4 quick ways to reduce your heavy mental load

Written by Purva Brown of The Classical Unschooler

My children are an optimistic bunch. The other day, I caught one of them staring at the computer screen. And the look on his face was pure anguish.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I can’t do this!” He pointed to the online math he was working on.

It was two grades below his current level of expertise, but he was sitting there with no pen, no paper, and crying.

“Why aren’t you using scratch paper?” I asked.

“Because I can do it!” he proclaimed, only to repeat through sobs a few minutes later, “I can’t do it.”

I think I often indulge in this kind of thinking, too. Throughout my day, I have so many mental boxes to check off that I walk around with an endless list in my head. And some days, I’ll admit, that list looks more like a flow chart made by a three year old.

I jump in, no scratch paper, no aids, dependent on serendipity to carry me through the day. Sure, I am extremely grateful when it shows up, but being at the mercy of chance is not a good way to get through homeschooling.

I find myself in my son’s position with no scratch paper, very sure I can make it, yet, exhausted, irritated and frustrated.

Quick Ways to Reduce Your Mental Load

Toward a definition of a mental load

I don’t think I need to define mental load for any mom. We are intimately aware of what it takes a family to run smoothly and we strive to achieve it. It’s just that for a homeschooling mom, that load is already multiplied by two. There’s home and then there’s school. Add multiple children to the equation and now we’re talking exponents.

And it really doesn’t matter if your style of homeschooling is informal. I write this as a classical unschooler. Yet it seems I always have a list of worries, concerns, things to do, words to explore, projects to involve myself in and activities for the children in my head.

Some days, it doesn’t seem like I could fit one more thing in. But then one more thing arrives. And it demands to be dealt with. Sigh.

So what’s a mom to do?

From the few years that I have been homeschooling, I have found a few things to work for me:

1. Write it down. Immediately.

This seems obvious, but you would be amazed at how often I resist it. Here’s what I have noticed: I get immensely stressed out as soon as the number of things I have to remember exceeds three. That fourth thing just sends me over the edge. I have trouble sleeping.

That’s my personal limit. After three items, I have to write it down. It’s amazing how much of a difference it makes me. Some people I know have to-do lists by their bed, so if they wake up at night, writing it down makes it that much easier to fall back asleep.

Figure out your limit and write it down.

2. Say no. Often.

One of the biggest time management lessons I have learned is about priorities. I have quoted Steve Jobs before saying that it’s not saying “yes” to things that’s most important, saying “no” is just as important if not more so. Saying “no” defines boundaries, places value on what is truly a priority and preserves it as such.

I used to have guilt about saying “no,” until I realized I was actually doing my children a favor by allowing them to have time to be bored, engaging creativity instead of running helter skelter from one activity to the next. We pick one thing and stick with it for a while. We feel no pressure to do it all.

3. It’s okay to use a curriculum if it works for you.

I personally am not a fan of boxed curricula separated by grade levels, but I know homeschoolers who use them and do a fantastic job with them. If a boxed curriculum or an online, graded curriculum works for you, by all means, use it!

Don’t feel pressured to be eclectic if you have no desire for it. The wonderful thing about homeschooling is that it’s customizable and if what you’re doing is working for your family, there is no reason to change it.

4. Remember to schedule time for yourself.

Here’s my take on the matter: I’ve noticed that scheduling time for myself feels like one more thing to do. (Yes, I have to write it down, gah!) However, the best thing about it, besides the fact that I get to do things I want (like going to the bookstore or the movies by myself) is this:

The anticipation of a break helps me clear the other things on my to-do list in a hurry. It tends to feel a little bit like the day before a vacation and stuff gets done.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed in your homeschool, run down this list of potential fixes to reduce your mental load and see if they help ease your mind, too.

What’s your best idea for reducing stress in your homeschool? Tell us in the comments!

About Purva Brown

Purva Brown is a writer and homeschooling mom to three. She writes on a variety of topics across many genres and lives with her husband in Sacramento, California. Her most recent book is The Classical Unschooler. She blogs at PurvaBrown.com.


  1. Quiet time for the kids, hands-down the most necessary part of our day. My kids are 9 and 11 and we still do this nearly every day. A 90-150 min. period every day (usually after lunch) where we all go to our different rooms and do our own thing. I mostly read, catch up on email or even watch a tv show (gasp!), or spend time doing chores/cleaning with my podcasts, and they normally play, invent, build, create, and listen to audiobooks. We all feel better afterward. Always! (and I do have 1 strong extrovert, it can be done!)

  2. Love this. We’ve been talking about the mental load a lot about this lately among my friends. These are great tips for all of us to do thank you!
    Jen’s latest post: 11 Best Audiobook Apps For Homeschool Moms On The Go

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