42-15530351Paul Ford and I have something in common. We both suffer from extreme anxiety. Some time ago though, Paul decided to tackle his anxiety — in a very unconventional way.

Paul created a website called Anxiety Box that would send him multiple emails during the day, telling Paul everything that’s wrong with him.

Say what?!

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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One of my methods to keep my anxiety at bay is that I try to read the Daily Mass Readings every night before I go to sleep. I ran across this Psalm that really stuck with me. I must’ve had an anxious mind that night. Hmmm. Imagine that!

I hope it brings you relief from anxiety too!

 

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Happy Sunday!
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Photo credit: Freepik

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image.pngThis part of my anxiety story picks up where I left off last week. I graduated high school and chose to attend a nearby small university. I knew there was no way I could have survived the transition to a large state university. Here I was able to room with a friend from high school, and I was just a short drive from home, so I could go home every weekend. At this time, anxiety was only treated with medication, and I was on Prozac and Buspar.

What worked for me during my freshman year of college was finding my thing. It’s still my biggest piece of advice for all high school graduates. Find your thing. This makes finding friends easier, and friends are what get you through life. I was introduced to the university newspaper and became the copyeditor. The newspaper office became a second home and my extended family. I was very fortunate. Many young people suffering with anxiety either don’t make it to college or leave after the first semester.

As long as I was on medication and life was smooth, I was fine. I would do well for nine months or so, which led me to believe I didn’t need the medication anymore. I’d taper off and feel fine as long as I didn’t have any crazy stress. Well, guess what. Life is full of crazy stress! My panic attacks returned whenever I encountered extended periods of stress. So I would return to the medication, most of the time just to Buspar.

During my sophomore year, I found a women’s anxiety support group run by the Psychology Department. I finally felt like I wasn’t alone. In my junior year, I sought the help of a counselor available at the university. That’s one of the great things about being a college student. You have access to resources at little or no cost! I also started digesting books on anxiety and panic attacks. I was determined to get a handle on it. Like I said before, it would work…for a while.

In the period of 18 months, I met my husband, graduated college, took a full-time job, got married, and had a baby. Thus began another roller coaster of anxiety ups and downs. There were major stresses of being a newly married couple with an infant, a three-hour round-trip commute, and a demanding job at a brokerage firm. It should be no surprise I started having chest pains and panic attacks. I also had trouble eating and sleeping again.

55DDB336-366E-419D-AD6F-C1DE55C9BA83.pngI found a very good physician and started a different anti-depressant. I would go on medication for about a year or so, feel better, and get off, only to end up back in the doctor’s office about a year later with panic attacks again. She would prescribe various anti-depressants: Wellbutrin, Effexor, and Serzone. She also insisted I see a psychologist. In the good stretches during those eight years, I went back to school for my MBA, gave birth to two more children, and changed jobs twice.

A couple years after my youngest was born, the panic attacks returned. So again, I turned to my doctor. It was at this visit, she took a look at my chart and called my attention to the pattern. She helped me come to terms that it was ok that I needed medication and that I’m just wired this way. She encouraged me to try a new antidepressant, Lexapro. This time, I stayed on the medication, even when I felt better.

I felt better for a couple years until my thyroid function declined, and the panic returned. I switched to a doctor closer to my work, who added thyroid medication and switched me from Lexapro to Paxil. For the next three years after that, I began weekly therapy sessions with a social worker and eventually added a psychiatrist to my team to manage my medications.

So here I was, 20 years after my first panic attack, crippled by anxiety yet again. I was working with an interest, a psychiatrist, a counselor, along with my supportive family and friends to address the anxiety that had plagued me all my life. But a storm was brewing.

Last fall, I had a breakdown. My stress levels were off the charts. In addition to the panic attacks, I was crying uncontrollably.  My psychiatrist added Abilify to see if that would boost the effectiveness of the Paxil. I had a checkup with my doctor, which revealed elevated cholesterol and blood pressure. The consensus was that I needed to leave my job immediately.

Leaving my job was extremely hard. To me, I thought I was a failure. I felt helpless and powerless and utterly out of control of my life. These last several months have been very hard, but I’m beginning to see my “breakdown” as a “breakthrough.” Had I not had all the loving people in my life to support me through this time, I don’t know how or if I would’ve made it.

Again, I’m linking up with Pour Your Heart Out. If you’ve found me, thanks for stopping by. If you’re one of my regular followers, checkk out other bloggers pouring their hearts out and show them some love.

Next week, I’ll share some of what I’ve learned about combating anxiety and panic attacks. Until then, hugs!

 

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Techie-Tuesday-GraphicI have a love affair with notebooks. I treasure opening up a new notebook, with its crisp, bright pages, ready to capture my thoughts I’m brave enough to put on paper. Aaahhhh.

The problem is I seem to lose interest in those notebooks once the newness is gone. Then I’m on to the next one. I stash the old notebook under the bed, in the side table drawer, wherever. Ultimately those thoughts are lost. I wish I had one place to store my thoughts, that would be accessible to me anywhere, anytime.

There is! To keep all my thoughts, ideas, interesting articles, I use the super-tool Evernote.

Evernote is not only available as a web app, but it can also be downloaded to your desktop and any device. I use it on my laptop and iPad Mini mostly. The data syncs across all platforms, so it’s accessible everywhere you go with an internet connection. I can start a blog post on my iPad Mini while waiting in carpool and continue it later when I’m home on my laptop.

Because Evernote organizes data in “notebooks,” I like to think of it as every notebook I could possibly want. Then each notebook has “notes,” which can be a simple typed note, a picture, or even a PDF document. There are so many uses for Evernote, and getting started is as simple as creating a free account. You can watch the tutorials on getting started here.

My favorite feature is the Web Clipper. This is an add-in to your internet browser that will capture a webpage and upload it to your Evernote account.

 Web Clipper

Here’s a quick tutorial of saving a page to your Evernote account. First click the Evernote icon on the browser toolbar at the top. Then choose the format to save. I chose the Simplified Article because it saves the article without all the ads. Next choose which notebook you’d like to save it to. In this case, I saved the post to my Productivity notebook, and I tagged it as Facebook to enable an easier search later. You can highlight passages on the webpage before you save it as well. When I was finished, I clicked the Save button, it sent it to my Evernote account, filed under Productivity.

Admittedly, I haven’t used Evernote to its full extent, but I’m finding more ways to use it everyday. Right now, I’m in the process of digging out my old notebooks and scanning pages to save in Evernote.

Are you an Evernote user? Post your tips in the comments!

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Starting-LineI’ve dubbed myself Queen of Procrastination. I wait until the last minute to do just about everything. Little did I know curing my procrastination comes down to two simple words: Just Start.

Starting is hard, really hard. But once you’ve started, according to science, it is likely that you will continue until you finish. This is what’s known as the Zeigarnik Effect.

Take my pile of laundry, for instance. If I just spend just a couple minutes folding clothes, the Zeigarnik Effect says my brain will keep pestering me until I’ve completed folding all the clothes, even if I’m interrupted.

The best part is that starting anywhere on a project ignites the feeling.

So start on something today and let me know if you feel the effect. As for me, I’ve got a large pile of laundry calling my name.

Photo credit: Eran Becker

 

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