how to be less paranoid as a young woman living in a city?
June 14, 2022 9:02 PM   Subscribe

I’ve recently moved from a suburb to a major city that is quite safe. However, I’m struggling with feeling very paranoid about getting attacked. While I can logically deduce that these fears are unreasonable, in the moment, when I’m emotionally involved, it’s hard for me to remember. How do I correctly tune my sense of “stranger danger”?

More specifics: I live in Cambridge, near Central Square. In an attempt to be more civically engaged in my new home, I did a lot of research to understand both Central and Cambridge as a whole, and intellectually I understand that it’s a very safe place to live. I have thought and learned about harm enough to know that I am most as risk of harm from people who are close to me than strangers, and the strangers I feel afraid of (mostly homeless people) are in most cases not dangerous to me. I also understand where this fear is coming from: part socialization as a woman, part indoctrination by my parents, who turned “stranger danger” into “the world is a fundamentally untrustworthy place. do not trust anyone who does not look like you” (a consequence of immigrating to the states, imo), part sensationalization of very rare narratives from the media, and part anxiety.

Still, despite this knowledge, I feel so scared. I sometimes get very worried about walking out on the streets alone by myself (even if I’m staying in relatively safe areas), which leads me to stay inside when I could be out and doing something. I feel automatically distrustful of any man I pass on the streets, and I walk much faster and can feel my heart beating faster. I sometimes feel paranoid in my own apartment, scared that someone’s going to break in or that someone’s hiding in here without me knowing.

I’ve also noticed that when strangers do speak to me, I’m incredibly wary, even if they have a warm and conversational tone. For example, I happened to be walking in the same direction as another young woman for a while recently, and she started a casual conversation. And I was super taken aback and dismissive, because I wondered what her ulterior motive was. I just don’t trust *any* strangers.

I’m cautious around basically every single man that I pass on the street. It’s absolutely exhausting, and takes up so much mental space that I can’t enjoy the new community that I’m part of now. I want to have a healthier perspective and understand that the world is not completely safe but also not completely unsafe. I’d really like to be able to smile at strangers on the street without feeling like I have now endangered myself. How do I “tune down” the “stranger danger” signal in my brain to the point that I can be more at peace out in the world and open to connecting with strangers, but also still aware of the potential dangers?

Is this a common struggle for people, especially those adjusting to city living for the first time, or am I just overdramatic?
posted by cruel summer to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It is very common and normal to feel heightened, visceral vulnerability when the background density of your landscape changes. It can happen from a change in either direction: when I was in my 20s and moved from NYC to a far less populated town, I felt actual terror walking in the open empty streets. I only felt safe surrounded by people on streets that had high population density until I got used to the feel of the new more open, quiet place. But my friend who had grown up in the empty-feeling city felt safer in that environment and more afraid in the denser city. So there is that. Or moving from a house to an apartment building or vice versa -- don't minimize the very real sense of visceral vulnerability that comes from a change on this level.
In addition: the absolute best tool for me as a young woman was reading the book The Gift of Fear. This book helped me understand how to be afraid -- that is, when to listen to my inner signals and how to heed them rather than walking around in a constant state of anxiety.
Hope it helps to know this is a common experience and very understandable as you adjust to your new place.
posted by nantucket at 9:16 PM on June 14, 2022 [16 favorites]

Best answer: I lived in Cambridge near Central Square many years ago, after growing up in the suburbs. I too felt uncertain and nervous about being in the city. Frankly, what helped me get used to it was going out into the city. I rode my bike to work, went for runs along the Esplanade, and walked to Harvard square to shop for books.

The more time you spend in the streets safely, the more safe you will feel.

Maybe you can find some friends to go walking with? Set yourself a challenge to walk as many different streets as you can.
posted by suelac at 9:22 PM on June 14, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think you're being overdramatic, but I do think you might be struggling with an anxiety disorder. Fear of people lurking in your house or friendly women your own age making small talk sounds like more than just adjustment to a city environment (which is a legitimate challenge) to me. Have you ever been diagnosed?

In the meantime, I would suggest trying to get involved with the community. Like, volunteer to help serve food to the homeless with St. Peter's (the big Episcopal church on Mass Ave.) on the weekend (I don't think they care about your own faith, though they will probably invite you to worship). Or do Meetups, but try to find one that meets in Central. The point is, it will help you stop feeling so isolated in place.
posted by praemunire at 9:38 PM on June 14, 2022 [12 favorites]

I think familiarity almost inevitably makes any situation feel safer over time. I had a bird survey job for a few summers that required me to walk into the forest alone before dawn every day. The first year, I often found myself a little nervous, imagining dangerous people or cougars or whatever lurking in the dark. I know other people I worked with got creeped out sometimes too. And then partway through the second summer I noticed I was just walking along in the dark casually thinking random thoughts and not paying much attention to my surroundings. It all felt as routine and ordinary as a regular commute to work in a car. I didn't deliberately do anything to change my thinking about the situation. I just got used to it. I expect you'll get used to walking around Cambridge too.
posted by Redstart at 9:40 PM on June 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Consider taking a self-defense class! It can be very empowering.
posted by Threeve at 9:40 PM on June 14, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: One thing you can do to feel more secure is getting to know the people in your neighborhood. Know the people behind the register at your corner store, you local barista, the super at the next door building, and your actual neighbors will help build your sense of community and help you feel less anonymous.

And since you specifically mention being afraid of people experiencing homelessness, I want to encourage you to think about finding an opportunity to volunteer at a shelter, soup kitchen, food bank. Truly, most people experiencing homelessness are just people. They have jobs, they have families, they mostly lack the personal safety nets the rest of us take for granted.
posted by brookeb at 10:10 PM on June 14, 2022 [12 favorites]

I agree that familiarity is helpful.

I live in Oakland, and for most of that time we didn't have a car and I got around on foot, bus, or bike. I am very comfortable doing those things in a city, and then we bought a teeny vacation house when the pandemic started. It's in a small town in a rural area, down a wooded driveway. I have the heebie jeebies at night there- less so than at first, but I am in no way as comfortable there as I am in the middle of Oakland. In Oakland, I know my neighbors, I know the vibe. In the rural town, we have one good neighbor across the street, and if we happen to see or talk to them I feel better for a night or two. I'm an introvert but too much complete isolation really amps up my anxieties. So my suggestion is pretty much the same as many above- try to get to know some people, even just to wave to.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:23 PM on June 14, 2022 [3 favorites]

I live in South Africa, so your mileage may differ. (I'm also female, and I have severe anxiety )
Also, content warning of discussion of violent crime.
I find that when I move into a new neighbourhood, it takes quite a while for my internal alarm system to match the new reality of where I am.
Just the fact of being in an unfamiliar area, where I haven't worked out my usual walking routes yet, is stressful, and adding on top of that the constant "is this safe?" awareness can be tough.
My experience is that it helps to work out a set of rules ahead of time for myself that's open to being adjusted, but pretty firm.
Erring on the side of caution but not to the extent that I'm trapping myself in the house.
In my case, I have to deal with some objectively real dangers, as well as a general neighbourhood culture that exaggerates this danger.
For example, the nearby beach I used to walk on really is dangerous. Even groups of 5 or 6 people with dogs have been attacked by men with knives. This happens regularly and I know this by first hand accounts, not just vague rumours.
Also, when the informal settlement down the road is experiencing upheaval, things can get a bit hairy. I've had gunfire a block away from where I'm walking, or a bus being fire bombed close enough that I heard the tires exploding.
But the thing is, most of the time things are safe.
It's too exhausting to be constantly on red alert and evaluating threats in real time.
So I have my rules.
For example, I'm allow myself to be wary of men (or anyone, really) and cross the street or do whatever it takes for me to feel safe. Even if they might be offended. It's not my job to care about their possible feelings.
I don't go out alone at twilight or after dark, or at dawn.
I find routes that are not isolated, or constricted (no easy get away route)

So my situation is different, as I'm dealing with real danger, but my point is that over time, as I get used to my new neighbourhood, even with real danger, acknowledging my fear, and putting in place some limits, helps me feel safe. As I get more familiar with things, I re evaluate my rules.

Long story short, it's going to take time for you to find your balance and that's fine. It's OK to be careful, you can re evaluate things over time. Be kind to yourself, by pushing just a little bit past your comfort zone where it feels rational to do so, but don't overwhelm your internal alarm system by trying to ignore it all at once.
posted by Zumbador at 10:27 PM on June 14, 2022 [11 favorites]

Highly recommend Impact Boston for full-force self-defense and situational awareness training.
posted by dum spiro spero at 10:40 PM on June 14, 2022

N’thing a self-defense class—it doesn’t have to be much. I live in a metro area and signed up for a one-hour course through work; I was skeptical of what I’d actually get out of it because I consider myself to have above-average situational awareness (probably to a fault, due to anxiety and a life-long interest in true crime crap) and at the same feeling ultimately helpless as a petite female. BUT I was pleasantly surprised to come away having learned a few more physical approaches (posturing to defuse a situation, disarming someone if they don’t back off, what and how to yell to get the attention of bystanders, etc.) I went in assuming it would be a lot of “No shit” stuff but really did come out feeling more confident in my ability to handle a bad situation (whether I actually COULD is of course up for debate, but I feel like that confidence is valuable).
posted by lovableiago at 10:46 PM on June 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

I’m not sure if anecdotes are helpful, since you already understand logically that you’re mostly safe, but just in case:

I’m a young woman and I lived in Central Square for 3 years! It’s a great area. I never had a single bad or sketchy thing happen to me while I lived there, and I walked around alone late at night quite often. I feel very safe there.

One rule of thumb I’ve made for myself over the years for living in urban areas is that if I ever feel uneasy, or there’s a person approaching me who I can tell is a little weird, I avoid eye contact. 99% of the time, strangers on the street will leave you completely alone if you avoid eye contact and ignore them completely, because it’s not worth their effort to engage you.

If you’re doing anything right now that might heighten your perception of how frequently crime happens — such as listening to true crime podcasts or reading the police blotter — stop doing that. It might feel like you’re just reading the facts, but you’re actually getting a skewed view of the facts, because those sources show ONLY the violent incidents and don’t show the hundreds of thousands of uneventful trips where people got home safely.
posted by mekily at 5:01 AM on June 15, 2022 [6 favorites]

For me, familiarity is a huge part of feeling safe. Perhaps you thought you'd feel safer not long after moving in? Could you be "rushing things"?

Mostly I just chimed in to second what others have said: don't listen to or read sensationalist/alarmist news, consider taking a self-defense class, maybe volunteer at a shelter, etc.

I would also add that your assessment of your situation shows you are intelligent and have plenty of insight about yourself and other things too, which can be read as confidence, in my opinion. A self-defense class could help you build on that, or even learning another new physical skill, maybe. Best of luck to you.
posted by scratch at 6:47 AM on June 15, 2022

This raises a whole other set of concerns, but when I was a young woman in a new city, knowing that I was most likely to be a victim of violence from someone I knew vs. a stranger made me more comfortable getting out and doing things. I realize this is cold comfort. A healthier attitude might be that crime is less likely when there are lots of people about, so being in an active neighborhood is good.

If your city has crime map data available, that can also give you a reality check for whether an area is actually unsafe and in what ways and potentially at what times (violence in broad daylight vs. petty theft when folks are stumbling home from bars).
posted by momus_window at 10:23 AM on June 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I went through this when I first moved to NYC. Honestly, time and getting familiar with my surroundings is what did the trick.

That, and forgiving myself, and reminding myself that one day I was probably going to look back on this and laugh. See - I came from a small town in Connecticut which for a long time was best known for having the whole town freak completely the fuck out one night over some weird noises in the woods, to the point of posting an armed guard, and then finding out it was just some frogs fighting over territory. This has become a Thing in that part of Connecticut, and you can tell that for a while my town was a bit of a laughingstock over it - but after a while, my town decided to own it. And it makes me think about how all these early colonists were very likely on edge themselves in completely unfamiliar territory, on hyperalert defense mode because they had no idea how anything worked in this new land - but in time they were getting more familiar with all the weird noises they were hearing, and realizing that they were just stuff like birds and frogs and stuff, and in time they could laugh at how freaked out they got sometimes like "Oh man, we were so worried about that, weren't we? Aw, that was so cute."

That all reminded me that that was very likely going to happen with me too. The hyper-awareness of my surroundings would fade as I got used to things, I'd learn more about my surroundings as I got comfortable, and in time I would find things to laugh about, like "oh man, I remember when I only used one subway line no matter where I was going because it was the only one I understood." (That's seriously what I did - for a full year I would only use the 6 train even if I had to walk three miles from a station to get where I was going.)

Your hyperalertness will pass as you get used to where you are, and you can hasten that with a little more experience. I'm not saying you have to jump onto a bus right now and go everywhere to force yourself to become accustomed to things; more like, pick what your "turf" is, and get used to it. Find where the nearest stuff is to you and make a point of going there a lot. Develop a habit of always being at this coffee shop or that library, and get to the point where that's comfortable territory for you. Then...gradually start to expand things, maybe see what's two blocks beyond your territory. Get familiar with that. And then expand things another couple blocks. And so on.

Time will do a lot of this, but familiarizing yourself with a defined territory and then gradually expanding that will help.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:37 AM on June 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'd like to respectfully disagree with the first answer, and suggest that you avoid reading The Gift of Fear, since that book's main thesis appears to be "trust your intuition" and OP, your intuition seems to be currently overly paranoid (as you realize). Plus, as others have pointed out, "trust your intuition" might be good in some situations, but it's also how we get the murders of unarmed POC/poor people/people in mental health crisis by police.

I think your hunch that a lot of this is programming your parents instilled in you is correct. I grew up in Baltimore, a city known for its crime, whereas my partner grew up in a small city with less crime. I have directly experienced more urban crime than he has, yet I have far less fear of crime than he does. A lot of this I think has to do with the fact that my parents raised me to believe that most people of all backgrounds are fundamentally decent, at least to the degree that they don't seek to harm others. Despite being stalked, robbed, pick-pocketed, etc. I still believe this, strongly.

Which is to say, operating with the assumption that most people are decent doesn't mean ignoring signs. But it does mean giving people the benefit of the doubt. Every time I've either been the victim of a crime or when someone attempted to make me a victim, there were warning signs - sure, sometimes things do happen suddenly, but most criminal don't want to get caught, which means they are rationally looking for a good mark (being on drugs can make people not act rationally, of course).

Some tips/facts to remind yourself of:

-Most people really are decent and do not wish to harm people.

-If you notice someone is stalking you, remember that because most people are decent, most people will want to help you. Enter the nearest store, and tell the owner "Hey, there is a man following me, is it okay if I stay here for a little bit." The store owner will almost certainly say yes, and they will likely look out for you.

-Avoid desolate streets/alleys where if you do get into trouble, you'll be alone, with no people around to help you.

-If you ever find yourself being stalked and you are totally alone, act like you are having a mental health crisis. Yell, scream jibberish, flail your arms - essentially, make it clear you are not going to be an easy mark. I know many women who have successfully used this tactic.

-Because home robbers are generally rational and don't want to get caught, if they plan to break into your apartment, they will track your schedule and do so when you're gone. The crime of breaking and entry become much much more serious when its armed entry, and even worse if the robber ends of discharging their weapon. (Obviously, there are cases to the contrary, but as someone whose childhood home was robbed a couple of times, I am comforted by the fact that home robbers are also afraid of me!)

Finally, I agree with those suggesting a self-defense class, walking tours with friends, and volunteering with homeless people. Again, let your mantra be "most people are decent and do not want to harm me" and get out into the world, with whatever baby steps feel comfortable, and gradually you will see that most people really don't want to hurt you.
posted by coffeecat at 11:39 AM on June 15, 2022 [6 favorites]

Just in case someone wants to know about The Gift of Fear: it's not just about trusting your intuition in a general way. It's about how to pay attention to actual signs of aggression and respond to them without second guessing yourself (ie, asking for help, yelling, turning to look at the aggressive person etc) in a way that does not require you to just walk around mistrusting everyone who "might" be dangerous.
posted by nantucket at 12:00 PM on June 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: maybe it will help to know that this is literally one of the safest places in the US that you can live?
I don't know where you moved from, but it's extremely likely that you had a greater chance of being a crime victim there than in Cambridge.
(I think calibrating one's anxiety/precaution with factual risk level IS a common struggle - risk assessment is legitimately hard, and we're all susceptible to things like recency bias and media narratives.)
posted by anotherthink at 1:21 PM on June 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I cannot nth coffeecat's advice enough*. Most people are decent and do not want to harm others. It is a powerful meditation to encounter people on the street and try to trust that they are doing their best, to see them as people first, before letting fear tell you that they might be threats. I imagine it is just what you might wish for them to do for you.

There will be people who wish us ill, or who are so wrapped up in their own shit that they hurt others trying to meet their own needs. For the hopefully-rare circumstances when we meet them, self-defense training is a great tool! (And other practical/logistical tools, e..g. budgeting to take rideshares home if you find yourself out late.) But since there's no way to control whether we meet those people or the great masses who are just being decent, it can be really, really liberating to assume humanity first before people have done anything to suggest they want to hurt us.

*ALL of what coffeecat said. Walking like I own the world, looking all around and singing/talking to myself has been a strategy of mine for years - I can't know whether it's actually caused people to avoid me, but it helps ME stay aware, feel powerful with my own agency, and be ready to make noise if I need to.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 2:44 PM on June 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Get involved in your community in whatever way makes sense for you - this will make it feel less like a place of menacing strangers.

This could mean volunteering with a local organization, forcing yourself to chat with neighbors who seem approachable, getting a plot at a nearby community garden, going to a local church/place of worship, making yourself a regular at a few different businesses and making conversation with the staff/proprietors. Personally, I go to my local dog park every day and also am an admin for the local neighborhood community Facebook group. I've also made friends with a few of my neighbors. This makes me feel like my neighborhood has a lot of people I know and who know me, and I feel like I have a pretty deep understanding of the neighborhood.

I think also it can help with these fears to build some confidence in your own abilities to navigate both regular urban interactions and the incidents you're afraid of. ie, developing a sense for who is safe and who is dangerous, having a plan for what you would do if you were mugged or assaulted, maybe even taking a self-defense course. Sometimes parents who raise their kids with a lot of fear are also the parents who don't help their kids build their confidence and skills to deal with scary situations, and if that's the case for you, then doing some of that skill- and confidence-building for yourself might be really helpful.
posted by lunasol at 3:22 PM on June 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The newness of your surroundings and walking alone is not a good combination for you, right now. Grow familiar with your neighborhood through group walking tours. (Later, organize a meet-up around a DIY walking tour or game.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:40 PM on June 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

It seems to me that if you have an unbridgeable gap between what you know about your reality and what you feel about your reality, especially if this is taking up so much mental space as to be exhausting and reduce your enjoyment of regular daily life, you have a really good reason for going into therapy - and a very high likelihood of freeing up a lot of mental/emotional energy and regaining the confidence to enjoy your daily life.

Your description of the origins of this disconnect makes it seem like this would be especially amenable to CBT (which is meant to help us deal with beliefs that are sufficiently disconnected from our realities as to impair our enjoyment of daily life), but almost any situation where you would get to examine your feelings in the safety of a skilled therapist's office would be helpful.
posted by Shunra at 3:46 PM on June 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A couple of thoughts on how you could reframe this for yourself:

  • (Perhaps think of this the way someone in public health might) Instead of focusing on X crime has happened in this area and was reported in the news and concluding you are equally at risk - reframe that to what is that event per 100,000 people? (Not to reduce the risk to zero necessarily or dismiss anyone who does experience crime X, but if you life in a place with 500000 people and 1 incidence of X is reported per year - your actual likelihood of experiencing crime X is in actuality low
  • There is a very common cognitive bias known as attributional bias (i.e., so if you are cut off in traffic you might conclude it is because the other driver is a jerk or Y (insult or bad intent) while if you do it... no judgment incurred or virtuous reason). So in the example you provide, when you have of people talking to you on the street and you find yourself considering ulterior motives, do an exercise to come up with reasons why they might do so (and/or think of your mother or your friend or someone who would speak with people on the street - why would they do it) and don't stop until you have a couple that don't assume the bad intent. IME in big cities, people often have a group discussion among strangers about the rain or whatever is happening in front of them.

    Ways to try to deal with this:
  • Nthing volunteering + a lot of the other great suggestions above
  • See if you can meet a person or people who are very excited about (walking/hiking/biking/doing activity X in the city) - it often helps see the world as a place to explore vs be vigilant about and having another person with you might get you to be less anxious (As an anxious person, this has helped me at different times in my life - YMMV)

    Good luck, you can do this.

  • posted by Wolfster at 3:52 PM on June 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

    Best answer: There's some great advice here. I have often felt on edge when I first move in to a new living situation, and found that the feeling goes away once I'm familiar with my surroundings and establish a routine. It's a good idea to always plan things with your own personal comfort and safety in mind, and there's plenty of great things to do within that framework.

    One thing I feel compelled to add to the discussion is that it's okay to put your own personal comfort and safety first, without apology. Women are often reared to be accommodating and polite and put others' needs before their own best interests, and I encourage you to put your own welfare first and not worry about hurting someone's feelings by saying no and keeping your distance.

    If you want to do a new activity, do a lot of research about it and gather information so you can make an informed and comfortable decision; each time you do that it will build your confidence and willingness to try new activities and enjoy them.
    posted by effluvia at 5:30 PM on June 15, 2022 [3 favorites]

    Best answer: I want to just validate one thing here: I too lived in Central Square recently and there are, in fact, a fair number of homeless folks and folks using drugs in the area. The police often clear them out of Harvard Square and kick them back down into Central, where the needle exchange is (or they did a few years ago anyway). I think it's further gentrified since I lived there, but even so, if you aren't used to dealing with that, I can see why you would find that aspect genuinely scary. However, I agree with everyone else that this isn't actual danger (and you seem to know this) - I just want to validate that this MAY be a big change socially from what you are used to. But not something insuperable!

    When I lived there, I volunteered with the day shelter at First Church Cambridge (The Friday Cafe). I really valued that place because instead of the focus being on serving food to others, it feels like a real community space in which volunteers have a cup of coffee and chat with the unhoused folks who come in, giving you a chance to get to know them. I highly recommend it.
    posted by branca at 7:14 PM on June 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: Returning to add a couple of scripts that I have practiced that made my life easier in this regard:

    - If someone is asking me directly for money, looking at them with a calm, open face and saying, “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you today.” And continuing to walk. Some people will cuss you out, but this feels much more safe to me than ignoring someone who is asking for my attention and failing to get it. It’s also the truth - I don’t tend to carry cash, but “I’m sorry, but I don’t carry cash” feels like a cop-out. I live in a city with a heartbreaking number of people struggling with homelessness, and it hurts. As other people have mentioned, volunteering and/or donating to orgs that do good work with your homeless neighbors can also be empowering.
    - If someone is staring at me/following me *and there are other people around*, I stop moving. I step off the sidewalk and wait. I don’t necessarily make eye contact, but I look up and around, and assert with my body that I’m not fucking afraid of their petty little power games. Many asshole-behaving human beings will be deflated by this point. If they approach me, I say, loudly, “STOP. Stop following me.” Loud enough that other people hear: the prelude to Making A Fucking Scene. (Note: I’ve only read the most minimal self-defense stuff, so this is amateur advice!)
    - Without forcing myself to ”look friendly” when I’m not in the mood or engage with assholes who do street-harrasing shit, sharing smiles with strangers is one of the great joys of my life. Start by smiling at dogs, babies, nice plants, whatever non-other-adult-human features of your neighborhood bring you joy. The people around those dogs and babies, etc. will see you and register these small moments of connection you are practicing. Eventually, lift your gaze and look, gently, at the people who around you. Imagine where they’re going, what they’re doing, what makes them happy. Sometimes, you will see people that make you smile - people who themselves are smiling, people with flowers, people wearing amazing clothes. Without forcing eye contact, let yourself smile. As long as you’re not leering or forcing eye contact, it’s unlikely to be taken as aggressive. Some people will smile back! (Source: me in major American cities, including NYC, San Francisco, Atlanta, and LA.)
    posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 7:46 PM on June 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

    I feel like there are some drugs that make people more edgy and unpredictable than others (like meth). If there are a lot of people in that situation in a critical mass, and they’re stressed, I mean yes it is possible that one person might do something erratic. And yes, as a young woman, you’re a possible target.

    I’m going to suggest not making eye contact at all. Maintain situational awareness. If you see or feel someone’s energy, and they’re aggro, give them a wide berth, even change seats or get off a bus or train if you think they’re capable of assault.

    Volunteering sounds like a good idea, will give you more of a sense of agency. But GTFO if someone is focusing on you inappropriately or you think they might want to take a swing at you, or if they’re trying to intimidate you into giving them what they feel entitled to. If someone is accosting you, yell for help, let people know you need it.

    (I live in a highly challenged and challenging area.)
    posted by cotton dress sock at 11:25 PM on June 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

    Dammit sorry I posted that by accident in the wrong thread!
    posted by Zumbador at 8:16 AM on June 16, 2022

    Just wanted to describe in another way the "get familiar with your environment" comments -- I think of this as getting to know the "flavor" of your neighborhood. As you get used to going out and about within the blocks closest to your home, you will start to get a sense of what behavior is normal, slightly weird but normal/not dangerous, and what is truly off-brand and possibly worth avoiding. Each town/city has its own "atmosphere" of how people act, and you will get used to Cambridge! It's a wonderful area with lots of people going through the exact same feelings you are! Hang in there.
    posted by eunique at 8:03 PM on June 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

    I ve never loved walking back alone in the dark. Some things that helped me a bit... ditching high shoes early. Quiet shoes that don't restrict my movement.

    Getting pockets sewn on my clothes to fit all i need, so no handbag. Ofcourse it shouldn't be up to a woman to change her clothes but it s one thing i can do practically to help me feel safer.
    Sometimes tying my hair up and carrying a big umbrella with a point.

    Attackers are less likely to strike if you have anything that could be used as a weapon.
    Always have a phone shitter than the muggers.
    posted by tanktop at 9:53 AM on June 17, 2022

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