It might be the most wonderful time of the year, but if you're not careful, it could be the most dangerous, too.
Experts say as soon as you let your guard down in public, you could become a target for a violent attack. Whether you're taking a stroll through your neighborhood or walking through the parking lot after doing your holiday shopping, remember to stay alert.
Digging through a purse, talking on the phone or just looking insecure can lead to a dangerous situation. So while you are hitting the stores this holiday season, be wary of strangers and exude confidence.
Local martial arts instructor Rick McElroy said people can sense if you are confident or unsure of yourself just by watching you.
"What you feel and are thinking is portrayed on the outside of your body," he said. "If you come to work and you're in a bad mood, you don't have to tell them you're in a bad mood. They know you're in a bad mood."
McElroy, who has taught martial arts for 38 years, said the best weapon against assaults is your brain. He teaches his students to think fast. For example, if you're walking down the street and you're concerned about the man walking toward you, think of something that will deter him from hurting you. Before anything even happens, tell him you were just robbed and the cops are on the way. That way if he really was going to attack you, he won't if he thinks the police will be there in a minute.
Beaufort County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh said to follow common-sense guidelines, such as shopping during the day or parking in well-lit areas at night. Take a friend with you shopping and have your car key ready before you get to the car. She said if you are approached by someone demanding your wallet, purse or other items, assume the person is armed even if you don't see a weapon.
"Nothing you have is more valuable than your life," McIntosh said.
If you are attacked, McElroy said to raise your voice and sternly tell the attacker to let go of you. That won't work in all scenarios, though. McElroy suggests using a pen, a credit card or almost any other object within reach to stab an attacker in the eye, throat or chest. He does not, however, suggest relying on pepper spray to save you.
"You're not going to get that pepper spray out in time," he said.
In addition to using nearby objects to defend yourself, McElroy said to use your body parts as weapons. Your hands, elbows, head and knees can all do some serious damage if used in a fight. He said to go for the eyes and throat first. If the attacker is standing, kick him in the knee.
McElroy said basic everyday movements, such as knocking on a door, can be used as self-defense techniques. If you knock very hard on the top of someone's hand, McElroy said it will hurt the person enough that he will let go of you. He said if you know how to brush your teeth, you can do an elbow strike. Just use the same arm motion to knock someone down.
He said to look the aggressor directly in the eyes. But he warned never to look at the body part you are going to strike because it will give away your next move.