Have you ever kept a secret? If so, did you feel pressured at some point to reveal these secrets? Could keeping just one secret affect your health? This was the focus of a recent study on how keeping a secret affects your health. According to the study, it is not just the number or of secrets that affect your well-being but how much time you spend thinking about them too.
What is really a secret? According to the authors, it is the intention to hide something that makes it a secret. This means that even if you don’t actually have to hide it from someone, you may still be keeping a secret. According to a statement by Professor Michael, ‘’we actually don’t encounter many situations where we have to hide our secrets relative to all the times a secret will just come into our thoughts, and intrude upon our thinking.’’
The study was published in May, 2017 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The researchers looked at 13,000 secrets across 10 different studies.
What are the most common secrets that are never shared with others?
According to the study, the average person keeps not one or two but 13 secrets and five of these secrets may never have been revealed to anyone!
The secrets that are most difficult to share with others are:
- Thinking something romantic or sexual about someone other than your partner-Perhaps
- Having romantic feelings for someone (while being single) for example, a crush, in love with someone while being single
- Having Sexual relationship with someone other than your partner
- Having lied to someone
You must know that keeping secrets is an inevitable part of life. So, depending on the intent, it may not always be bad in itself. In fact, it may also be necessary or life-saving sometimes. For example, doctors and other health providers are expected to keep secrets divulged by their patients ALL the time.
According to experts, the other 19 commonly held secrets are:
- Planning a surprise for someone
- Planning to propose a marriage or ask someone out
- Performing poorly at school or work
- Dissatisfaction with your situation at work
- Cheated or did something improper at school or work
- Dissatisfaction with your physical appearance or weight
- Had mental health issues
- Having an inappropriate emotional connection with someone eg flirting
- Being unhappy in a romantic relationship
- Keeping a past relationship secret
- Keeping a detail about a family secret
- Not telling people you are pregnant
- Keeping a belief, ambition or finances secret
- Disliking a friend, or unhappy with current social life
- Having a habit or addiction
- Used or abused drugs illegally
- Stolen something from someone or some place
- Hurt someone and kept the secret from someone else
- Had an abortion or physically harmed yourself
What impact does keeping a secret have on your health?
It may affect your physical health. According to an expert, ‘’every time you think of a deeply held secret, stress hormones such as cortisol can surge, impacting your memory, blood pressure, gastrointestinal tract and metabolism.’’
Even when you are not actively hiding a secret, you may feel you are burdened by a physical weight which gradually wears you out.
Your mind wanders (against your wish) towards the secrets from time to time. Why? This is because keeping a secret is a goal that can be extremely difficult to accomplish. Yes, no one knows your secret today, but what about tomorrow? You may meet individuals or be part of conversations where you have to conceal the secret again. That uncertainty about what the outcome of keeping a secret generates anxiety and stress. For health care providers it may even increase the risk of burnout.
Unfortunately, trying to suppress secrets sometimes make it worse because it keeps popping up when we least expect.
Therefore before you keep a secret, do well to ask:
Is it about something really serious, illegal or immoral?
How long do I have to keep the secret?
Am I allowed to tell someone else e.g. your sibling or spouse?
Thinking of secrets of a negative nature e.g. criminal activities certainly affects the individual well-being. Many persons experience huge relief on confessing such acts. Apart from the negative nature of the secrets, this study also suggests that how often a person thinks about a secret matters too.
If keeping a secret affects you emotionally or physically, you may need to tactfully prevent others from sharing their secrets with you. Furthermore, if you find yourself thinking too often about a secret, it suggests there may be a need re-evaluate if it is worth keeping at all- before it takes a toll on your health.
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