Skip to main content

How is your SAM feeling?

News story

SAM, is the inner critic only you hear. This ancient part of our brains is known as the Checker system or SAM.

Curtin student with glasses and large headphones writes notes in front of a laptop in a study space.

This Checker within us has three main functions – it scans our environment, alerts us to danger, and then motivates us to get to safety.  Hence its nickname – SAM. The stronger the SAM checker system, the more likely that your ancestors escaped the tiger, dodged the bear and won the ‘floor is lava’ in real life! Then these strong SAM genes were passed on through procreation of the fittest. Over millions of years we now pretty much all have a SAM in our mind.

SAM is just here to protect us from threats; however, SAM can’t perceive if threats are real or imaginary. Its job is just to keep you safe no matter what.

In a fast-paced modern world with constant noise, screens delivering all sorts of images to our brains, the high value placed on being productive and the limited opportunities we allow for ourselves to relax and rest, it is likely that SAM perceives modern life as a code red most of the time. Add in any difficult situations you may have faced as a human and your SAM might be very overdeveloped, it can even get stuck in ON mode and that is what PSTD is basically.

Humans need other humans to survive, so social threats are as stressful to our systems as physical ones because if we were to be abandoned say as infants or children we would die unless someone helped us. This is why we may know SAM more as an inner critical voice than a system that keeps us safe from danger, but they are the same. That voice that says “stop being lazy’’, “don’t be too much’’, “you are not good enough’’ or “shut up’’, that is also SAM. Motivating you to try to keep you ‘safe’ in the group.

Learning to soothe your SAM and befriend it is a life skill worth investing in as it could impact everything from your health, and your relationships, to your entire perception of reality really.

If this article has raised an issue you are struggling with and you want individual attention you can also visit Curtin’s Counselling & Wellbeing webpage to learn more about Curtin’s free counselling services, other group programs, and bulk-billed GP services for all students.

Need support adjusting to uni? With topics covering procrastination, anxiety, sleep, adjustment to culture shock, exams and more, the Lunchtime Life Skills webinar series can help.