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How to cope with uncertainty in an uncertain world

How to cope with uncertainty in an uncertain world

Written by
Lewis Orr
Jul 9, 2021

Uncertainty in the world of today

Uncertainty can be defined as the quality of not being “completely confident or sure about something”.[1] The best example of uncertainty these days is the general feeling caused by the corona virus throughout the world. For example, consider Australia. There is confusion in the community about what to do regarding being vaccinated. Consequently the uncertainty created by mixed messaging has resulted in panic and low vaccination rates all over the country.[2] There are many extra examples of uncertainty we confront in everyday life, whether we do not know what career to choose, what to eat, or what the financial markets will do!

The effect of uncertainty on your brain

The science shows that uncertainty has a direct effect on the brain. What is this? First, consider that living creatures try to fight disorder.[3] We do this by trying “to reduce [our] uncertainty about future outcomes”.[4] If we experience an unforeseen obstacle in life reducing the uncertainty created by the event often requires using up precious headspace to manage. This is when the theory of the “selfish brain” becomes important: of all our organs, our brain “is the one that allocated the most energy to itself to cover its own high energy needs”.[5] This causes the brain to expend more energy at the expense of other areas of the body and consequently we can become overwhelmed and overloaded. What are the effects? As the founder of the “selfish brain” concept[6] explains, becoming overwhelmed by uncertainty is associated with “a high risk of depression, cognitive impairment, and stroke”[7]. This is no joke- this concept could be “the key to understanding a number of diseases".

Ways to deal with uncertainty

What can we do about uncertainty? The world is becoming more complex and chaotic with uncertainty on the rise . So, what can we do about it?

Focus on the present

The mind can be a bit of a time machine. We must exercise caution when we choose to activate it. We do not need to think about the future every second of every day. A good coping mechanism is “the decision to delay paying attention to a thought, emotion, or need in order to cope with the present reality”;[8]allocate specific chunks of time to think about and plan for the future.

Choose not to fight what you cannot control

Don’t worry about global catastrophes beyond making the wise choices necessary to reduce your exposure. There is not much evidence which confirms that endlessly checking your feed makes you more knowledgeable to deal with a beast like the coronavirus.[9] The short of it; try to live your life in the moment.

Find humour

Choose to laugh about the choices which confront us, we transcend them- this is the best response available to humans in before suffering. Humour is considered a good coping mechanism!


[1]This definition is taken from Oxford Languages.

[2] An article published by The Guardian reflects this feeling: “Australia is crying out for clearer messaging on coronavirus…”, accessed via https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/mar/24/australia-is-crying-out-for-clearer-messaging-on-coronavirus-rambling-politicians-told.

[3]“The ‘free energy principle’ rests upon the fact that self-organizingbiological agents resist a tendency to disorder’ from “Uncertainty and stress: Why it causes diseases and how it is mastered by the brain” by Peters et al.(2017), accessed via https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301008217300369

[4]Ibid.

[5] http://www.selfish-brain.org/

[6]Achim Peters.

[7]Peters et al. (2017)

[8] Vaillant, G. E., Bond, M., & Vaillant, C. O.(1986). An empirically validated hierarchy of defence mechanisms. Archives of General Psychiatry, 73, 786–794. George Eman Valillant

[9] https://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/cope-uncertainty

How to cope with uncertainty in an uncertain world

July 9, 2021

Uncertainty in the world of today

Uncertainty can be defined as the quality of not being “completely confident or sure about something”.[1] The best example of uncertainty these days is the general feeling caused by the corona virus throughout the world. For example, consider Australia. There is confusion in the community about what to do regarding being vaccinated. Consequently the uncertainty created by mixed messaging has resulted in panic and low vaccination rates all over the country.[2] There are many extra examples of uncertainty we confront in everyday life, whether we do not know what career to choose, what to eat, or what the financial markets will do!

The effect of uncertainty on your brain

The science shows that uncertainty has a direct effect on the brain. What is this? First, consider that living creatures try to fight disorder.[3] We do this by trying “to reduce [our] uncertainty about future outcomes”.[4] If we experience an unforeseen obstacle in life reducing the uncertainty created by the event often requires using up precious headspace to manage. This is when the theory of the “selfish brain” becomes important: of all our organs, our brain “is the one that allocated the most energy to itself to cover its own high energy needs”.[5] This causes the brain to expend more energy at the expense of other areas of the body and consequently we can become overwhelmed and overloaded. What are the effects? As the founder of the “selfish brain” concept[6] explains, becoming overwhelmed by uncertainty is associated with “a high risk of depression, cognitive impairment, and stroke”[7]. This is no joke- this concept could be “the key to understanding a number of diseases".

Ways to deal with uncertainty

What can we do about uncertainty? The world is becoming more complex and chaotic with uncertainty on the rise . So, what can we do about it?

Focus on the present

The mind can be a bit of a time machine. We must exercise caution when we choose to activate it. We do not need to think about the future every second of every day. A good coping mechanism is “the decision to delay paying attention to a thought, emotion, or need in order to cope with the present reality”;[8]allocate specific chunks of time to think about and plan for the future.

Choose not to fight what you cannot control

Don’t worry about global catastrophes beyond making the wise choices necessary to reduce your exposure. There is not much evidence which confirms that endlessly checking your feed makes you more knowledgeable to deal with a beast like the coronavirus.[9] The short of it; try to live your life in the moment.

Find humour

Choose to laugh about the choices which confront us, we transcend them- this is the best response available to humans in before suffering. Humour is considered a good coping mechanism!


[1]This definition is taken from Oxford Languages.

[2] An article published by The Guardian reflects this feeling: “Australia is crying out for clearer messaging on coronavirus…”, accessed via https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/mar/24/australia-is-crying-out-for-clearer-messaging-on-coronavirus-rambling-politicians-told.

[3]“The ‘free energy principle’ rests upon the fact that self-organizingbiological agents resist a tendency to disorder’ from “Uncertainty and stress: Why it causes diseases and how it is mastered by the brain” by Peters et al.(2017), accessed via https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301008217300369

[4]Ibid.

[5] http://www.selfish-brain.org/

[6]Achim Peters.

[7]Peters et al. (2017)

[8] Vaillant, G. E., Bond, M., & Vaillant, C. O.(1986). An empirically validated hierarchy of defence mechanisms. Archives of General Psychiatry, 73, 786–794. George Eman Valillant

[9] https://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/cope-uncertainty