Harassment Anxiety Is Real. Here’s How to Deal and Stay Safe on Your Run.
According to a recent Runner’s World survey, 75 percent of women have been harassed while running. That harassment can make you feel unsafe and anxious (aka give you harassment anxiety), both while running and in everyday life.
And that’s not unreasonable: Harassment is scary stuff, and it’s normal to feel a little apprehension about your safety. In fact, fear can be a good thing, since it can tip us off to a dangerous situation, says Adam P. Stern, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
If you feel the hair on the back of your neck stand up as you cruise down a dark pathway, that’s useful. Pay attention to it. But not all fear is productive: If you’re ruled by fear, you might stop lacing up altogether—9 percent of women in our survey say that fear has led them to quit running for a while. Here’s how to tell the difference between harassment anxiety and a potentially dangerous situation, and how to not let fear rule your running.
1. Focus on the Now
Whether you’re worrying about an event before it happens, or thinking later about all the things that could have gone wrong, you’ve got to remind yourself: Obsessing over stuff that hasn’t actually happened isn’t helpful. Stern suggests dissecting your thoughts with one question: “What role is this mental process serving?” Some degree of worry can actually be helpful, Stern says. Without it, we would never arrive on time to appointments, or learn from our mistakes. But if you’re worrying about things you can’t logistically change (like who you might run into) or ruminating on scenarios that didn’t even happen, realize that these are not productive thoughts.
2. Take Control
What are you afraid of? Maybe it’s the idea of getting mugged, or the fact your run starts before the sun is up. You can’t control who else is out, or what time the sun comes up, but you can control where and when you run and how much you can see and hear. Stern says that taking charge of the variables you can control might make you feel safe enough to get out the door. Make small changes to the things you can control—like running at lunch so there’s plenty of daylight—to help you feel like you have a grip on your own safety.
3. Work For Change
Another way to take control, which doesn’t include making sacrifices in your running routine, is to become an advocate for ending rape culture. Talk to the men in your life. Call out sexism and harassment when you see it, and help women seeking justice. Working to break down this system of oppression is both a worthy endeavour and makes you feel like you’re being proactive, not reactive.
4. Get Professional Help
“As a general rule, when a problem is impacting your daily life more days than not, with great intensity to the point where it is not allowing you to achieve the kind of life you want to be living, then it may be time to seek help,” says Stern. A mental health professional, like a psychologist, will be able to help you identify the difference between productive and unproductive thoughts, and can give you specific, strategic exercises that can help you conquer your harassment anxiety.