The Surprising Way Keeping A Secret Harms Your Mental Health (& What To Do About It)

Lying hurts your wellbeing.

How Ruminating Over Secrets And Lying Harm Your Mental Health With Stress & Anxiety getty

The first thing you should know is that everyone has secrets and lying is just a part of life. The second thing you should know is that your secrets and lies affect your wellbeing emotionally, physically, and mentally.

What is a secret? Webster’s Dictionary defines the word as,"Something that is kept or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others."

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Just like clothes cover up the parts of your body that you don’t want to expose, like jiggly thighs or a fat belly, secrets cover up the parts of your life that you would like to keep buried.

No matter how hard you try, your secret is never completely hidden. Even if others don’t know about it, you do. It infects your mental health and wellbeing, including your thoughts, actions, and view of the world.

Why do people lie and keep secrets?

Confidence, mystery, enigma, riddle, surprise, and the "skeleton in the closet" are all synonyms of the word secret. Which one do you resonate with?

Is your secret an enigma? Was it a surprise to you when it happened?


Does it feel like a riddle that you’re trying to solve? Or is your secret a "skeleton in the closet" that is kept on the top shelf in a sealed, nondescript box you hope will never be discovered?

Here’s the thing, you’ve been keeping secrets since you were a kid. Remember when your mom would yell at you from another room and ask what you were doing?

You would yell back, "Nothing" when in fact you were painting the wall, cutting gum out of your sister’s hair, or trying on makeup that you weren’t supposed to touch.

You tell a white lie that becomes a secret to keep the heat off and to get what you want. It’s a reflex that seems innocent enough.


As you evolve from stuffing more Halloween candy into your mouth than your parents told you to have or not brushing your teeth before bed, so do your secrets.

No matter the secret, the reasons people keep them are the same. You are afraid, ashamed, and loyal. You want to look good, be good, and be liked.

You intrinsically fear that if anyone found out about what you're hiding, they would pull away from you.

They might tell someone else. They would view you differently. You would be exposed and vulnerable, the target of criticism and judgment.

That scares people. It is part of the human condition to want to be loved and accepted but the secrets you keep feel unacceptable. If you haven’t been able to accept your secrets, forgive yourself, and move on from them, how can you expect others to?


You can’t. And you don’t. So, you keep them hidden.

Think of the word for a minute. Secret. What comes up for you when you read it?

Say it out loud. How do you feel when you hear it? Do you feel mischievous?

Does it bring up shame? Does it remind you of a school crush you had when you were a girl and didn't want your best friend to tell?

Or, does it illicit something dark and more sinister about who you are on the inside and the things that you have thought, said, and done?

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Whatever it triggers for you know this, your secrets were created to protect you. They keep you safe. They are a tool you use to survive the human experience.

Secrets are not all created equal. There are the harmless ones that are fun, like keeping a surprise, and there are the ones that you keep from others about who you are and the things you've done. And, there are the ones that you keep for others.

These last two categories really hurt you, leading to stress and anxiety. Think of how you feel when someone tells you something and you have to hold their secret. Maybe they told you they cheated on a test. Maybe they stole something, cheated on their spouse, or lied to their boss.

You are left to keep this knowledge in secret. On the other side of that, you keep secrets about yourself, what you think, what you've done, and the things you are ashamed of.


These types of secrets are stored in your body. You keep them as a physical burden — you get stress headaches, anxiety, stomach aches, depression and more. And so the saying, "You are as sick as your secrets" is true.

Your secrets affect your emotional health and wellness.

They keep you sick. You live small, scared that if anyone really knows the truth about who you are and what you’ve done that they won’t like, love, or hire you. You are left ruminating on your secrets, which can lead to anxiety and stress.

Living with secrets makes you doubt yourself. Your secrets make you afraid. You live behind them and don’t interact or show your true self to the world because of fear. You hold back and this keeps you from getting the love you deserve, the friendships you want, or the job promotion, and the ability to reach your earning potential.


Write down your three top secrets in one column and in the column next to it, write down how these secrets are affecting your physical health, mental health, and emotional wellness. Where is playing it safe with your secret keeping it small?

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Gretchen Hydo is a certified professional coach, keynote speaker, nationally syndicated advice columnist, and thought leader. For more information on other life-changing programs, visit Any Lengths Life Coaching.