Most of us engage in telling “little white lies” or exaggerations on occasion. We make up excuses as to why we are late for work, why we didn’t finish a task, how much we weigh, or exaggerate our daily accomplishments.
Sometimes we lie to ourselves, sometimes we lie to others.
Some lies are white lies that are meant to spare someone’s feelings and others are just outright whoppers.
When you lie, you increase your level of stress due to fear of being caught or being conflicted about not telling the truth. Short term stress can lead to tension or headaches; chronic stress can lead to long term problems as well.
Effects of Stress
Stress can lead to elevated blood pressure which contributes to cardiovascular disease. It can also wreak havoc on your immune system causing you to be more vulnerable to infectious diseases. Chronic stress, always being in the “fight or flight” state, leads to higher than normal levels of the hormone cortisol in your body and can have the following effects:
- Increase in anxiety
- Higher heart rate
- Muscle tension leading to headaches and body aches
- Impaired sleep
- Impaired long term memory
- Affects bone formation
- Affects health of digestive system
- Increase the likelihood of diabetes (adult onset, Type 2)
- Increase the risk for clinical depression
Evidence that Lying Affects Your Health
In 2012, a study was presented to the American Psychological Association’s Annual Convention called “The Science of Honesty” (the results have not yet been published). Professor of psychology Anita Kelly and Assistant Professor Lijuan Wang at the University of Notre Dame concluded from their study that lying is bad for your health, both mentally and physically.
The study consisted of 110 individuals, ages 18 to71, who were told to stop lying for 10 weeks. They were given the instructions, “Refrain from telling any lies for any reason to anyone. You may omit truths, refuse to answer questions, and keep secrets, but you cannot say anything that you know to be false.”
The control group did not receive instructions. Both groups came to the lab every week to undergo a polygraph test. Each group answered questions about their close relationships and about their mental and physical health each week.
At the end of the study, the no lie group complained less of headaches, sore throats, tenseness, anxiety and other problems than those in the control group. They also reported fewer problems in relationships with others.
They experienced 4 fewer mental health problems (such as feeling tense or melancholy) and 3 fewer physical problems- after telling just 3 fewer lies.
The average American tells about 11 lies per week according to Dr. Kelly, who cited surveys done by others. She concluded, “We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health.”
She also felt that total honesty was not realistic, stating that “The goal is a reduction in lies.”
Reducing stress can be accomplished in many ways and there are many papers written on useful stress management techniques; one clear way is to add telling the truth to your repertoire.
The evidence is in: lying really does affect your physical and mental well being. So try to be more truthful and you’ll feel better. Honesty really is the best policy.