Keeping a secret gives you stress (Huffington post , Forbes), this has been known for a while. Now new studies show that how often we think about our secrets makes a big difference (The Economist). Scientists have found that people who thought about their secrets less often than once a week had better health and well-being scores than those who thought about their secrets every day, regardless of the number and types of secrets. They also found that:
- 97% of their study’s participants kept at least one secret out of a list of 38 types of most commonly held secrets (including infidelity, theft, poor performance at work, sexual orientation, abortion and drug taking)
- The average person kept 13 secrets
- Typically people had five secrets that they had never disclosed to anyone
- The secret most often held was about having sexual thoughts about somebody other than one’s partner
Basically, it’s not the magnitude of your secrets that gives you stress, but how preoccupied you are with it. A man happily cheating on his wife might be less stressed (and so healthier) than a child petrified of being found responsible of polishing off his brother’s Halloween loot.
It’s the sheer effort to stop our secrets slipping out which occupies our brain and stops it from moving on to other jobs. The brain experiences a conflict between the part that envisage the consequences of letting the secret out, and the part which want to get rid of the burden and free space for other activities. This conflict causes the production of stress hormones such as cortisol.
So, keeping a secret from slipping out, making up convincing lies and steering the conversation away from potentially dangerous grounds, are really hard work. But if you follow my advice, you might just be able to keep a secret and stay healthy.
How to keep a secret and stay healthy
- If, in conversation, somebody touches a topic for which you hold a secret, make sure to twitch vigorously, so as to distract them
- If the twitching diversion strategy doesn’t work, distract them by talking about the weather
- Should somebody approach you to share a secret, warn them about the possibility of you forgetting their secret and ask permission to write it down on a piece of paper, so that you can minimise the mental energy you spend on remembering their secret
- If you haven’t been given permission to write down their secret, make sure you repeat it aloud at least twice a day, in the morning and before bedtime, so as to memorise it
- If memorising the secret proves too energy-consuming, share the secret with somebody who can remind you when needed
(Serious) articles about keeping secrets and stress: