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Kristen Bryant / Her Campus
Mental Health

Rethinking the “Bare Minimum”

I woke up late on Sunday morning. I’d forgotten to turn on my alarm the night before and the time displayed on my phone sent a jolt of panic through me. It was already nearly noon! As I scrambled out of bed and into my clothes, I reshuffled my schedule in my head, trying to figure out how I’d get everything I needed to get done in the time allotted to me now. Bare minimum, I decided that I needed to finish my homework for classes the next day, take my dog on a walk, clean up my apartment, do some thesis research, figure out a healthy dinner to cook and eat and squeeze in a quick workout somewhere amongst it all. It seemed overwhelming, but I assured myself that it was the bare minimum, so everything on the list had to get done.

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As I sat down at my desk to start my homework, I already felt the uncomfortable weight of stress in the pit of my stomach and the back of my mind. I was hyper aware of the time that passed as I tried to speed through my readings. I wasn’t really absorbing the information I was working through, but I had so many other things I had to do, I didn’t really feel like I had the choice to slow down. That night after I had finished all my tasks, I crawled into my bed, feeling accomplished but drained from the day. With campus-wide emails and newspaper headlines making sure that the global pandemic and political and social unrest is at the forefront of our minds and frequent (and oftentimes highly stressful) life changes occurring because of it, I began to think that maybe it was time I did some serious thinking about the term “bare minimum.” I’m sure the day I described above is not an unusual one for many of you to imagine. As college students at a university that demands rigor in many areas of our lives, we are likely all well-acquainted with the push to do more. Sometimes, we feel this pressure from our peers, parents, professors or other important people in our lives, and sometimes we put this pressure onto ourselves without even realizing. After re-evaluating my “bare minimum,” I realized that much of what I felt that I had to do were, in fact, things that were completely optional and occasionally even produced more stress than benefit as parts of my daily routine.

But before I start talking about rethinking our conception of the bare minimum, I want to ask you: What is your bare minimum? What things do you want to get done today, this year, this decade or this life that will make you feel like you’ve accomplished the bare minimum? Then, when you have come up with an answer, I want you to take that list and for each item, think about why it is the bare minimum. Why is it necessary that you accomplish this thing? What will it bring you if you do? Does it bring you this in actuality? Oftentimes, even if this series of questions doesn’t succeed immediately in knocking anything off your to-do list, it does allow you to break out of autopilot mode and really contemplate why you are doing what you are doing, better appreciate your efforts thus far and anticipate the fruits of those actions with greater clarity and purpose. However, this isn’t to say that I think this exercise is a one-and-done type situation. Rather, I urge you to keep this list and revisit it every now and then and, as you change and your circumstances change, deliberate whether the items on your list still serve you as they used to. If they no longer serve you, write them off altogether or replace them with other things that better fit where you are now.

[bf_image id="q59evx-6l1jk8-m2v3d"] Our conception of what the bare minimum is is likely a flawed image in general, but all the more so is it in this current environment. When you are married to a certain set of routines that you believe are so integral to your day-to-day functioning that by not doing them you’re throwing away your day, you are doing yourself a disservice and adding stress and anxiety to yourself during a time when the world is doing too much of that to you already. The frequent life changes that have been forced upon us this year, often with little warning and no consent from us, can add further damage to your mental health if your definition of “bare minimum” is too demanding. Schedules and to-do lists are healthy, good parts of taking care of yourself during this time, and I by no means want to discount their beneficial effects. I would simply challenge you to give greater attention to when these things become unhealthy. Considering a tall stack of tasks to be the “bare minimum” without contemplating them carefully first does just that, by forcing you to consider these tasks a barrier to productivity or to feeling accomplished with yourself. In short, I don’t think it’s hyperbole when friends and family members have told me, “It’s an accomplishment just to get out of your bed and make it this year!”

Monday morning I woke up to the sound of my alarm, feeling tired from the day before and not excited to tackle the day ahead. Although I had accomplished all I’d wanted on Sunday, would I have been any less happy had I defrosted a microwave meal instead of cooking, waited a day or two to clean my apartment, or skipped my workout? I’ve come to the conclusion that had I woken up that morning and taken a moment to do some introspection on why I wanted to do all the things I felt like I had to, I would’ve had a more productive and less stressful day on the whole. Living slowly and with intention probably doesn’t come naturally to many of us, even after months relegated to our homes during quarantine, but as we continue to tackle getting through 2020—now with the added responsibilities of classes and job searches—I urge you to turn off autopilot, redefine your bare minimum and live in a way that is best able to honor yourself and take care of your wellbeing.  

Tori Smith

Notre Dame '21

A political science and history major at ND, Tori loves board games, home games, and binge-watching The Great British Baking Show. When she's not writing listicles or trying to thrift together her wardrobe, you can find her planning events for Notre Dame's chapter of Her Campus and researching for her senior history thesis on Native American residential boarding schools.
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