Addressing Fear Like A Scientist In A Rational, Evidence-Based Way

anxiety cbt erp kimberley quinlan ocd

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is all about addressing fear like scientists, but not the scary white-haired kind that you’re likely picturing. You don’t need those white coats or a full-fledged scientist degree for the type of experiments we will be discussing!  You see…each time we have a thought, we have an opportunity to be a scientist who runs studies that are experience-based, rational, and evidence-based.

Every day, the human brain produces a LOT of thoughts; up to 70,000 thoughts to be exact!  Being able to identify which thoughts are distorted (or errors) and which are not is a huge part of the work that goes into managing anxiety.  The goal is to respond to these thoughts skillfully and mindfully.  This is not an easy task, as it takes ongoing courage and work, but I bet you know what I’m about to say next.  We can do hard things!

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I’ve been thinking about all of the wonderful people who are bombarded with and tortured by terrifying intrusive thoughts, unwanted emotions, sensations, and urges that lead them to believe and feel like there is something wrong with them.  Intrusive thoughts can make us believe that terror is on its way or that something bad will happen.  Therefore, people often respond to the thoughts by going into a pattern of trying to disprove these possibilities.  In doing so, to prove that there is no way that such things are possible, we start to shift our day and try to make the uncertain, certain.

This is problematic because we are not actually resolving the issues in REALITY.  Instead, we are creating a new reality where the fear is less likely to occur.  To ensure that our fear will not come true, we may avoid events, people, and places and/or mentally review all of the possible scenarios and how they might play out.  When we have mentally exhausted ourselves by coming up with all of the specific scenarios that might cause the feared outcomes, we promise ourselves that we will never put ourselves in those situations. 

How To Address Fear Like A Scientist

Addressing Fear like a scientist involves asking yourself a few very hard questions.  Take a look at these questions and do a quick review on how you are responding to your anxiety and depression.  I've included a few examples of such a scientific experiment below.

  • What hypothesis (theory) is my depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) trying to prove?
    • Ex. If I go to the party tonight, I will definitely embarrass myself and get judged by people there. I will panic when I’m there.
    • Ex. If I carry a knife around in my pocket, I am definitely going to snap and harm someone.
  • Is this hypothesis true and based in reality and reason?
    • These hypotheses cause anxiety that is not based in reality. Therefore, you should start responding to the fear of being embarrassed at the party or snapping and stabbing someone by saying something like “There is no way to predict what will happen at the party or on my walk.”
  • Can I test the evidence in a non-biased way?
    • This is where Exposure and Response Prevention comes into play!  Scientific experiments are at the heart of exposure therapy and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).  We test the hypothesis in a non-biased way without swaying the outcome in any direction.  When testing these hypotheses, we cannot just test them in our brains.  We actually have to go out into the world and test the hypotheses out there.
  • Can I look at it from every angle without running away from fear? Or trying to solve it? Or steer the outcomes?
    • This is the time to look fear in the face. Do not avoid the party or walking around with the knife, but instead expose yourself to uncertainty and test the hypothesis.
  • Can I sit with the results of the experiment?
    • Here is where acceptance and the willingness to be anxious comes into play. Exposing yourself to uncertainty and facing fear head on may increase anxiety, but the willingness to sit with the anxiety shows us that we are able to tolerate it. Maybe you do go to the party and do something embarrassing.  You could possibly be judged, but we don’t really have a true way to measure that.  Your heart is still beating at the end of the night and you go to work the following Monday.  This is evidence that you were able to tolerate the anxiety and accept the outcome.
  • Am I spending my time trying to prove my hypothesis or am I open to actually doing the work of a scientist, who is unbiased and accepting of the outcomes?
    • When you do the work of a scientist who addresses fear in an unbiased way and accepts the outcomes, you are contributing to your value-based living. You value your quality of life.  You value your recovery.  You value your wellbeing.  Therefore, you do the hard things and accept the uncertainty.

This week, I would like you to start being more vigilant about addressing fear like a scientist.  I invite you to test hypotheses in a rational, non-biased, and reality-based way.  I know this is hard, but I have said it once and I will say it again.  IT IS A BEAUTIFUL DAY TO DO HARD THINGS!

Before we go, CBT School is thrilled to share that our lovely friend Stuart Ralph is offering The OCD Summit, which is an online summit specifically for OCD therapists. In this 6-week webinar series, Stuart Ralph—host of The OCD Stories podcast—will interview some incredible clinicians and scientists in the OCD field with an audience made up of therapists. Kimberley is honored to be selected as one of the panelists for this exciting event.  Registration will include 6 topics curated for your continued development as an OCD therapist, where you can ask questions and network with other therapists in the private FB group community.  Click HERE to join.

Lastly, ERP School is HERE and available for purchase for 5 more days!  YAY!!  Exposure and Respond Prevention School (ERP SCHOOL) is an online course for people who do not have access to a therapist who practices science-based skills and ERP for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  It is only available for purchase from September 6th, 2018-September 20th, 2018.


About Kimberley Quinlan

Kimberley Quinlan is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Eating Disorders, Panic Disorder and Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRB’s).  Kimberley is highly trained in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), with a heavy emphasis on Exposure Response Prevention (ERP), and has been practicing meditation and mindfulness for many years.  Kimberley has a special interest in the integration of mindfulness principles with CBT for OCD, Anxiety Disorders, and Eating Disorders.  Kimberley has experience treating adults, adolescents, and children, and tailors each program to suit the age and cognitive development of each client.  Kimberley has a private practice in Calabasas and Westlake Village.