Recognising the difference between alone time and being lonely

When I went for a coffee with a friend recently, I made a joke about how I might just give up on conventional life and retreat into the woods. I’d been feeling fed up about my lack of social plans for the summer: FOMO was well and truly kicking in, and it seemed everyone else had a million things lined up. But then she suggested something radical: spending time by myself could be just as important as the social contact I was craving. Maybe not as a recluse in the woods, admittedly, but it got me thinking about the pressures we’re under to spend our free time surrounded by people, and how much that’ll escalate in the coming months. 

There’s a strange stigma around spending time by yourself. One survey found that two-thirds of Americans would rather be given an electric shock than have to sit alone with their thoughts. Most activities are designed with two or more in mind. I’ve never really understood why going to the cinema was reserved as a group activity given that the majority of the experience is spent sitting in silence, for example, but going alone is a surefire way to get some weird looks. We usually comply with those unspoken rules because we don’t want to be the odd ones out – even if we’d rather spend that free time another way. 

It wasn’t until this past year, really, that I made plans to go out by myself – not because I couldn’t find someone to go with, but because I valued the time spent in my own company. I made a list of things I wanted to do and pencilled some of them in as solo trips. Our social genes are hardwired into us, and I know I find happiness in spending quality time with people. But the idea that you can only really have a nice day out if it’s spent in someone else’s company means we pin the weight of our happiness on everyone except ourselves. Even when we’re with the people we feel most comfortable with, we’re performing the person we think we are in the presence of their company; in spending time alone, we find freedom that helps us to understand who we are outside of the expectations of others. 

Saying that, as empowering as spending time by yourself can be, there’s a risk you run when it comes to embracing your own company – especially considering the summer we have ahead. After 18 months of cancelled plans, distanced gatherings and wet picnics in grey parks, there’s hope of a summer that’ll compensate for the lack of new social memories over the pandemic. Given that the past year and a half has been void of much of a social life, it feels like a waste of our relative freedom to not be making plans with other people, now that we’re allowed to. Nobody wants to be the only one watching a dinner party through Instagram, or the killjoy who backs out of objectively fun plans last minute. 

But maybe it’s time we recognised the difference between saying yes to plans we actually want to attend, and going along with something you’d rather swap for a quiet night in just so you can tell people – and yourself – that you made the most of the summer. As strong as the FOMO might be, if you don’t truly want to go then it’s better than burning your social battery out for the sake of being able to say you were there. It’s important to distinguish between the overwhelming social pressure to fill our calendars and a genuine desire for human connection. 

The hot girl summer sentiment is, above all else, about feeling good in yourself and we shouldn’t need to be constantly surrounded to find that self-confidence. If anything, it means more to feel that assurance in yourself when you’re spending time alone: you’re thriving in your own eyes and by your own measures, rather than judging yourself through what you hope (or fear) other people think about you. I’m still excited to catch up with the friends I’ve missed and enjoy the relative freedom of post-lockdown life, but I know now that packing a schedule full of people isn’t the be all or end all of feeling happy or content. Making the most of the summer could also mean spending some of it by myself, so I look forward to enjoying the pleasure of my own company again – and who knows, maybe a retreat into the woods could make it onto the list after all. 

Here’s why it’s time to end the ‘quitters never prosper’ mindset

All of the professional advice I’ve ever been given has insisted that pausing is the enemy of progress. Quitting is unacceptable unless it’s for a promotion, and taking time out is only valid if you’ve got a doctor’s note. A few months ago, I went against all of these warnings and decided to quit my job – like thousands of others.

After a lot of thought, I decided to apply for a Masters – and I got it. In any other year, under any other circumstances, maybe I would be totally content continuing on the career path that I’ve set into motion. But after graduating in my bedroom and embarking on a year of working from home, there was a niggling doubt that I had unfinished business to attend to. I love my job and the team I work with, but with most of my friends scattered across the country and none of the social perks of an office, I felt increasingly isolated. With a hint of guilt that I was being ungrateful, I wondered if sticking to the path I thought would lead to career success was worth the creeping unhappiness. 

Most people I told were thrilled for me, but there were a couple who asked if I was absolutely sure that I wanted to risk quitting a job I was lucky to have. Their doubts came from a place of genuine concern: the sensible thing to do, surely, was to continue on the path I was already on rather than go on a detour. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned this past year, it’s that there’s no reason for a linear, one-size-fits-all path to success: contrary to the school career advisor’s warnings, I realised that taking a break from the rat race wasn’t the end of the world. When that gut feeling says that taking a fork in the road will make me happier, I’ve found that it’s best to listen. 

I’m not alone. Last week, the United States Labor Department reported the biggest jump in resignations for more than 20 years and in the UK, surveys have found that around a quarter of workers are prepared to quit their jobs rather than go back to working in offices full-time. A recent Harvard Business Review survey found that 75% of Gen Z respondents had left a job in lockdown, and cited their mental health as part of the reason why. Half of millennials said the same. Compare that to the baby boomers, of whom only 10% said they’d quit jobs for their mental wellbeing. 

When we asked our IG audience, 72% of them said they’ve left or considered leaving a job in the past year. Reasons varied from a lack of fulfilment and a search for a better work/life balance, to a “toxic environment” and a realisation that it wasn’t their “dream job.” As varied as the responses were, the common theme was that quitting was seen as a form of self-care. And self-care was the reason tennis star Naomi Osaka cited, too, when she made the decision to put her very high profile job on hold and pull out of the tournaments she had trained all year for, for the sake of her mental health.

Saying that, I recognise that not everyone can have the luxury of choosing what they think would make them happiest. Of our respondents who considered leaving but hadn’t made the step yet, not being able to afford to leave (35%) was the biggest obstacle holding them back, followed closely by an uncertainty around what they’d do instead (33%). I know I can press pause without worrying too much about the consequences: at least when the existential stress of what I’ll do after my Masters hits me, I’ll be in good company amongst fellow students. But the accessibility of quitting as a form of self-care means that for some, the practicalities have to come first.

The world of work is changing rapidly, especially with constantly-evolving tech taking over almost every industry. Where once you could choose a career and feel confident that it would see you out until retirement, the modern employee is likely to switch careers and change track a lot more than they did a few decades ago. For those in jobs that allowed home working, we had the brief taste of a different balance – one where flexible working was advocated for rather than dismissed as logistically impossible. And it opened our minds to what life could be like if we strayed from the path we had chosen at the tender age of 18, feeling too far along to turn back. We’ve shifted to recognise mental health as paramount – even, contrary to previous belief, above your job. Suddenly, quitting your job isn’t the last-resort result of burning yourself out to the point of exhaustion, but part of the process towards avoiding that outcome. It’s no longer a failure, but an opportunity for growth – and it’s about time we recognised it as such.

30 ways to make the most of your weekend

I recently heard about a friend of a friend who has decided to try a new activity each weekend this summer. My initial thought: how exhausting. Imagine having to plan a new activity each and every weekend, schlep to wherever the activity was, battle through your inevitable hangover, and then repeat the whole ordeal the following weekend? No thank you. I am, I decided, an activity commitment phobe.

But then I thought about it. Lockdown has been at best a grind, at worst utterly horrible. I’ve seen the same handful of people over the past few months, and none of us have much that’s new to report (except for the ones who decided to get hitched or have a baby). What would the harm be in trying something new? Maybe not every weekend, but once a month or so. I might even feel better for it. So, one week last month, I walked Hadrian’s Wall with a group of friends. It was magnificent. I felt rested, revived, relaxed, more ready to seize the day than I had done in months. I had felt saddened by the prospect of no foreign holidays this summer, but I actually ended up marvelling at how beautiful Britain is (we were lucky with the weather, to be fair). More than anything, it was lovely just stretching my weary bones in an unexpected way and changing my mindset by changing my routine.

Plus it turns out altering habits is really, really good for you. Studies show that new experiences make time feel like it’s going slower. It stimulates neurons in your brain that may have fallen dormant, forming unique neurological pathways – the more pathways that are formed, the quicker impulses can travel and the easier you’ll pick up new skills in the future. And if that wasn’t enough to tempt you, introducing new stimuli triggers the release of the happy hormone dopamine, which makes you feel positive while sharpening your focus and giving you the motivation to keep going.

This got us talking at work – what if we created a summer bucket list, one filled with energising things to try each weekend this summer? So, here it is, your very own wonder list of activities. We hope you love it.

  1. Find a local walking route and head out with a picnic (and some sturdy shoes!)
  2. Set your sights high and go rock climbing
  3. Support indie artists and find a small local gig
  4. Head to the nearest coastline and go for a swim
  5. Take a metal detector to the beach
  6. Visit a botanical garden
  7. Go fruit picking
  8. Climb a mountain or peak
  9. Get behind the wheel at go-karting 
  10. Pump some adrenaline at a theme park
  11. Get creative with a pottery workshop 
  12. Take in some culture at an outdoor cinema 
  13. Gun for a hole in one at mini/adventure golf 
  14. Go to a life drawing class 
  15. Head to an art gallery or exhibition 
  16. Take a guided city walk to explore hidden parts of your hometown
  17. Try a Brush and Bubbles Art Kit – get 15% off with THEKNOW15
  18. Bake some chocolate eclairs
  19. Think tactically in an escape room
  20. Bounce away the stress in a trampoline park
  21. Visit your nearest castle and take in some history
  22. Make new friends at an alpaca farm
  23. Take in a tipple at wine tasting 
  24. Book a paintball game, or laser quest to avoid the bruises
  25. Aim for a bullseye at archery
  26. Climb through the trees at Go Ape
  27. Dip your toes with paddleboarding
  28. Pretend you’re on Total Wipeout with an Aqua Park Inflatable Obstacle Course 
  29. Get planting with a community gardening
  30. Head out to sail and try kayaking – or hire out a pedalo/punt on a nearby lake.

Your ultimate guide to a sustainable summer

Ethical and chic? Yes, it is possible. A new generation of cult labels are creating items that are as stylish as they are sustainable. From dresses to deodorant, we’ve found our top picks for ethical, eco-conscious, cruelty-free products, so you can treat yourself while treating the planet. Thank us later.

So, without further ado, here are our best brands for a sustainable summer, with some exclusive discounts so you can save a few coins to spend on an extra colourful cocktail. Drum roll please…

Name: Wild Deodorant 

What they’re selling:  A refillable, natural deodorant that focuses on performance, sustainability and style for people who want to make an eco-friendly summer swap.

The origin story: Founded with a mission to shake up the throwaway culture of toiletries, Wild wanted to imagine an alternative future for personal care products – one that didn’t end up in landfill. 

Why we’re obsessed: The deodorants are 100% cruelty-free and vegan, as well as free from aluminium and parabens. Plus, the applicators are made from a durable aluminium and recycled plastic, so once you’ve got one you won’t ever need a replacement – and the range of stunning pastel colours to choose from means it makes a stylist addition to your go bags. 

They’re changing the world by… introducing a world-first design for their refills, which are completely biodegradable, recyclable and plastic-free. 

In a nutshell, we love them for: Sustainable, refillable deodorant that smells great and does the job without hurting the planet. 

A treat for you: Get 20% off your order when you use THEKNOW at checkout. 

Wild Deoderant

Name: UpCircle 

What they’re selling: Beauty products that your skin will love, made from ‘leftover’ repurposed natural ingredients. They rescue and reuse ten skin-loving natural ingredients from industries across the world, saving the nourishing byproducts of the argan, tea, juice, date, olive and wood industries to fight waste. 

The origin story: In 2015, founders (and siblings!) William and Anna pondered how many valuable coffee grounds were being chucked from cafes all across London. On a mission to save the grounds from an untimely death and instead give them a new lease of life in a new product, they launched their first scrub at the 2016 London Coffee Festival. Now, they collect grounds from hundreds of cafes across the capital to create the stunning skincare range available at UpCircle. 

Why we’re obsessed: It’s an ingenious way to reduce waste, and one we would never have thought of – but makes complete sense!

They’re changing the world by… creating products that are *deep breath* natural, organic, vegan, cruelty-free, palm oil-free, sustainable, handmade in the UK and housed in 100% recyclable packaging. The list of great things goes on (and on). 

In a nutshell, we love them for: thinking up an ingenious use for valuable materials that would otherwise go to waste, and creating stunning self-care products that are just as eco-friendly as the ingredients. 

A treat for you: Get stunning skin for less and save 15% on your order by using THEKNOW at checkout. 

Name: Wear Em Out

What they’re selling: Reusable menstrual pads, tailored to your changing flow and easy to wash.

The origin story: In the words of CEO Lauren, Wear Em Out was founded with “eco-curious, modern people” in mind, who want to tweak their lifestyle to protect our “innocent and affected planet.” 

Why we’re obsessed: Not only are you doing your bit to help the planet, but the pads are made from a high-quality absorbent fabric that means you have peace of mind while on your period – plus, you save money on all of those disposable supplies in the long run. 

They’re changing the world by… offering alternatives to adding more waste to landfill. A single disposable pad or tampon takes longer to degrade than the lifespan of the person who wore it, and 200,000 tonnes of menstrual waste is sent to UK landfill per year. 

In a nutshell, we love them for: Changing the menstrual hygiene game and creating a reusable product that doesn’t involve much any more faff than your normal routine. 

A treat for you: Use the discount code KNOW10 for 10% off

Sustainable summer - Wear Em Out

Name: Bower Collective

What they’re selling: All the sustainable, refillable supplies you could want to run a happy home delivered exactly when you need them. 

The origin story: The brand was inspired by the bowerbird, cute birds famous for recycling bright plastic scraps and colourful debris to decorate its nest and attract mates. 

Why we’re obsessed: Along with their easy, flexible subscription service and the huge range of products on offer, they’ve partnered with the Marine Conservation Society so every purchase you make will protect 1m² of endangered seagrass in UK coastal waters. Plus, every delivery they make is carbon-neutral. 

They’re changing the world by… Making it super easy to embrace sustainability with their subscription service, offering free returns of their refill pouches to be recycled and regular updates so you only get what you need to minimise waste. 

In a nutshell, we love them for: Thinking of everything when it comes to running an eco-friendly home, especially the little details like quality refill containers and a recycle plan for when the pouches reach the end of their lives. 

A treat for you: Get a beautiful 20% off with THEKNOWBOWER at checkout. 

Name: The Restory 

What they’re selling: An on-demand wardrobe repair and restoration service which wants to help you fall back in love with your fave wardrobe staples all over again, instead of sending more garms to landfill. 

The origin story: Made up of a team of industry experts and up-and-coming artisans, The Restory are “dedicated to bringing the art of the craft and the convenience of technology right to your doorstep”, helping even the busiest of people find time to save their clothes from the trash. 

Why we’re obsessed: UK landfills see around 300 million pairs of shoes thrown in every year, plus an estimated £140m worth of clothing. The Restory wants to reduce that number by giving tired clothes a new lease of life – all you have to do is book a time to drop your clothes off and describe the repairs/improvements each piece needs, and the designers will work their magic. 

They’re changing the world by… saving clothes from heading into landfill, and encouraging more people to future-proof their clothes to last longer. 

In a nutshell, we love them for: Providing a practical, convenient way to extend the life of your best-loved clothes and putting a stop to the endless cycle of consuming and disposing at the expense of the environment. 

A treat for you: Save your fave clothes and save ££ too, by using the code THEKNOW10 for 10% off. 

Sustainable summer - The Restory

Name: Sanchos

What they’re selling: Ethical, stylish clothes that keep both your wardrobe and the planet happy – without the extortionate price tag. All of their products are ethically made with sustainable materials and are either sourced from larger eco-friendly companies or small businesses. 

The origin story: Kalkidan Legesse and Vidmantas Markevicius opened their first pop up store in 2014 after meeting in university. A few months later they opened their first permanent shop dedicated to affordable sustainable clothing. Sanchos was founded after the two saw first-hand the effects of fast fashion on developing countries, and wanted to offer a different way to dress. 

Why we’re obsessed: Organic, vegan, sustainable and founded by friends eager to make a positive difference in the world – what more could you ask for. 

They’re changing the world by… encouraging their customers to do their own research and ask questions when it comes to sustainable clothes, cultivating a clued-up community of people passionate about doing eco-friendly fashion right. 

In a nutshell, we love them for: Actively working towards making ethical, sustainable fashion accessible no matter what your budget is, and always challenging themselves to do better as their brand grows. 

A treat for you: Save 10% with THEKNOW10 – you’re welcome!

Name: Turtle Bags

What they’re selling: Reusable, planet-friendly bags to carry all your essentials. 

The origin story: Founded in 2002 (before banning plastic bags from supermarkets was cool), Turtle Bags wanted to raise awareness around the impact the single-use bags were having on the environment – and offer an alternative. 

Why we’re obsessed: swapping plastic bags for reusable ones are a super easy swap, and Turtle Bags have an option for everything from your weekly supermarket shop to recycled seagrass baskets perfect for a cute summer picnic. 

They’re changing the world by… working with Fair Trade partners, who are equally as committed to eco-friendly practices. They also donate 10% of their profits to the Marine Conservation Society to work towards saving the turtles their brand is named after. 

In a nutshell, we love them for: Trying to make a difference to our plastic-consumption habits by offering quality product alternatives, before abolishing single-use plastic was hot. 

A treat for you: Bag yourself 10% off with TURTLESKNOW1 at checkout. 

Sustainable summer - Turtle bags

Name: Rare Tea

What they’re selling: Loose leaf tea sourced directly from farmers, free from the pesticides and bleaches found in ordinary tea bags. 

The origin story: Founded in 2004 by Henrietta Lovell (known as the Tea Lady), Rare Tea aims to cut out the middleman and build relationships with their tea farmers themselves, finding great tea from happy people. 

Why we’re obsessed: They’ve got two groups in mind: people who love tea, and people who make it. By working with farmers, they ensure the tea gardens operate ethically and employees are paid fairly for their product – and in turn, their microplastic-free tea leaves a sweet taste with their customers. 

They’re changing the world by…  Investing in the communities that work hard to produce their delicious tea, to help independent family businesses thrive. 

In a nutshell, we love them for: Treating a good cup of tea like a fine wine: worth an extra penny for the quality, and an extra second to savour the delicate taste. 

A treat for you: Sip on a delicious cuppa with the smug knowledge that you got 15% off by using THEKNOW15.

I’m becoming my friend’s boss. Do things have to change?

Lisa was the first person who greeted me when I started my new job, bounding up to me with bouncy, blonde hair and a bright red headband. Within 30 minutes, I knew we’d be friends: we were the same age, had been to the same university, shared much the same outlook on life. As time went on, we grew closer: we made each other hoot with laughter after a long day, shared clothes before parties, and texted about our private lives on weekends. Sure, work had brought us together, but it felt more like fate than happenstance.

Then, one day, I found out Lisa had got a promotion: to become my boss. My direct boss. The person I report back to and ask for pay rises from. I was genuinely delighted for her, but couldn’t help feeling it was a little weird. Would our relationship have to change? Could we still be close friends? Who would I complain about the boss with now?

Here’s what I learned about the line between friends and colleagues – with some tips on how to make the most of the relationship.

Your colleague can’t be your best friend – particularly if there’s a power dynamic.

There are so many reasons for this, sad though it may be. The first is your teammates. If your boss was obviously closest to one person — and was regularly having private lunches and drinks with them — would you really not be concerned that your co-worker had special access to your boss that you didn’t have? If that co-worker got a project that you really wanted, would you trust that she had earned it on merit, or would you suspect that the friendship with your boss played a role? If you had an issue with that co-worker, would you feel comfortable talking to your boss about it, or would you worry that your concerns wouldn’t get a fair hearing because of their relationship? I’m guessing the answer is no. 

Power dynamics aren’t the best basis for a friendship.

It’s so important to have boundaries, no matter how fun and informal your (virtual) office may be. You should be able to feel a little tired one morning without stressing that your boss knows you went out the night before. You also need to be able to vent about annoyances at work without worrying you’ll offend the managers, and ask for a promotion because it’s the right thing for you – even if it might make your boss’s life harder. If it’s time to move to another company, that’s a decision that should be made without worrying about upsetting important, personal relationships. And, most of all, you need to know that if you fall out with your friend/colleague, it won’t affect you professionally. 

It makes it hard for the boss, too. 

Everyone thinks they can give honest feedback to friends, but try doing that when you know they’ve just gone through a breakup or their parent is ill. The dynamic between employer and employee is fraught with difficulties without also having to navigate the demands of a close friendship. Your boss will likely have to make decisions you don’t love, which may even impact your livelihood. They have to be able to do that without worrying that they’re hurting your feelings. 

Being a good boss means being friendly, sympathetic and understanding – traits that are shared with good friends – but to everyone, indiscriminately. Even if favouritism isn’t at play, others may suspect it is, making relationships more difficult between everyone on the team. 

Remember: it’s not all doom and gloom. 

There’s a unique delight in having a close colleague. Fine, they might not come to your messy house party or turn up at your house when your boyfriend dumps you, but you can absolutely still have a respectful, enjoyable and supportive relationship – one that can become a close friendship if you change roles or one of you leaves. We spend so much of our lives at work that feeling valued and encouraged in the office is a core component of personal happiness too, and it’s important that your friend/colleagues can help you get there. 

5 ways to support a friend going through grief

As we enjoy the long-anticipated sunshine and revel in our newfound freedoms, many of us are gleefully leaving the grey skies of lockdown behind. But for those who have lost loved ones, the scars of the height of the pandemic are still fresh. If you’re working through that grief, it can be hard to watch friends and family move on from the events of the past year without a second thought – and even harder to admit to them that you’re struggling. 

Want to support a grieving friend but not sure what to say – or crucially, what not to say? Here are five ways to approach the most difficult post-pandemic conversation with sensitivity, informed by some lived advice from the hosts of the Good Mourning podcast.

Let them know you’re there 

Whether it’s a fear of ruining the barbeque vibes or a reluctance to upset others, some people might pretend they’re absolutely fine. Let your friend know that you’re there if they want to open up, and that you’re ready for an emotional chat if that’s what they need. 

And when you make those promises, stick to them. Co-hosts of the Good Mourning podcast Sally Douglas and Imogen Carn emphasised the importance of being reliable: “Show up when you say you will. Grief is incredibly lonely and we can really look forward to social connection, so don’t commit to something with a grieving friend if you think you might flake at a later date.” 

But equally, accept if they’re not ready to talk

Sometimes the best support you can offer is a distraction, and some people might not be comfortable talking about their emotions in public after months of processing it privately. Sally and Imogen advise that it’s best to “avoid saying “how are you”, as chances are they aren’t great.” Instead, they suggest you try “how are you doing today?”, as “this small shift in language allows the griever to honestly open up about how they are feeling in the moment and truly express themselves.” 

If they still seem reluctant to share, don’t push them – they’ll open up if and when they’re ready, and forcing the wounds open under the guise of being supportive could become a bump on their road to healing. 

Avoid excessive positivity 

While wallowing in the sadness of a loss might feel counterproductive, trying to find the positives in everything your friend shares isn’t as helpful as you may think. Celebrating the life of their loved one is a lovely gesture and it’s important to remember them fondly. But countering their emotions with a silver lining every time can make them feel like you’re invalidating their sadness, and could lead them to feel like they can’t be totally honest with you next time. 

This goes for faith, too. If your friend isn’t particularly religious, saying things like “it’s part of God’s plan” or “they’re in a better place” won’t mean anything, and could make them feel even bleaker about their loss. 

Sally and Imogen say that there’s no need to walk on eggshells when it comes to naming the person they’ve lost: “You might think that it will upset the person grieving, but it is the opposite – the one name we often want to hear is that of the person who has passed.”

And whatever you do, definitely don’t use the phrase “it could be worse!”.

Walk the walk 

Actually reaching out in response to offers to help can make you feel like a burden, so go the extra mile. Instead of a vague “let me know if you need anything!”, go ahead and drop off some shopping, offer to do the school run one week or find your own way of lifting some of the weight.

 It doesn’t always have to be errands. You could:

  • Throw together a self-care pack and offer to take the kids for an evening.
  • Plan a movie night with their favourite comfort film. 
  • Bake some cookies (or other comfort treats) and drop them off – or stay for a cuppa
  • If they don’t seem ready to socialise just yet, a simple card to remind them you’re thinking of them and available to chat whenever they feel ready to come out can go a long way. 

Recognise that smaller griefs are still valid

We’ve lost a lot over the past year. Weddings were postponed, graduations cancelled and other momentous life moments fell victim to lockdown restrictions. The feeling of grief isn’t just caused by the loss of a loved one, and other forms can still have a big impact. Avoid minimising the importance of smaller sadnesses by comparing them to the grief caused by death and recognise that the loss of these moments is a valid reason to feel sad. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions for us all, and the last thing we need is to be judged for the feelings that lockdown has caused. 

Want some more resources or places to refer a grieving friend for help? Here’s a handy list by Good Grief. 

Your menstrual myth buster

Shark week. The Big Red. Time of the Month. For all its elusive aliases and synonyms, periods remain a taboo topic of conversation, eliciting giggles at school and raised eyebrows in  the office. But in the safety of our friendship groups, the questions start to flow (pun entirely intended). 

Why do we get such random and intense symptoms, and is there anything we can do about it? Is that myth a friend said back in secondary school actually true? Why is it we still feel embarrassed to ask questions about our bodies? 

We decided to pose some of your questions to Dr Caroline Overton, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and get the answers to the mysteries we discuss over a glass of wine once and for all – and about bloody time, too.

Why do I get headaches/migraines during my period, and how can I alleviate them?

Headaches and migraines are common  symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.  This is the group of symptoms that occur in the days before your period starts.  Types of symptoms include psychological symptoms such as mood changes and irritability, physical symptoms such as breast tenderness and bloating and behavioural symptoms such as reduced visio-spatial ability and clumsiness.

We know that many people who menstruate can experience headaches caused by changes in their hormones and often people notice it is linked to their period.  A ‘menstrual migraine’ is most likely to develop in either the 2 days leading up to a period or the first 3 days during a period.  This is because of hormone changes with a progesterone dominance and a drop in oestrogen levels.

The Migraine Trust says it’s worth keeping a diary for at least 3 menstrual cycles to help you check whether your migraines are linked to your periods. If they’re linked, a diary can help to pinpoint at what stage in your cycle you get a migraine. This can also be good to show your GP.

The NHS have some top tips for relieving hormonal headaches are:

  • Eat small, frequent snacks to keep your blood sugar level up. Missing meals or going too long without food can trigger attacks. Have a small snack before going to bed, and always eat breakfast. 
  • Have a regular sleep pattern, and avoid too much or too little sleep. 
  • Avoid stress. If this proves difficult, find ways to deal with stress, such as regular exercise and using relaxation strategies. 

 Is period syncing an actual thing? 

We know that anecdotally many people feel their periods sync with their friends or colleagues if they spend large amounts of time with them, such as living or working together. There have been a few studies looking into menstrual syncing. Martha McClintock in 1971 was the first to suggest that room-mates and close friends living in a college dormitory synchronized their periods.  A study of 186 people living in a dormitory in China suggested that “women do not sync their menstrual cycles” and suggested that the previous finding was due to chance.  In 2017 period tracking app Clue teamed up with Oxford University to speak to 1,500 people who menstruate. They found that it’s unlikely that people disrupt each other’s menstrual cycle by being around each other.  While scientifically a link hasn’t been proven, syncing is still very much up for debate.

Why do I get so hungry the week before my period? 

Again, this is another very common symptom of premenstrual syndrome.

You may feel hungrier and/or get food cravings before your period and that’s completely normal. There are a number of reasons why this could be, including changes to your hormone levels, mood, and metabolism. 

In the NICE guidelines – which are referred to by healthcare professionals in diagnosing premenstrual syndrome – ‘food cravings’ is a recognised symptom.

Why do my symptoms fluctuate month-to-month?

Each month a whole new process of hormone production starts again, with oestrogen being the dominant hormone before ovulation and progesterone being the dominant hormone after ovulation.  As this is a biological process, there isn’t an exact formula and there will be natural differences from month-to-month.

People who menstruate should not suffer in silence and we’d advise anyone experiencing severe symptoms that are affecting their daily life to seek advice from their GP as there are several treatment options available. There is this handy diary to help you keep track of your symptoms which can be useful to show your healthcare professional.

It is also important to be aware of the symptoms of the condition endometriosis.  Normal period pain should be manageable with painkillers.  If your period pain or the pain in the days before your period is affecting your activities of daily living, then these could be symptoms of endometriosis, and you should seek advice from your GP. 

Does exercise really help with pain – and if so, tips to staying active throughout your cycle?

You might not feel like exercising during a painful period, but keeping active can help relieve period pain and discomfort. Exercise releases endorphins – the feel good hormone – and also acts as a mood booster. You might find that low impact exercises such as swimming, walking or cycling are more comfortable, especially if you are experiencing lots of pain.

Exercise can also help to regulate menstruation. If you’re stressed, a menstrual cycle can become longer or shorter and periods might stop altogether.  Regular exercise – like yoga, or going for a jog – can help relaxation and reduce the impact of that stress. 

It is important to listen to your body to figure out what the right level of exercise is. If you feel comfortable, there is no reason why you should stop high intensity exercise during your period.

Do the symptoms of your period get worse/more intense as you get older?

Everyone has a different experience when it comes to periods, but it is common for your periods to adjust and change as you get older. In your 40s, it is normal for periods to become heavier and closer together, happening every 21 days or so, when they were every 28 – 31 days.  This is due to the natural age-related hormonal changes of the perimenopause.  Menstruating people might also experience some hot flushes around the time of their period and worsening premenstrual symptoms.  As you approach 50, your periods might start spacing out and you find that you have missed a complete period. If you are experiencing a change in your periods and/or you are struggling with your symptoms, then it could be time to head to a healthcare professional for advice. 

How can I use my diet to balance hormones, help period pain and reduce bloating?

We know that diet can affect periods and those who are significantly underweight can see their periods stop all together.

It is important to eat a healthy, balanced diet throughout the monthly cycle and as always, avoid greasy, heavily-processed food. Dehydration can make menstrual cramps and bloating worse, so ensure you’re drinking plenty of water and consume alcohol and caffeine in moderation.

If periods are very heavy, it might be worth taking an iron supplement during your period to replace the iron being lost with the period blood.

Lots of people have been having irregular periods after catching COVID – do we know why? 

We’re aware that many have been reporting a change to their period cycle or symptoms during the pandemic. The degree to which changing hormone levels will affect someone is often informed by her psychological wellbeing at that time. We know that life events can make PMS symptoms feel worse, and something as all-consuming and life-changing as a global pandemic could result in people experiencing their periods differently.

In theory, the Covid-19 vaccination might affect periods because of its effect of stimulating immune cells.  Anecdotally, some people seem to be reporting heavier periods after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and we would support more data collection in this area to understand if and why this might be the case.

There is no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccination affects future fertility.  

Unscheduled bleeding can be a symptom of underlying problems such as infection or cancer.  It is important that unexpected bleeding is not simply explained away because of the Covid-19 vaccination and that people contact their GP for a check-up.

5 steps towards getting your office/school/uni to offer free period products

Despite roughly 50% of the population experiencing it, the corporate world loves to ignore the natural cycle of the period. From people wincing their way through meetings as cramps hit to having to awkwardly ask a colleague for a sanitary pad when caught short, the taboo of periods is one that those with the power to change workplace culture continue to wave away. You could be part of the movement to change that.

Since Scotland became the first country to introduce free sanitary products for anyone who needed them in 2020 and reports that one in 10 14-21 year olds can’t afford sanitary products every month, more institutions are being encouraged to follow suit and include period-friendly provisions for their employees and students.

Here’s a handy guide to encouraging your own workplace, university or school to take part in the initiative towards eliminating period poverty and offer free products to employees and students in need. 

(PS: make it to the end of this article for a great discount, perfect if you’re ready to make the switch to a more sustainable cycle…) 

Gather the troops

It’s likely that you have a host of support waiting to rally behind this cause, who might not be confident enough to start the movement themselves. Show those who have the power to enact the change that there is a demand for the service and start a petition, inviting others to sign. You could even share an anonymous survey to ask your workplace to add why they’re signing, and present your findings to the top dogs. 

Map out the options 

Combat any excuses you might face in response with some top-notch prep and research. TOTM, a sustainable period product company, offers a workplace initiative where they provide handy tailored packages designed for offices and other institutions. 

Their Period Dignity Workplace Scheme was “designed to encourage employers to take that first step towards building a period-powerful workplace through the provision of free planet-friendly period care. We created a solution which offers a convenient choice of our 100% organic cotton tampons and pads in corporate bathrooms, as well as providing additional support with workplace talks and educational materials.” So far, they’ve had a whole range of organisations sign up to take part, and say “the feedback has been extremely positive, and many have seen this as an important step towards creating an inclusive workplace where employee dignity and wellbeing is prioritised.”

Be bold, not bashful

Talking about the menstrual cycle remains a bit of a taboo, but don’t shy away from the details. People who don’t menstruate head into a bathroom and are provided everything they need – ask those in charge to imagine a world where everyone has to provide their own toilet paper, or pay per use of the sink to wash your hands. Being prepared isn’t always easy, as cycles aren’t necessarily as regular as the movies like to suggest: TOTM shared a survey in which “88% of respondents admitted to getting their period at work and not having any products with them.” 

It’s not just getting caught short that is a problem, as “respondents also admitted to worrying about their period at work (80%) with the majority (76%) saying that it had disrupted their working day.” TOTM say they “champion period equality, and statistics such as these reveal that more needs to be done to support menstruation in the workplace” – and these are some great stats to include in your mini campaign. 

Remember to stay inclusive

It’s not just cis women who menstruate, after all. Trans men and non-binary folk may also experience the natural cycle every month, so plan where the products would be made available wth that in mind. You could have them in both gendered bathrooms, include a request for a gender-neutral bathroom in your campaign or find an area for people to access them without drawing any unwanted attention to themselves. 

The issue of period poverty is also a global crisis: if you want to support work that is providing sanitary products to communities in need across the world, check this out.

Bump into the budget

If your employer has a budget for encouraging diversity in the workplace, there’s an opportunity to make your case. Point out that the money that is spent on providing soap and stocking toilet tissue should extend to offering sanitary products too. TOTM’s products are plastic-free, which could also work in your favour if there are any initiatives to stay green. 

Fancy making the switch to TOTM’s organic, sustainable period products? Get a huge 50% off your first two subscription boxes with our exclusive code THEKNOW50 – you’re welcome!

How to DIY the afternoon tea of dreams

There’s little more sophisticated than the tiny sandwiches and delicate infusions of an afternoon tea experience – but the price tag of the classy lunch-time outing is often a little less dainty. Here’s how you can DIY your own, with tips on everything from nailing your decor to brewing the perfect cup of tea.

Lean into the pastel vibes

The easiest way to achieve immediate delicacy is to embrace the soft hues of a pastel colour palette. Pair a white tablecloth with light pinks, sky blues and pale yellows, and keep those colours in mind when you go shopping for your supplies and snacks. Grab a bouquet of flowers to brighten up the place, or find a garland of fake flowers so you can reuse them later. Suggest a casual pastel dress code for your guests to complete the look, pop some cute bunting up (here’s how to DIY your own) and go the extra mile with your very own three-tier stand.

Dazzle your guests with some expert tea brewing

Your choice of brew is the focal points of a successful afternoon tea. Our friends over at the Rare Tea Co have offered the following tips to create the perfect cup – and if you use THEKNOW15 at check out (on everything except subscriptions), we’ve sorted out a delicious little discount for you!

A good rule of thumb is to use one heaped teaspoon of tea and one teacup (150ml) per person.

Got good tea? Infuse it several times. Each time, different subtleties of flavour will be released – though make sure that tea leaves aren’t left to stew once they have been infused, as straining the tea completely between infusions will stop the leaves from becoming bitter. In China it’s thought that the second or third infusion of tea is its finest (though don’t try this with Tetley tea bags!).

For good leaf tea, water should be below boiling as the amino acids (which produce the tea’s flavour) dissolve at lower temperatures. Tea made with water at 100°C will be more astringent and less sweet. Ideally stop the kettle before it reaches the rolling boil – when the small bubbles form along the sides of the kettle – or splash out (pun intended) and get a temperature controlled kettle. However, once again, this is only for the good stuff – if you try to have lower temperature water with industrial tea bags you’ll end up with something that looks disturbingly like dishwater.

Sunny day? Consider a cold brew.

Using cold water allows the the flavour of the tea to softly seeps out of the leaves without breaking the cells, avoiding the oxidation that hot water causes that makes the flavour dull over the time. Prep it overnight by combining the dry leaf and cold filtered water in a clean, sealed vessel and pop it in the fridge for at least 8 hours. Strain the tea through the finest filter you have for a sweet, delicate treat – just be aware that you won’t be able to taste the concentration of caffeine, but the slow infusion means it’s absolutely packed with it!

Break the mould

Who says there have to be rules when it comes to a good afternoon tea? Mix it up to create your own variation on the classic: swap sandwiches for sliders, offer a pink gin tipple alongside the tea or jazz up your scones with slices of strawberry. You could even have your guests decorate their own mini blank biscuits for a fun twist. Experiment with your faves – just remember to keep it all mini and snack-sized!