THE BLOG

Secrets - To Share or Not to Share?

18/09/2013 16:45 BST | Updated 18/11/2013 10:12 GMT

Can you keep a secret? "Sarah's husband is having an affair with his colleague, Annie's son has been expelled from college as he was caught selling weed, Diane's daughter just went through an abortion since she's just got admission in Law School."

Although we might feel a pinch of guilt in the process, we've all passed on some juicy gossip that was supposed to be confidential. To keep a secret, we have to constantly resist the urge to tell as it becomes quite taxing to keep something private. Once the load has been lifted, it brightens up our mood and the feelings of guilt fade away with the passage of time. I've often wondered what makes it uncontrollable for us to keep a secret.

According to a recent study, the human desire for instant gratification is one of the reasons we find it difficult to control our urges. When we hear a juicy tidbit, it escalates the brain's 'feel good' chemical dopamine which makes humans more impulsive. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in processing rewards in the brain. The study researcher Alex Pine (University College London) explains, "Increased levels of dopamine make people more likely to opt for instant gratification (that cookie staring at you), rather than waiting for a more beneficial reward later on (tighter abs)." This explains the high we feel once we share someone's secret.

Women have always been notorious for gossiping but if we explore the need to disclose information, it can be simply attributed to our DNA. A study by Stephanie Brown (University of Michigan) reveals that the act of sharing increases levels of progesterone in women. Progesterone is a hormone that stimulates maternal feelings and social bonding. It also aids in reducing anxiety and stress. In other words, sharing not only helps women bond but it also improves their health.

This does not mean that we have the license to air someone's dirty laundry in public. It is very important to gauge whether the secret we are about to disclose will harm or ruin a person's life. With the advancement in technology, gossip has a tendency to spread faster than word of mouth. Once something is out in the public domain, we cannot take it back.

The question still remains as to why we like gossiping about what someone did or didn't do. While we discuss a topic, we like to share our personal opinion as well and this lets us show off our own moral strength. What we are really doing is highlighting that we are better individuals which boosts our morale.

Whenever one faces a problem, the most common suggestion we hear is, "Let's talk about it and you'll feel better." Whether it is nervousness before an exam; the hesitation before making a life changing decision or dealing with the loss of a loved one...This theory has always been a mystery for me because I feel that by chatting up my problems with someone, how am I getting rid of them? And if I can't get rid of them, how will I end up feeling better?

Until recently, I did not quite adhere to this concept but then I came across a study by Tufts University which sheds light on how important sharing is for our health. Whether we face an internal conflict or we hide someone else's secret, the emotional burden of a secret actually takes a physical toll on its carrier. In this research, Michael Slepian (a doctoral student in psychology) explains, "Keeping a secret leads to the same kind of experiences people have when dealing with physical tasks such as carrying heavy loads. Those who harbour such undisclosed truths perceive everyday tasks as far more strenuous."

Being emotionally weighed down can actually affect our daily routine such as: not having the motivation to get out of bed to do anything or not being in the mood to exercise. Instead, all we crave for is comfort food and that is not a very healthy solution. On the other hand, unleashing our feelings or secrets is more likely to: ease stress and depression, alleviate our mood, reduce high blood pressure and strengthen our connections with friends and family.

So should we rely on others to absorb our problems and unburden ourselves of the secrets we hold? If only life was that simple! Michael Slepian's research explains that, "Talking about personal traumas with others allows you to gain insight into them, and this has positive health consequences. But these effects don't occur when you tell people who aren't accepting of your secret. It's important to only share such information with people who are accepting and supporting." If you don't have the right person to share your feelings, writing about it would be another way to vent out stress. Putting things into words might relieve you from feeling isolated.

Sometimes sharing with others might do more harm than good. Remember the time your best friend blurted that your parents were going through a divorce just because you refused to let her cheat on a test, or the time when your co-worker empathized with you during a bad period in your relationship and then she stole your boyfriend? Instances like these make us realize that we should be very cautious about the people we choose to share secrets because they make us vulnerable.