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Think Like a Scientist and Reduce Anxiety with Mindfulness

November 22, 2020 George Abitante

Why would you think like a scientist to reduce anxiety, and what does mindfulness have to do with it? I've noticed something over the past several weeks, and I want you to know how thinking like a scientist can greatly reduce the anxiety you feel.

I've been participating in mindfulness training and have begun to notice how I feel during the day more than I usually do. Normally when I experience moments in my life, I am fully immersed in them -- if I'm feeling angry, I am angry; if I'm feeling happy, I'm happy.

Mindfulness encourages a slightly different method of engaging with ourselves throughout the day that can be useful when negative emotions come up. Rather than being fully immersed in them, mindfulness allows us to take a step back and notice the emotion for what it is. The teacher in this training described it as the difference between standing in a river feeling the water flow past you and standing on the bank of the river watching the current. Since I do research, I've toyed with the idea of calling this the "scientist's perspective" (or "think like a scientist"), and this shift in perspective has actually helped me handle my day-to-day emotions better than I usually do.

I will try to convey why this shift in perspective can benefit you and lead to a healthier way of engaging with difficult emotions. 

Appreciate Your Ability to Think Like a Scientist for a Moment

I believe we all have a scientific perspective within us. Whether you're interested in sports, stories, or speech-writing, I'm guessing there is something in your life that engages your curiosity. When I'm curious about something, I can typically distinguish between myself and whatever it is I want to learn about. That probably sounds obvious.

It becomes less obvious when I try to apply that natural curiosity to something that is occurring within myself, like my emotional state. I often notice after the fact that I've completely failed to achieve this, actually. When I feel sad, for instance, it's very difficult for me to observe that I'm feeling sad without becoming immersed in it. Usually, I'm in the river experiencing my emotional state without really being aware of what's going on, and this can become problematic over time, particularly for anxiety. Experiencing anxiety without awareness can allow it to grow quickly and snowball into a level of anxiety that is difficult to manage.

I've felt anxious about whether I said something a friend didn't like before, and when that happens without awareness, I quickly get sucked into additional anxious thoughts like, "What if they hate me?" that increase my anxiety. When I try to use mindful awareness and think like a scientist, however, it creates just a little bit of distance between myself and the sensation of anxiety. I can then stand on solid ground and observe the river of my anxiety without getting caught up in it, and sometimes that makes all the difference. I still feel anxious, but I'm not overcome by the sensation and can observe it instead. I often find that what helps me take on that observer perspective is thinking like a scientist -- I look at my anxiety with curiosity instead of fear. I know I'm mixing metaphors a bit here, but I think these two ideas provide a nice way to look at anxiety from a new perspective. 

The next time you feel anxious, try to imagine yourself as a scientist. Instead of being fully immersed in your anxiety, recognize that you are more than just anxious and can actually step back and observe your emotions with some degree of clarity and objectivity. When you embrace that kind of awareness, your curiosity can come in and lead you to engage with your anxiety in a different way than you normally do.

You move from the river to the riverbank, and that can be enough distance to see the river as it is, rather than as it feels when you're feeling its current pushing against you. The scientific perspective is not just distanced from the experience of anxiety but is actively curious about it. When you consider anxiety as something interesting to study rather than something frightening to fear, your relationship with it can change for the better. 

Do you believe that thinking like a scientist can reduce your anxiety? Give it a try and let me know your results in the comments.

Thanks for reading (and tolerating my mixed metaphors). I hope you found this article helpful and that you have a restful day. 

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2020, November 22). Think Like a Scientist and Reduce Anxiety with Mindfulness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, December 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2020/11/think-like-a-scientist-and-reduce-anxiety-with-mindfulness



Author: George Abitante

George received his Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University and is pursuing his PhD in Clinical Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

Lizanne Corbit
November, 25 2020 at 5:23 pm

This is lovely. Thank you, George! I think this is so beautifully expressed, "When I try to use mindful awareness and think like a scientist, however, it creates just a little bit of distance between myself and the sensation of anxiety.". There is something so powerful about creating some distance between ourselves and what we're feeling to help us make that separation - we are not what we are feeling. It's a breath and a chance to gain perspective.

November, 29 2020 at 7:58 am

Hi Lizanne,
Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I definitely agree that the separation can be so helpful, there is always that little bit of distance between ourselves and our feelings! Hope you are well,
George

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