That’s the conclusion psychiatrist Gail Saltz came to when she was researching her book “Anatomy of a Secret Life.”

Dr. Saltz says keeping secrets – or living a secret life – provokes inner conflict, and that can lead to anxiety and chronic worry. Living like that for a long time produces sustained stress – which can result in a bunch of health issues like digestive problems, headaches, back pain, high blood pressure, even a weakened immune system. If you’re prone to depression, the chronic stress from keeping secrets can make it even worse.

It’s natural to have some secrets – or things you keep to yourself. Dr. Saltz says we begin keeping secrets at about age 4 or 5. We want to have some information that we keep private from our parents – and it’s an important step in becoming an individual and independent person. The problem with secrets is when we feel we can’t tell anyone – and that leads to a secret life. Maybe you feel guilty or ashamed of what you’re doing – whether it’s binging and purging, cheating on your partner, cheating on your taxes, doing drugs, or drinking to excess. However, when the number of secrets you’re keeping starts to affect your relationships, the balance of power shifts. You no longer control the secret – it controls you. Your life starts revolving around covering your tracks. Your secret then cuts you off from other people. That’s when you know it’s a problem. Another sign your secret is a problem – you lash out. You have angry outbursts over insignificant things – or if someone asks you what they think is an innocent question, like “Hey, where’ve you been?”

So what can you do about living a secret life? Get help. Whether it’s Alcoholics Anonymous, your pastor, or psychological counseling. The first step is telling someone you trust, who won’t judge you, what’s going on with you. If you, or someone you know, needs this kind of help, start here: MentalHelp.net or Drug-Rehab.org. Dr Saltz’s book is called Anatomy of a Secret Life.