Post-Robbery Anxiety
April 13, 2009 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Robbed on the street in daylight - didn't get hurt, didn't lose much, but I'm worried about the anxiety and stress of the aftermath.

Okay, so I was robbed walking home tonight - relatively populated area, well lit, middle of the day. It was the first time this, or really anything like it, has ever happened to me. A young kid made off with my wallet and cell phone by pretending (probably) to have a gun - I didn't want to take any chances. I didn't get hurt, the guy never came closer than three feet away. The financial loss is not huge (minimal cash, shut off the cards, have to go through the trouble and inconvenience of replacing ID, etc). No real advice needed there.

Here's the thing: I'm already a person who's anxious, from time to time, about my personal safety and plagued by constant "what ifs" if something went badly. I'm concerned I may come out of this experience more fearful / anxious on the street, less willing to stay out and do the things I enjoy, irrationally apprehensive around young men, fearful of living in an urban area, impulsively racist (the kid happened to have been black), etc. A key part of being able to resolve my anxiety, stress and loneliness has been staying out late with friends, doing what I like to do, etc. As a pacifist, I'm also concerned that these tendencies really hinder my long-term personal / spiritual goals.

Recommendations about how to cope with this short and long term are much appreciated. I'm an early-20s white male, if it matters.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I got held up at gunpoint by two guys on St. Patrick's Day at about 10PM and now, almost a month later, and I am jumpy as hell, still. I was naturally a very laid back person, very easy going, and had no problem living in the ghetto, walking around happy as a clam, in the middle of the night. That is completely gone. I am feeling safer now, but for the first two or three weeks I jumped at EVERYTHING. Someone slammed the door? Jumped. I thought someone was standing at my corner too long? I circled the block until they left. I didn't leave the house for about three days afterwards. It sucks. It really, really, really sucks. But in the short term, I've gone out of my way to try and be as helpful as possible to people and smiling and saying hi to strangers. Sounds lame, and I didn't really want to, most of the time, but it really has helped, honestly.
posted by banannafish at 8:24 PM on April 13, 2009

Almost the same event that you describe happened to me.

Here are a couple points of advice:

1. Don't give in to your anxiety by giving up what you like doing (staying out late, hanging out in the city, etc.) Acknowledge that there are risks to life and sometimes this stuff happens to people.

2. A friend of mine who got mugged in almost the same way started going to therapy for this and his generalized fear of death. He said it helped. Sorry, I don't have more information, but consider therapy.

3. There is no easy way to deal with it. Once I got mugged, I lost a little bit of innocence and that whole "it only happens to other people" idealism. Now to help deal, I trade my story with friends who've also gotten jumped. I try to say hi to people on the street. I stare people in the eyes when I pass them by. I try to never walk around drunk. All these things sort of help, but you have to let time run its course, basically.

3. Walk smart. Don't wear headphones, don't wear your hood up or a hat, ride a bike if possible. Also: try to minimize loss. I carry one credit card and my id in my wallet, and never more than 20 bucks.

One last thing: try to stay positive. At least you're not dead. When I got mugged, I had no cash in my wallet. They ended up throwing the wallet back and keeping my cell phone. Thanks?
posted by hpliferaft at 8:31 PM on April 13, 2009

I was mugged in similar circumstances, and I actually don't think it affected me emotionally at all for the long term. I never really felt like I was in danger during the mugging, so I wasn't traumatized. I kept waiting for the inevitable emotional shit-storm to hit, and it never did. I felt kind of weird about that at the time: everyone was really sympathetic and concerned, and I felt like I should be much more freaked out than I was.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I wouldn't assume that you'll have a bad reaction until you actually start having it. You might have it, and that's perfectly reasonable. I'm sure people here will have advice about how to deal with it if you do have a bad reaction. But don't start freaking out about your long-term personal and spiritual goals until you have some reason to freak out. If you're naturally an anxious person, there's no reason to make yourself anxious about the effects of anxiety that you're not yet experiencing.
posted by craichead at 8:34 PM on April 13, 2009

You handled it perfectly. You didn't put yourself at risk, you didn't make any rash moves and you dealt with the aftermath properly too, nixing your cards. Heck I bet you filed a police report too.

You are up to the challenge that mugger gave you, and can be sane and responsible in a crisis. Heck, you're even getting on top of potential anxiety before you start freaking out too much. Keep that in mind, that as a pacifist you perfectly handled the situation without compromising your morals. When you start feeling stressed, remind yourself that you managed it this time, so I bet in the event a mugger confronted you next time, you’d be just as level headed.
posted by Phalene at 8:39 PM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was held up in exactly that same way -- you did absolutely the right thing. Sure, the odds that he was just using his finger were probably greater, but the stakes were too high to gamble on that.

As for what you can do to counter that anxiety -- I found that what helped me a lot was actually taking a pro-active stand, by filing the police report. The fact that I didn't hem and haw and cringe and slink off, but instead ran to the police and filed a report that stated in black and white that SOME ASSHOLE TRIED TO ROB ME, DAMMIT, made a big, big psychological impact on me -- I never got my money back, but I DID reclaim a sense of control, a sense that I was at least TRYING to not let him get away with it. I was taking action, therefore I wasn't completely helpless. If you haven't filed any kind of report, do it - if only for the sense of control you will gain back.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:43 PM on April 13, 2009

Check out The Gift of Fear. It has helped me.
posted by theraflu at 8:50 PM on April 13, 2009

Wow, my link broke. Here.
posted by theraflu at 8:50 PM on April 13, 2009

Maybe instead of thinking of the anxiety, be proud of yourself for handling a difficult and scary situation with such level-headedness and aplomb. You did good!
posted by Maisie Jay at 9:01 PM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm weird. I sometimes fantasize getting robbed or general crazy shit going down and imagining how I'll handle it. My idea of daydreaming at the bank is imagining pushing over the old lady, hopping over the counter, kicking the gun out of the clueless bank robbers hand then diving through the window, and every possible variation thereof. Definite fantasies of grandeur shit here.

So when I got robbed, after the adrenaline wore off and I got home I was kind of nervous about how this was going to affect me. This was gone after a few hours though, because I basically discovered that I secretly enjoyed the exciting situation. The only negative feelings I had were basically the same ones I'd have if the guy at the lunch cart overcharged me -- I was just ticked I lost some cash. I loved having the awesome story to tell.

No idea how this could possible help somebody that's not crazy though.
posted by floam at 11:46 PM on April 13, 2009

Talk through your experience with someone you trust and know will be supportive. See a professional (or whatever flavor of therapy/medicine you're into) if that's an option for you. Watch yourself for signs of PTSD.

Do something to boost your confidence on the street. I'd suggest at least a basic self defense class. (Not sure if that works with your brand of pacifism, but perhaps it's worth having those skills just in case.)

Also, I think bananafish's idea is a good one: befriend your neighbors, watch each other's backs.
posted by anarcation at 1:46 AM on April 14, 2009

Here's what gives me comfort in these sorts of situations:

1- You handled it correctly. You didn't spaz out. Rejoice that your instincts are good when it counts.

2- Realize that you almost surely will be jumpy and sensitive for a while. Acknowledge that and prepare for it and make the connection if/when it happens. (For example, it took me 30 years to realize that I have a delayed reaction to stress. Something awful happens, I deal with it appropriately, and then two days later I have a meltdown of some kind, completely unrelated to the original stressor.) PTSD is real and happens on a continuum- it depends on your state of mind at the time and your state of mind along the way. Don't feel guilty for your feelings, just make sure you don't let them get the best of you and change you for the worse.

3- I have to work hard to do this, but it ultimately works for the best- remember that every situation is unique and not predictive of future results. Your mugging was the result of a coincidence of events- this kid wanted money and was feeling lucky and you happened to be the person walking by when he got up the nerve to perpetrate. That doesn't mean every other kid who walks by is going to be in the same situation. These are things that we just can't know- how many times have we walked past some nut who was about to do something bad, but hadn't quite worked up the nerve yet? That's a reality of life, and getting that right in your mind will pay far more dividends than being all twitchy.

4- That said, see is there is anything you can learn from the situation. Was the kid looking twitchy or furtive? Maybe you can learn to see that in other people?

5- Self defense is a good idea, if only to train your instincts for when to fight and when to acquiesce. You didn't know if the kid had a weapon- unless you're comfortable escalating the situation to the point where you *know* he's got one, it seems to me that giving in is the path of least resistance. Maybe self-defense would give you confidence to do that, maybe not. Maybe self-defense skills would have gotten you into a streetfight. Maybe you'd even win- but would it be worth it? I personally don't like fighting, even if I win, I still feel like I got my ass kicked afterwords.

6- Don't second guess. Right or wrong, what happened, happened. You can't change that. And the outcome was probably as optimal as it could have been. If you must indulge the urge to analyze, do it from the perspective of improving your reaction to future stressful situations.
posted by gjc at 3:57 AM on April 14, 2009

Check out The Gift of Fear, *and* start taking Tae Kwon Do. That's what did it for me.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:05 AM on April 14, 2009

I was mugged exactly the same way about 10 years ago. You did the right thing. Honestly, I think you should remember that you were mugged and nothing happened, nobody was hurt, you are moving on with your life-- so even if it happens again, you'll do the same thing-- comply-- and nothing will happen. In a way it should be reassuring, as weird as that may sound.
posted by miss tea at 4:24 AM on April 14, 2009

Sorry that happened to you.

1) Unless you live in a particularly rough area, chances are lightning has "struck".... and you already got your "share" of the madness. It is not impossible, but i'd guess that most people do not get mugged twice. Fight the paranoia as the streets can smell fear rather well sometimes.

2) If you already have some interest naturally, this would be a great time to study an effective Martial Art (Muay Thai, Brazilian Jui-Jitsu etc.) This should not change how you handle a mugging, but does WONDERS for confidence, even early on in your training.

3) Make sure you have some Black friends. If not, make sure you balance that out. At this point in my life, I have so many friends in every category that it would be impossible for any one incident to effect how I feel about any one group. I think this is quite healthy.

Head up, Chin up-
Good luck!
posted by StUdIoGeEk at 4:25 AM on April 14, 2009

Take a self defense class. I took a rape defense class for women, and I was surprised at the sense of perspective it gave me, even more than knowing how to get out of a chokehold.

The point in a situation like that is to get out safely. Not to protect your money, not to hurt or punish or teach a lesson to your attacker--it's to get out with your body in one piece. Before taking that course, I think I might have wanted to fight to protect my purse (being robbed is a huge pain) or hurt someone who wanted to hurt me--now my objective is just to get away.

I still don't want to be mugged. But if I am, I think I've internalized some different ways of thinking. You've already survived this situation without bodily harm, but if you can start thinking of it in terms of succeeding, perhaps you will not revisit it mentally and wish you'd done something differently. Don't dwell on whether the kid was "pretending (probably)" to have a gun--he really might have had one. You didn't act stupid and macho and get shot. You just need to retrain yourself to think that the way you reacted was correct.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:36 AM on April 14, 2009

You are suffering from a post-modern form of PTSD where you are anxious about the possibility the you might be anxious about something that's happened to you.

If it sounds ridiculous when I say that, it's because it is. You just said that you don't believe yourself to have been in any real danger and that you know that you probably won't be in the future either.

You aren't afraid, you aren't in any real danger, and you have no actual problem.

Stop worrying about whether you are worrying and just stop worrying.

Go out and have fun if that's what you want to do.
posted by swellingitchingbrain at 6:39 AM on April 14, 2009

This happened to me a few months ago. I definitely felt more anxious afterward while walking in the city or in less-good neighborhoods. I made a point of just doing it a few times; I remember walking downtown at night (to a mefi meetup!) and stepping into a store or coffee-shop every few blocks to calm down.

Now I actually feel safer than I did before the mugging: I've gained the habit of looking around me, seeing who's behind me, etc. When I moved to The Big City, everybody told me that I'd be fine but that of course I needed to stay aware of my surroundings. This was not a skill I had, and I knew it, and for this reason I was afraid. Frankly I was a little pissed off by the idea of having to consider danger at all times. Now? Thanks to the mugging, I actually do stay aware of my surroundings. Yeah, it sucks a little to be looking over my shoulder all the time, but it doesn't suck nearly as much as I thought it would have.

For me the most disturbing after-effect of the mugging was my new fear of people who looked like the mugger. (And, yes, there's race involved.) Being aware of that and consciously working to counteract it helped. And thankfully, as I've calmed down in the last month or two, my fear has also gone away.

In conclusion: yes, you may feel heightened anxiety in the coming weeks. But you should be aware that it may be temporary, and there may in fact be lasting positive effects.
posted by wyzewoman at 6:40 AM on April 14, 2009

As a pacifist, I'm also concerned that these tendencies really hinder my long-term personal / spiritual goals.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm going to take a leap here and say that you're probably Buddhist? If so (or hell, even if not), the usual way to deal with this would be meditation (duh), specifically loving-kindness (metta) meditation directed towards you and the robber. Tonglen could also be helpful. The robber has created all kinds of nasty karma for himself. If you're not buddhist or have no idea what I'm talking about, memail me.
'He insulted me,
hit me,
beat me,
robbed me'
— for those who brood on this,
hostility isn't stilled.

'He insulted me,
hit me,
beat me,
robbed me' —
for those who don't brood on this,
hostility is stilled.

Hostilities aren't stilled
through hostility,
Hostilities are stilled
through non-hostility:
this, an unending truth.

Unlike those who don't realize
that we're here on the verge
of perishing,
those who do:
their quarrels are stilled.

posted by desjardins at 7:01 AM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, don't assume you will get PTSD or that immediate "PTSD-like symptoms" (AKA anxiety, heightened startle response, bad dreams) mean that you will have it.

Seek social support-- talk about it with safe familiar people if you feel like it, if you don't feel like it DON"T TALK ABOUT IT-- this can actually make things worse if you feel out of control or unsafe or pressured.

Recognize that normal coping responses tend to be healthy and that you will be a bit more anxious than usual for a bit. Like people said, you did the right thing and should feel good about that.

Don't avoid-- like people said above. But if anxiety seems to be getting in the way of your life, do seek help.

The most healing things are human connections, particularly face to face with people you love-- so do this as much as possible.
posted by Maias at 7:09 PM on April 14, 2009

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