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3 Tips on How to Lighten Your Mental Load

3 Tips on How to Lighten Your Mental Load

As a mom, you carry a heavy mental load thanks to all the roles you play. Learn how you can lighten your mental load and stay organized.

Written By
Emily Watson

Emily Watson

July 23, 2021

Whether you are preparing for your baby to enter the world, or you are holding your baby in your arms, you likely carry a hefty mental load. Motherhood comes with a slew of responsibilities accompanied by seemingly hundreds of thoughts swirling around in your head.

“Which crib is safest?”

“When can I introduce baby formula?”

“How can I make diapering cost-efficient?”

“When do I start potty training?”

“Should I go back to work full-time or send my child to daycare?”

The list goes on……and on….and on…..

Not only do you have tons of questions to answer and decisions to make, but you also do your best to juggle your many other roles in life. While these roles differ from family to family, they often include some or all of the following:

  • Mom
  • Wife
  • Working woman
  • Daughter
  • Friend

You do your best trying to fulfill these roles, all while attempting to serve your own needs, too. (At least that’s the hope, right?) Managing a household, your roles, thoughts, and decisions add to the mental load you carry around as a mom.

“The countless little decisions that feel like they don’t add up to much but take up so much time and energy.” Kelly Nolan, Time-Management Strategist For Women

We may not have a “life manager” for you to call on to cross off all your “to-dos,” but there are ways to get your mental load in check so you can feel rested and in control.

[If you’re a new mom who is returning to work soon, we recommend our brand new Back to Business Course on the Expectful app. It will help you understand your strengths as a mother and how those translate into a professional setting… plus, it helps you effectively delegate chores, duties, and tasks at home and in your everyday life.]

Advice From a Time Management Guru, Kelly Nolan

To give us some insight on lightening the mental load we all carry around with us as moms, we connected with time management strategist Kelly Nolan, a life coach specializing in productivity and time management for women. We discussed preparing for huge life changes like having a baby and anything else that may come our way.

Q: What does the mental load mean to you?

A: I think the mental load includes all the thoughts and to-do lists that come from juggling so many roles as moms, wives, working women, daughters, friends, and our own needs. Managing it all can involve a lot of mental gymnastics and logistical organization–and that adds to the mental load.

Q: Sometimes, a significant life change (like having a baby) can make us rethink what’s working for us and what’s not serving us personally and professionally. Did that happen to you?

A: Definitely. When we were thinking about starting our family, I was really unhappy practicing law in California, and I knew I had to make a change. I’d also watched enough friends and colleagues go through early motherhood and work re-entry to know it was challenging but worth doing for the right job. But this job I was in – it wasn’t the right one.

For a variety of reasons, I decided to leave practicing law. And when I thought about what I wanted to do next, I realized I had developed a skill set to manage my demanding law career while keeping a healthy personal balance and still operate at a high level. I also realized people, especially women, wanted more help managing their time and tasks. So it felt like the perfect, and wonderfully collaborative, fit.

Q: What is the biggest thing you see new moms struggle with? Career moms and stay-at-home moms?

For ambitious women used to go-go-going, it can be really hard to slow down to the pace of a newborn. There’s a mental struggle and frustration that results from having way less time in your control and being consumed with all the small tasks babies require. It’s even more frustrating when, after being asked “what you’d do today?” you can’t always come up with a great answer even though you know you were running around all day.

“You can feel like you’re putting in 180% and only showing up at 60% across the board.”

Then, when some moms return to work or kids’ lives become more logistically demanding with school, playdates, and activities, there’s a sudden expectation to do so much all of your roles. It requires a whole new level of logistics coordination. Unfortunately, many women internalize how difficult it is and look at themselves as failures. It can be very defeating, frustrating, and overwhelming.

Q: What’s the biggest obstacle to moms managing their overwhelm even when they have the tools and systems at their fingertips?

A: Planning. It’s hard to slow down when you don’t have much time between managing a household and your many roles. But the weeks I plan and the weeks I don’t are night and day. The payoff is huge. Just commit to it for a month and then decide if it’s worth the time.

Q: How do you get a partner on board to help manage the overwhelm?

A: While I think we all go through phases where we want our partners to magically know what to do to help us, and our kids, clear and direct communication is the best way.

On days my husband is home, I have our daughter in the morning, and he has her after naptime. This, and everything else, is marked in our calendars, so I don’t have to remind him to do things all the time. When he’s home for dinner, I do our daughter’s bedtime and bathtime while he cooks dinner. There’s a lot of flexibility in this as plans shift, but having these clear patterns is huge for our relationship. Expectations are clear, so neither one of us is rarely ever disappointed.

Since we put everything in our calendars, which can be easily adjusted, we’re not constantly reminding each other of changed plans or forgetting.

Q: What’s something you do every day to nourish yourself? What’s your non-negotiable?

A: I always have a great audiobook or podcast I’m listening to and one ready on deck. Whether I’m walking my daughter and dog or cleaning dishes after bedtime, listening to something I love is such a treat.

Without further ado:

Kelly Nolan’s Top 3 Tips for Lightening the Mental Load

  • Say goodbye to your “to-do” lists. Get as much of it out of your head as possible. Things on this list include the typical things like calling the pediatrician or doing a load of laundry. But this means everything: things like nursing, giving D-drops to babies, restocking the changing table once a week — everything.
  • Instead, use a calendar. Put as many time blocks on your calendar as possible. (I recommend Google Calendar). You’ll get a better visual sense of where your time is going and get handy phone alert reminders. It may clutter up your calendar, but it’ll free up your mind, so give it a try.
  • Plan at least two weeks. It can be challenging to devote time to planning, especially when you feel so tight on time. But planning truly makes your weeks run smoother and helps you know what to do when you need to do it. (Rather than wasting 5 minutes combing through to-do lists deciding what to do). I recommend doing this at least once a week.

Bonus Tip: Don’t waste nap times cleaning your house only for it to be destroyed 10 minutes after naptime is over. I used to do that. But then I realized saving all cleaning to bedtime and using my daughter’s nap times to get work done or nap myself was much more efficient. After she went to bed, I could clean while listening to an Audible book and sipping wine. This made cleaning much more enjoyable.

Ready to Lighten Your Mental Load?

You may not feel the shift right away, but take it from a time management specialist – and seasoned mom – the minor adjustments you make here and there will make a world of difference. So whether it’s finding your non-negotiables, saying adios to that to-do list, or adding a calendar to the mix, a little can go a long way!

Emily Watson
Emily Watson
Emily Watson serves as Head of Services at Expectful and has spent years writing about maternal wellness after going through her own fertility, pregnancy, and motherhood journey. She loves inspiring women to lean on their village, believing that motherhood is better when done together. A certified yoga instructor and health coach, she whole-heartedly embraces the Expectful mission.