Chances are, you've probably kept a secret or two at some point in your life. It may be yours, your partner's, or maybe even a friend's. It could be a harmless secret or something much deeper and possibly life changing. Regardless of what kind of secret it is or who it belongs to,
keeping secrets can affect your body in ways you may not realize.
A 2017 study published in the
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that the average person keeps around 13 secrets at any given moment. Out of the 38 different categories of secrets people typically keep, researchers found that the most common secrets people have revolve around " extra-relational thoughts," romantic desire, sexual behavior, and lies.
Keeping a good secret like the fact that you're planning a surprise birthday party or an engagement can cause some temporary distress. But
secrets that are kept for longer periods of time can impact you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
"There is a saying in AA, recovery, and psychotherapy circles, 'You are only as sick as your secrets,'" Christine Scott-Hudson, licensed psychotherapist, trauma specialist, and owner of
Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. Here are some of the weird things your body does when you keep secrets, according to experts.
You May Believe That You're A Bad Person
Some secrets can create feelings of shame, which can negatively impact your mental health. According to
Jennifer McClendon, counselor and owner of Renew Counseling, Consulting, and Wellness Services, keeping secrets may lead to loss of sleep, poor focus, difficulty concentrating, increased feelings of anxiety, worry, sadness, and irritability. "In my work as a mental health counselor, clients have reported being treated by their medical doctor for these conditions and did not experience any relief with medication alone," McClendon says. "Clients sometimes report an overall improvement in mental and physical symptoms after consistently using counseling to talk about 'secrets' or information that’s been guarded."
Your Digestive System Can Feel Off
As you know, secrets that are held in for a long time without any resolve can lead to a steady decline in mental wellbeing. But it can also impact your physical health. According to McClendon, "If secrets aren't addressed, this can not only increase one's risk for mental health conditions like anxiety or depression, but also physical problems such as acid reflux or incontinence." Keeping secrets can be really stressful. If your body is constantly
in a state of stress, you may have digestive issues, start breaking out, feel achy, or just feel more fatigued and rundown in general.
You May Have High Blood Pressure
When you choose to keep something from others, a lot of the physical symptoms you get really stem from the brain. "Often times, our reason for withholding a secret is due to a fear of what the outcome may be,"
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, New York City-based neuropsychologist, tells Bustle. "This fear, or anxiety, can present itself when someone is thinking about a deeply held secret, releasing the stress hormone cortisol." When cortisol levels are too high it can lead to things like high blood pressure, and impaired memory retention, Hafeez says. Too much cortisol in the body can also lead to depression, low libido, and back pain.
Keeping A Secret Can Become Second Nature In Certain Situations
A 2017 study by Columbia Business School professor, Michael Slepian, found that keeping secrets doesn't have to be that
emotionally damaging. Slepian and colleagues surveyed 1,000 people on their secrets and asked about how often they thought about them. As they found, many people can easily hide their secrets when they're interacting with others. If your secret has nothing to do with the people you're interacting with or the topic of discussion, keeping something hidden just becomes "second nature." You don't really feel like you're hiding anything, so you won't have those negative feelings of shame.
You Likely Feel A Lot Worse About Your Secret If You Think About It Constantly
Keeping a secret may not be that bad, especially in social situations. But the same study by Slepian found that it can be harmful when you actually stop and think about it. According to the study, people were found to feel a lot worse about their secrets, the more they thought about it. This proved to be especially true if the secret they were keeping involved how an individual felt about themselves. People don't like feeling inauthentic. When they felt like they were holding back on who they truly were on the inside, it led to an overall lower sense of wellbeing. They were also more likely to feel less satisfaction with their personal connections.
The stress and anxiety you get from keeping a secret can lead to insomnia. According to the National Insititute of Health, more than 40 million Americans
suffer from chronic sleep disorders. Many times, this is due to physical and mental stress. "Choosing to hold on to a secret could cause enough stress and guilt to keep someone up at night," Hafeez says. "The reason why sleep disorders are such a big problem in harboring secrets is because of the health implications it causes. Those with sleep disorders are at risk for diabetes, heart attack, [...] and irregular heartbeat."
The Bigger Your Secret Is, The Harder It Is On Your Body
Keeping secrets can be tough for anyone. But it's even harder for those keeping bigger secrets such as anything related to your true identity. As Hafeez says, "The bigger the secret, the bigger the inner conflict. Inevitably, this leads to more guilt and anxiety." When you're dealing with a lot more stress and anxiety, it's going to take an even bigger toll on your body. The physical symptoms may be a lot worse.
"Individuals who are struggling with opening up about a traumatic experience or personal information can find some comfort in opening up to someone they know won't judge them," Hafeez says. It's important to find someone who can help you cope with the internal conflict you may have. Talking to a professional can also be helpful. While some secrets won't have that much of an effect on you, other secrets can. The important thing here is to know, there's always someone out there you can talk to.