the present moment. This allows you to notice what’s really going on, to listen actively, reduce judgement and elevate a sense of calm.

Self-compassion meditation is also a powerful way to promote greater self-acceptance.

6. Prioritise your priorities

Take a few minutes each day to check in on what’s important.

Is it not having to worry about paying the bills?

Is it that the kids are happy and doing well at school?

Maybe you’d just like to give yourself permission to only tackle your top 3 priorities and ditch the rest.

Feels better doesn’t it!

Managing our mental load is a great way to retain full cognitive control. This allows you to think more clearly, to work smarter and feel happier overall and that’s a good place to be.

This article was originally published in Great Health Guide: November/December 2018. You can view the original article here.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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