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How to reduce your mental load

December 8, 2022

How to reduce your mental load

The concept of “mental load” has been getting a lot of coverage lately. Simply put, it’s the managing of all of the daily tasks you’re responsible for, including cleaning, household maintenance, cooking, pet care, childcare, and many other chores and errands. The phrase actually doesn’t refer to the tasks themselves, but instead is about the overseeing of them, whether that’s for yourself, a partner, or your entire family. Remembering what needs to get done immediately and in the future, reminding others what they need to do, and keeping track of it all can add up to feeling totally exhausted and drained at the end of the day. 

The good news is there are many smart ways to lighten your load. Here, we’ve put together some of our best tried-and-true tips to help you reduce your mental load and live a less-stressed, more-refreshed life.

Ask for help

You’ve probably heard this phrase from a friend before: “Let me know if I can do anything to help.” But if you’ve ever had trouble taking them up on it, you’re far from alone. For many of us, asking for help can be hard, whether it’s because we don’t want to burden someone else, don’t want to show any weaknesses, or don’t even have the time to figure out what to ask for help with!

But our communities want to help us. Here’s a way to shift your mindset about asking for help: think about how good it feels when you’re able to help someone in your life. Then remember that many people feel the same way about helping you. As the New York Times recently reported regarding a study on asking for help: “people consistently underestimated how willing friends and strangers were to assist, as well as how good the helpers felt afterward.”

So, ask! It’s more than likely you will receive. You may already have a specific task in mind that you need help with, but if you’re feeling too overwhelmed to even evaluate your to-do list, consider sharing it (or an overview of what’s stressing you out the most) with close friends and family. This gives them the opportunity to find a task they feel comfortable offering to help with.

If you don’t have close friends or family nearby, consider joining your local Buy Nothing group on Facebook. If there isn’t already one in your area, they offer resources online for setting one up. In addition to items you might need, you can ask for Gifts of Self (such as babysitting, a ride, or garden help), Gifts of Talent (such as cooking or computer lessons, advice, or tutoring), Gifts of Time (such as playdates, book clubs, or workout buddies), Gifts of Assistance (such as a tank of gas, groceries, or physical support). Here’s the full list of guidelines on what you can ask for.

Buy Nothing offers these words of wisdom for people who feel comfortable giving but uneasy asking for support:

“The ask, and the act of receiving, is the critically important other half of the gift economy equation. Asking requires trust, courage, a willingness to show our vulnerability, and faith that our requests will not diminish our value or respect in the eyes of others. In truth, our requests foster interdependence that benefits us all.”


Put as much as you can on autopilot

From registering for automatic bill payments to setting up auto-deliveries of diapers, pet food, and other household items, putting whatever you can on autopilot is a great way to reduce your mental load. Because the less you have on your to-do list, the better!

This even applies to your charitable giving. While most people want to make a difference and support important causes, not everyone has the time, headspace, or resources to give as freely as their heart desires. It’s why we built Givebacks: to make it easy for people to give back without spending extra money, minutes, or mental load when they don’t have it to spare. All you have to do is create an account, select a cause you want to support, securely link your card, and then shop and dine like you normally do. Donations will automatically be made to the cause of your choice when you shop and dine at participating stores and restaurants, with no need to spend extra money or time.

Simplify your meal planning

We’ve all been there. You open a fridge full of groceries, give it a quick scan… and then close it and order takeout.

Decision fatigue is real! That’s why reducing your options makes a lot of sense, especially when it comes to meal planning. A smart way to go about this is by using a meal template, where every night has a designated type of food or meal already assigned. 

Here’s an example...

Monday: Stir-fry

Tuesday: Tacos

Wednesday: Pasta

Thursday: Slow cooker 

Friday: Pizza

Saturday: Dine out or Breakfast for Dinner

Sunday: Leftovers

This tactic helps you reduce your mental load by lowering the number of decisions you have to make every night. On Wednesday, for example, you’ll already know you’re having pasta. Instead of stressing over what to make, you can simply grab and boil some dry noodles from the pantry, add any protein and/or vegetable, and call it dinner! To keep you from getting bored, you can switch up the ingredients from week to week, like having crunchy beef tacos one week, soft chicken tacos the next, and black bean taquitos the following week. Or you can stick with the same recipe week after week until you get sick of it. 

This can also be helpful if you’re in a household where there are other adults or older children who can help with the cooking. Rather than getting a bunch of texts about what they should make, you can point them toward the template and let them figure out what kind of tacos, pasta, or stir-fry they’re making that night.

Make time for self-care

If you’re laughing at the idea of finding any time for self-care, we get it. A lot of us feel like we don’t have the capacity to carve out any time for ourselves, but there are many clever ways to fit self-care in. Like the fact that you’re even reading this article—that counts! Give yourself some props for taking a few minutes to be proactive about how you can reduce your mental load. 

Here are a few more ideas for self-care moments that don’t take up a ton of time:

  • Practice mindfulness in the shower 
  • Call a friend for a 5-10 minute hello
  • Catch up with a friend in person or on the phone while you’re on a walk 
  • Take a deep breath while watering your plants
  • Slowly drink a glass of water while your coffee is brewing
  • Slip a nice note to yourself into your lunch bag
  • Put your phone away an hour before bed
  • Take a biiiiigggg stretch when you first wake up
  • Hide your favorite snack in your purse so you can discover it later
  • Do something that gives back 

Go forth and reduce your mental load

It might seem ironic that many of these ideas that help you reduce your mental load involve putting in some upfront work. But with a commitment to your future self, we hope these tips will help you free up the time, space, and peace you deserve in your life!