Uncertainty, anxiety and the brain

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A presentation by Melodie de Jager at the Mind Moves Conference, Stellenbosch 2022.

Life presents many challenges and dangers, and each of us needs to feel safe.

Every second of every day your senses are feeding your brain information which your brain then processes. This informs your actions and reactions – and also the extent to which you feel safe.

In his book LIVE WIRED, neuroscientist David Eagleman writes that “the brain is a prediction-making machine”. Anthropologists agree and say that from the earliest times man wanted to measure, to be able to predict, to feel safe and in control.


Because accurate predictions foster a sense of safety, the brain is constantly looking for patterns. A pattern is like rhythm. It is soothing. Patterns make for more accurate predictions as you feel secure in knowing what is coming, and therefore you can –


The Roman military strategy, often called the tortoise, comes to mind. With this strategy the idea is that when you are in a risky situation and can‘t watch out for everything, someone has your back.


Research at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology shows going through a crisis,  is linked to a greater injection of oxytocin. This brain chemical has an interesting effect on groups and relationships as it tends to make us feel good, connected and concerned for others. Oxytocin does even more. Oxytocin is a key ingredient of reciprocity that natural instinct to want to give back when someone helps us or gives us something. Going through trying times brings greater levels of need and opportunities to give, hence hard times provide fertile ground for reciprocity.


You can only bond, belong and rest assured that someone has your back if you do not live in Sololand. Sololand is associated with a specific mindset. A mindset is the way you perceive things, the glasses through which you view the world, others, situations and yourself.

In Sololand you believe your mindset equals the truth, instead of realising that it is your perception of a truth. And as you believe, so it is…

When you live in Solo-land, your focus is on being an outstanding individual. Solo and noticeable, because that’s the way to stand out. Be recognised. Followed. Revered. Successful. HAPPY.

And so your life needs to be perfect. Your family (you and your dog or cat are also deemed family) needs to be perfect. You need to be perfect (including your weight, hair, teeth, smile, outfit, SHOES, car, glasses, address, job, friends …) and HAPPY and RICH and SUCCESSFUL and living life to the full. You need to have a dazzling social media presence (and following!) to prove it. This following bears testimony to your status as an influencer and a trendsetter – the envy of all. A-l-l the t-i-m-e.

In Sololand you bond, but with your image. In this scenario, oxytocin flows when people want to be seen with you. Oxytocin flows when you see you. Oxytocin flows when your name is on EVERYBODY’s lips. You can relax because your image has your back.

I got me …


The unbearable burden of faking it emerges when your image is your fulltime job.

Maintaining this image has company: Anxiety. Fear. Dread.

It is accompanied by imposter syndrome, the nagging fear of being found out – an inner awareness that you are not as intelligent, talented, experienced, rich, happy, successful and admirable as others believe you to be. Enter the mask  / shield / steel shutters that keep people out, and you in. Alone in the cold darkness. Because “I can trust nobody”, “No-one has my back”, “If it is to be, it’s up to me …”

The unbearable burden of image.

It is only in the courage to drop the image that the real, vulnerable and beautiful you can emerge. Not the someone who needs to be admired and followed, but the one who can:


let down your guard

connect (bond) with others

experience a feeling of belonging

apply your energy to be and do your best

serving others and solving the problems of  our world

because you are messy but real and have found your tribe


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