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Digital Subscriptions > Psychologies > No. 137 Reinvent Your Life in 2017 > Make peace with the unknown

Make peace with the unknown

This may well be another unpredictable year, and many of us find that difficult. Nione Meakin asks professionals in high-risk fields how they cope with uncertainty


Few of us relish uncertainty. Whether it’s a question mark over a job, difficulties in a relationship or unsettling developments in world events, unpredictable situations tend to trigger some degree of stress in even the most laid-back of personalities.

In part, it’s the way we’re hardwired: successfully anticipating an outcome releases the brain’s ‘reward’ signal, dopamine, while uncertainty activates an instant and uncomfortable threat response. A recent University College London study* highlighted how significant this brain chemistry is by demonstrating that the possibility of getting an electric shock led to ‘significantly’ higher stress levels in participants than knowing for sure that they would be shocked. In other words, we are better equipped to deal with guaranteed pain than the chance of it.

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Psychologies February 2017 - Reinvent Your Life in 2017