Paul created a website called Anxiety Box that would send him multiple emails during the day, telling Paul everything that’s wrong with him.
The “voice” of the emails is his anxiety.
In an interview on the podcast Reply All, Paul explained how Anxiety Box worked:
So like let’s imagine that I’m standing on the train and I’m about to go down into the train platform, and like, and I look at my phone and I have an e-mail and it’s the fifth email I’ve received that day and it’s from my anxiety. Here’s an email from June 2nd, in the afternoon. Here’s the subject. “History will forget you because history forgets people who are unable to finish anything.”
“Dear Paul, everyone’s really curious to see if you can finish your book. Is there anything you can do to keep this from being a total disaster? I don’t want to doubt you but inform me. Are you just going to screw this up? I mean the thing that matters is are you actually ready? Sincerely, Your anxiety.
The idea of giving anxiety a “voice” intrigues me.
When I listened to the interview, my initial reaction was, “Why would this guy want to torture himself more? Anxiety is torture enough.” At this point, I was convinced Paul was a nut, but by the end of the podcast, I realized he was a genius!
The main problem with anxiety is that it is in your head. It’s this insidious internal voice that undermines every positive emotion. Over time, the thoughts become automatic. It’s like you’re in your car and stuck in a mud rut. You press on the gas to try to dislodge the tire, but there is only tire spinning, creating a deeper rut and making no headway in getting unstuck.
Eventually, the anxiety voice and the regular internal voice are hard to distinguish from each other.
Paul’s Anxiety Box was his way of externalizing his anxiety voice. Once these thoughts were externalized, he could examine them and ultimately talk back to them.
How many times have I wanted to tell the anxious thoughts to just go away!
Although Paul’s Anxiety Box website is defunct, it teaches a very important step in battling anxiety: it is essential that we become aware of our anxious thoughts. We must learn to distinguish the anxious voice from rest of our internal dialog. Once the anxious voice can be isolated, it loses some of its power because we identify and classify it.
It’s like getting out of the car that’s stuck in the mud to get a good look at the situation so we can devise a solution.
We can begin to say, “That’s my anxiety talking, and it likes to lie. Let me take the time to closely examine this thought and see if there is any truth to it. And if there is, I can begin to think about the real problem and how to solve it.”
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