How (and Why) to Make Your Invisible Burdens and Emotional Load Visible

Recently, I wrote about the stress of the never-ending list, this idea that there will always be one more thing to do. Always. There’s a parent list, work list, home list, health list… forgive me, but even the list of lists goes on. Naturally, burnout and emotional exhaustion are contiguous to the list; they’re the result of carrying too much for too long. Adding an extra layer to the issue, so much of what we carry is invisible, and the people in our lives — spouses, partners, team members — may not realize how heavy our emotional backpacks are or how many bricks are inside. 

Author and podcaster Glennon Doyle compares the ‘invisible load’ to a news station ticker — a list of updates for your eyes only that continuously scrolls across the bottom of the screen. Women in particular are often carrying numerous invisible burdens because they are conditioned and expected to be nurturing in addition to everything else. This could include tasks like making doctor appointments for the kids, grocery shopping, sending thank-you notes, buying a gift for a friend’s wedding, or doing the emotional labor in the office (i.e., giving reviews, planning events, and maintaining office culture.). 

To put it into perspective, nearly nine in 10 mothers in committed partnerships say they feel solely responsible for organizing the family’s schedules, and the burden of that left them “overwhelmed, exhausted, and unable to make space for their own self-care.”

Regardless of gender though, because burnout and emotional baggage are universal, until you’re able to identify your default patterns of behavior and make the invisible visible, you won’t be able to build the true resilience required to battle burnout. 

Three Steps to Make the Invisible Load Visible

  1. Identify your defaults: take some time to question each of your invisible to-dos. Why do we take that on? Is anyone asking us to? Is this a habit? Is this the best way to get the job done? Is there someone else who should/could handle it? We have to own the fact that some of our invisible burdens come directly from ourselves. Set it all down for a moment and get honest and who, what, and why.
  2. Name your burdens and make them visible: call out the tickers running through your brain; make them visible to yourself first. Then, sit down with relevant parties and share. Map out what needs to be done and what you already handle. Pull back the curtain on the invisible work, release some of the burden, and continue to do so. As your list changes, regroup. If you don’t openly share the burden that’s placed on you and delegate, you’ll default to old habits.
  3. Work on resilience: we all get burnt out and need to build resilience — all of us! But if you skip steps 1 and 2, you won’t be able to. After you identify your defaults and make your burdens known, practice behaviors and mindsets that can help you become a more resilient person. For more information on resilience, read “Resilience: How to Shift and Grow in the Face of Adversity.”

We all carry invisible baggage on our shoulders, and the reality is, sometimes we may be so focused on our own emotional load that we fail to see someone else’s. It takes reflection and honesty to identify defaults (in ourselves and others), make the invisible visible, and work toward resilience. Change happens on a societal level only when more people take time to look inward.