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Returners A-Z: Navigating the Mental Load Surge

Returning to work after a break, whether it’s because of parental leave, sabbatical, or any other reason, can be both exciting and overwhelming. It is completely normal to face a surge in mental load as you juggle responsibilities at home and in the workplace. This article aims to provide valuable insights and practical strategies to help you effectively manage this increased mental load and transition smoothly back into your work routine.


Understanding the Mental Load: Mental load refers to the cognitive and emotional burden of managing multiple tasks, responsibilities, and decisions. It’s not just about the tasks themselves but also involves the planning, organising, and coordinating required to ensure everything runs smoothly. For professionals returning to work, the mental load can be particularly challenging as you navigate the complexities of both your job and personal life.

man in corner of room covered in post-it notes

1. Redefine Priorities: As you transition back to work, it’s essential to re-evaluate your priorities. Take the time to identify what truly matters both at home and at work. Set realistic expectations for yourself and communicate openly with your team and family about your availability and boundaries. By clarifying your priorities, you can allocate your mental energy more effectively.


2. Effective Time Management: Time management becomes even more critical when dealing with an increased mental load. Use techniques such as the Pomodoro Technique or time blocking (my favourite) to maximise your productivity. Break your work tasks into manageable chunks and allocate specific time slots for each. It might sound odd, but remember to include personal time in your schedule for self-care and spending quality moments with your loved ones. If you don’t include it, it will almost certainly be missed!


3. Delegate and Collaborate: Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks both at home and at work. Whether it’s at home with household chores or at work with tasks that can be shared among team members, delegating can help lighten your mental load. Asking your children to get themselves ready for school, or empty the dishwasher may sound like minor tasks, but they can make a real difference. Embrace collaboration and teamwork to ensure that responsibilities are shared effectively, reducing the burden on any one individual, both at work and at home.


4. Streamline Decision-making: The constant need to make decisions, big or small, can contribute significantly to mental load. Implement decision-making frameworks that simplify choices. For instance, categorise decisions into urgent, important, and non-urgent categories. Automate routine decisions when possible to free up mental space for more critical choices, such as telling your children they can watch TV from a specific time so they don’t keep asking, or having a 3 week rotating dinner cycle - It’s the second Tuesday, therefore it’s noodles!

pink neon lights on a wall covered in plants.

5. Self-Care is Non-Negotiable: Prioritising self-care is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. Allocate time for activities that recharge you mentally and emotionally, whether it’s exercise, meditation, reading, or spending time with loved ones. A well-nurtured mind is better equipped to handle an increased mental load. Personally, I have time blocked in my diary for cycling and yoga, which are non-negotiables - I am much less effective as a coach, husband and father if I miss these sessions.


6. Seek Support and Communicate: Remember that you’re not alone in this journey. Reach out to colleagues, mentors, or friends (or us!) who have experienced similar transitions. Sharing your experiences and challenges can provide valuable insights and a sense of camaraderie. Moreover, communicate openly with your family about your work commitments and expectations to foster a supportive environment.


Returning to work while managing an increased mental load can be demanding, but with the right strategies and mindset, you can navigate this phase successfully. By redefining priorities, practicing effective time management, delegating tasks, streamlining decision-making, prioritising self-care, and seeking support, you can strike a balance that allows you to excel both at work and in your personal life.


Remember that transitions take time, so be patient with yourself as you adapt to the new rhythm of your professional and personal responsibilities.


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