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Can Keeping Secrets Actually Affect Your Brain?
Who doesn’t love the thrill of being told a secret? Or being trusted enough to keep a secret? Or what about those of you who carry your own personal secret that you have never revealed to anyone? Does it make you feel special? Sad? Perhaps more importantly, what does keeping a secret do to the brain? Does it affect it at all?
Our brains are constantly gathering information and steering our behavior toward what is considered to be appropriate. As we receive information, competing parts of our brains try to decide what to do with this information — especially information that we are not supposed to pass on.
Back in 1909, a German neuroanatomist divided the brain into 43 distinct areas and assigned numbers to each section on a “map.” Today, doctors are still using this map. Much like the struggle for real estate, all of our brain areas are constantly rivaling each other for information. It’s something like a war zone most of the time. This is why, for example, when someone loses their sight, they often find that this part of the brain is annexed into another part of the brain that controls hearing or motor areas. This is how blind people can “see” your face by feeling it.
Research has shown that keeping secrets, especially if it’s a traumatic one of your own, is unhealthy for the brain and physical health. This is why sharing a secret feels so good. Telling secrets is therapeutic, especially if you share with a stranger. This removes the “secret” from your brain with no risk involved on your part. This explains the popularity of sites such as Postsecret.com.
Being a trustworthy confidante is an acquired skill. Our brains would rather have you set the secret free, because keeping it involves stress. Therefore, learning to go against natural inclinations means that we need to practice self-control, long-term decision making and trust. If you are good at keeping secrets, you probably find that you are carrying several from different friends or family members.
However, keeping secrets can have an adverse impact on gray matter. If you keep a secret for a long period of time, it will increase the level of stress hormones in both the brain and body. Your brain does not like high levels of stress hormones and one part of it will continually tell you that you need to ditch that secret. The other part of your brain says that you need to be loyal to your friend or family, for whatever reason you are keeping this secret, and it will tell you to continue, which increases your stress levels even more. You can see where this goes.
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