RAYMOND — As a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders, I’ve been following the U.S. political response to the Syrian refugee crisis with fascination and growing concern.

I know the science of fear. I know how the negative reinforcement cycle works, how escape, avoidance and “safety” behaviors feed fear, amplify anxiety and strengthen exaggerated and even irrational danger beliefs.

It’s sort of like falling in quicksand: The more fear drives your behavior, the more you struggle against the “danger,” the deeper in the quicksand and the more terrified you get. The quicksand really wouldn’t be so dangerous or so scary if you didn’t overreact but instead acknowledged that, yes, there is some danger here, but I’m going to accept that and behave calmly and rationally. By doing so, I can make a more effective decision, to slowly and gently try swimming to the edge, where I probably will be able to climb out.

When I see and hear how so many of our nation’s leaders have been responding to the Syrian refugee crisis, I have to wonder if they are treating it like falling in quicksand, overreacting and behaving in ways that actually make them (and us) more afraid and make their (and our) situation worse.

When mayors and governors and presidential candidates take action to block Syrian refugees from entering their cities and states or even our country for fear that terrorists could slip in with them, they seem to be making a big defensive response to a low-likelihood risk.

So far, of almost three-quarters of a million refugees admitted into the U.S. since 9/11, only three (only 0.0004 percent) have been arrested on any kind of terrorism charge – none for actually engaging in a terrorist attack.

And although the Obama administration admits our refugee vetting process is not perfect (can’t be perfect, actually), it is already much more rigorous than those in Europe and takes at least 18 months, including multiple background checks and face-to-face interviews.

So I’m concerned not only that so many of our leaders are talking about spending a lot of tax dollars to fix a system before there is any evidence that it is broken, but that delaying the process will extend refugee suffering and perhaps both cost lives and anger refugees at our country when they might otherwise be grateful. I’m also concerned that just engaging in the rhetoric seems likely to promote fear, bigotry, isolationism, irrational beliefs and emotion-based, counterproductive decision-making both for our leaders and our collective American psyche overall.

If so, the terrorists are winning. Because that is exactly what they want to happen to us, and we are falling into the trap. They have managed to get many of our leaders and much of our country not only to think, feel and behave fearfully, but also to behave in ways that promote and entrench that fearful way of thinking, feeling and behaving. They have tricked many of us into our own negative reinforcement cycles, just like what happens with someone who has developed an anxiety disorder.

So, what can we do about it? Here is what I tell my anxiety disorder patients.

What works with exaggerated fears is to face them head on. To invite in the scary thoughts and learn to accept and live with them instead of treating those thoughts as catastrophic. It’s like choosing to watch the scariest scene from the scariest movie you’ve ever seen over and over and over again. As long as the danger stays imaginary, you get used to the thought. It can even get boring.

Yes, if the same thing does happen in real life, it would be horrible. But instead of wasting time and money and ruining your life over a low-likelihood danger, wait to deal with it if and when it actually does occur.

Meanwhile, get back to living your life. Invest your mental and physical resources in your family, your job, your community. Things you enjoy and things you value. Being a person you will be proud to be.

Five days after the Paris terrorist attack, French President Francois Hollande announced that – even though “some people say the tragic events of the last few days have sown doubts in their minds” – his country will continue accepting Syrian refugees because “our country has the duty to respect this commitment.”

He did not deny there is some risk, and assured his audience that refugees will undergo rigorous security checks. But he insisted that “France will remain a country of freedom,” and he urged citizens, “life should resume fully.”

Hollande’s audience gave him a standing ovation. I can’t help but believe that his behavior will help protect his countrymen from falling into a negative reinforcement cycle of anxiety and fear.