We don’t mean that you have to actually tell somebody your secrets, but neuroscientists are beginning to find out that keeping secrets can actually be harmful for your brain.
How can keeping secrets be unhealthy?
Your brain is consciously aware of what a secret is because there’s a rivalry going on in there. Scientists estimate that the two regions of the brain involved in secret keeping are engaged in a “neural conflict,” where one region wants to relive the stress that comes from harboring that classified information and the other region wants to bury it even further into obscurity. This struggle can leave your brain feeling weary.
Why do secrets tire your brain?
It’s thought that keeping secrets is a part of the brain’s self-control process, similar to following a strict diet or resisting the urge to spend frivolously. Scientists believe that these self-regulation practices may take so much energy that the brain can only deal with so many self-imposed limitations at a time before getting tired.
One study found that subjects who were forced to keep hidden their sexual orientation during a mock interview were later found to demonstrate physically weakened grip strength and a lesser ability to remain calm during a frustrating situation than those who were not forced to keep their sexual identity confidential. They think this is because keeping a secret means having to constantly monitor what you’re about to say which occupies the brain and leaves less energy for controlling other functions, like emotional reactions. Research has even shown that secret-keepers have increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, higher rates of depression and anxiety, and are more likely to have physical ailments like headaches or nausea.
But secrets are secret for a reason…
Fortunately, studies are also finding that the simple act of just writing them down can be enough to relieve the pain that your brain feels from keeping secrets. One study showed how subjects who revealed a secret increased the communication between their brain hemispheres, and according to fMRI results, their brains lit up differently before and after writing down their secrets. Other benefits were decreased cortisol levels and improved immune function. So the next time you’re stressed about keeping a secret, try writing it out and see if that doesn’t make you feel better. You can even shred it afterwards.