DRS. OZ AND ROIZEN: Tell your secret, boost your health
Could a conversation with your best friend, a quiet afternoon with your journal, even letting it all hang out on your new blog, turbocharge your health? A new discovery says yes, if you take a deep breath and spill a deep secret.
When you stay mum about a difficult, embarrassing or downright traumatic episode from the past, it can weigh you down emotionally and interfere with healthy habits like taking a daily half-hour walk, saying “No, thanks” to a helping of mac and cheese or even making connections with the people you love (or just like!).
In a new study that shed light on the link between secrets and health, people were asked to recall a deep, meaningful secret — but keep it to themselves. Afterward, they felt exhausted when asked to think about physical challenges. Hills looked steeper; roads looked longer. They didn't feel up to doing a physical favor for a friend (like carrying groceries), either.
You can guess why: A big secret feels like an albatross around your neck, so thinking about lacing up your walking shoes becomes too much to take on. And when you sit down for dinner, all you want is “comfort” food, and you know where that can lead — refined carbs, sugar and second helpings. Maybe that's why men who have secret affairs suffer more heart attacks.
The solution? Unload a big secret, safely (we'll tell you how). The good news is that there's plenty of proof that dropping that weight delivers at least a dozen health benefits: It boosts immunity, reduces high blood pressure, improves the way your lungs and liver work, eases stress and depression, reduces doctor and hospital visits, brightens your mood, warms up your connections with friends and family, sharpens thinking skills, eases pain and lulls you into deeper, more restful sleep.
If a secret is weighing down your mind and compromising your health, these steps can help:
Share with the right person. The benefits of unloading your burden get erased if the person you tell isn't accepting. Divulge sensitive information to someone you know will be supportive and keep your secret. If your secret is about an extremely upsetting experience, a trained therapist may be the appropriate listener for you. Talking about a difficult experience from your past can bring up a lot of associated thoughts and feelings; sometimes professional support is the best way to work through them and heal.
Describe it three ways. Talk about what happened, what you think about it and how it makes you feel. Don't shy away from negative feelings; putting them into words can be especially healing. It feels risky, but people who just tell the positive side of a secret may not get the same benefits.
Write it down for your eyes only. Blogging about your secret might help, but sharing doesn't have to mean going public. Setting aside 15 or 20 minutes to write expressively about your big secret can release you from its grip. It's not just that writing blows off steam. Finding words for the feelings and memories helps you gain perspective. It also can free you from feeling isolated — many people who've put their secrets into words find that they feel more comfortable and connected with others. Their minds even worked better, with signals moving more freely between the right and left sides of the brain.
The rules of expressive writing:
Pick a quiet, private time and place. Write when you won't be disturbed and will be able to relax afterward.
Go with the flow. Just start writing — by hand or on your computer (where you can always delete it). Write for at least 15 minutes. Repeat the exercise daily for three or four days. Don't worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation; this story is for your eyes only.
We want to let you in on a secret: We're sure that opening up will make your RealAge younger!
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.RealAge.com.