6 Min ReadHealth 18 February 2020
I look down at my bag, trying to figure out how I was going to maneuver my tampon out unnoticed. I could just take out my miniature black clutch where I kept all my supplies, but that would be too obvious right? I look up and around at my classmates to see if anyone was looking at me. Why would they decide to take their eyes off the teacher or whatever else may have their attention and look at me at that exact moment? Absolutely no reason. But I am still very paranoid.
It is a constant paranoia that follows me and makes me feel like there's a giant sign above my head that reads Warning: Menstruating Woman Coming Through.
'Okay just do it' I think to myself.
I reach into my backpack and into the black clutch I had previously unzipped in preparation for this moment. Cautiously, I grab a tampon from the bunch, slip it into my sleeve (while thanking myself for wearing long-sleeves), and sit back up. About a minute later, I get up and go to the bathroom. A few minutes later, I walk back to class with the feeling of a mission well accomplished. Thinking more clearly now, I pick up my pen and start taking notes. Now I can focus.
All Periods Are Not Created Equal
Every woman experiences her period differently, but what every woman does feel is the overall unpleasantness of the whole situation. I, for one, absolutely hate those few days where it feels like my body is against me. I have cramps that make me unable to move from the bed, I get extremely nauseous at the smallest of things, and my emotions are so sporadic that I feel the need to warn people to keep their distance.
On top of all of that, I am supposed to pretend like it is any other day, and that I don't feel like crawling back under the covers. When I'm riding the subway, walking down the street, waiting in line for coffee, I am constantly aware of the fact that I am on my period. It is a constant paranoia that follows me and makes me feel like there's a giant sign above my head that reads Warning: Menstruating Woman Coming Through.
However after hearing other women's experiences and feelings, it is justifiable to conclude that a majority of women, especially younger women, feel the need to be discreet and hide any actions that show they are on their periods.
Now I realize that there is easily a chance that I may be more paranoid than the average menstruating women. So I reached out to others to see if their periods came with a giant sign too, or if it was more of a small button pinned on their shirt. Here, some of their comments:
- I used to definitely care more in high school but in college I don't mind as much. It's natural and should be normalized.
- It was a struggle when I first got my period in middle school. I was so embarrassed to have to go into my bag or locker to get a tampon or pad out because I thought it was the end of the world if boys or other classmates knew I had my period. In the winter when I would wear boots I would put my tampons in there so I wouldn't have to pull it out in public in the hallway.
- It was a major problem not having access to any materials in the bathroom for girls. I think it was something that was so embarrassing and was a shame. A lot of companies I work for now have all the supplies in the bathroom for our needs which is very fortunate...
- I always try to discreetly and quickly get it out of my bag to go to the bathroom. I always try to keep [my period] to myself so men don't try to excuse/use it to explain my work performance, mood, or anything.
- This might sound weird but in high school I used to take a tampon out of my locker discreetly and put it in between my boobs so no one would see me walk to the bathroom with it. Even now I feel the need to whisper to female coworkers while asking for a tampon or pad. If men see me with a tampon and I feel any kind of emotion later, they usually assume I'm being irrational. I'd prefer to hide it rather than deal with men being unnecessarily uncomfortable of something that is completely normal."
- I sometimes will wait it out until I'm home or until most people around me go on break so I can sneak either my bag or a tampon and/or pad with me. I hate doing that because I get my period very heavy, but just knowing that people might see what I'm doing gets me paranoid. Especially if I'm around men. Then sometimes I won't change it at all until I'm home, as gross as that sounds."
As expected, there is a wide range of emotions women feel when dealing with their period. However after hearing other women's experiences and feelings, it is justifiable to conclude that a majority of women, especially younger women, feel the need to be discreet and hide any actions that show they are on their periods.
The simple (And Obvious) Answer Is: The Patriarchy.
Years and years of men being in charge and women being shamed for their bodies. When you look back at ancient and medieval times, it can be hard to find information about women on their periods because the male recorders didn't want to write about it. What is understood however is that women on their periods were often associated with magic and sorcery, with their being myths to explain why they bled and what the blood would do. There was also a lot of religious shame of periods as well. Women were told the cramps were to remind them of Eve's' original sin, they were not allowed to take communion while bleeding, or they were sent away to wait it out somewhere.
Today in the 21st century, society has learned the biology behind menstrual cycles and the appropriate sanitary supplies have been created to help women manage. However this underlying shame that has been embedded in menstrual discourse still remains.
In more developed parts of the world, women fight for period supplies like tampons and pads to be treated with the same amount of importance as the men making these decisions treat viagra. Movements were started to decrease or completely abolish the tax on these necessary products.
In lesser developed countries, women have to deal with much more than feeling paranoid. These cultures are more ingrained in their taboos on periods, considering the topic something people shouldn't openly discuss. In India and Bangladesh some women are not allowed to touch food or enter the kitchen on their periods. In Burundi, women cannot bathe near shared utensils out of fear that the blood will kill family members. In Venezuela, some women have to sleep in huts while they are bleeding.
Because of this shame, there is an extreme lack of education about the menstrual cycle and overwhelming lack of access to proper sanitary supplies. Many young girls are unaware of what a period is when they first start, leaving them ashamed and scared. Girls without access to a sanitary pad are forced to stay home from school and are at a higher risk for infections.
As we all continue to fight for things to be better for women at home and all around the world, let's also try to make them better for ourselves. Yes this is easier said than done, but if we stop feeling shame when menstruating, and aim for an attitude that expresses how natural the product is, maybe men will be forced to see it as well.
However this underlying shame that has been embedded in menstrual discourse still remains.
In the quotes given above, many women mention that much of their shame started when they were teenagers in middle or high school. If we aspire to change the mindset of young girls to not be ashamed of their period, because it is, of course, one of the most natural parts of life, then we may be able to stop this shame from manifesting and staying with women as they mature and step into their adult lives. We must aim to show men that they can not impose thoughts about us over something they could never fully understand. This type of change can not and will not come easily, but the first step of any change starts with a public conversation.
This piece was originally published Mat 15, 2019.
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With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.
When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.
Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan
Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.
Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.
The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.
Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits
The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.
With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.
Tip 3: Start slow and strong
If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.
Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.
Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize
In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.
When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.
Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness
From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.
Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.
Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.
A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.
Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition
In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.
If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health
While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.
For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.
While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.