As children, we’re reminded that lying to others is wrong. Yet as we grow up, we find deception to be a plausible social tool in certain situations. The direct result of this is, of course, feeling guilty. But guilt may not be the only side effect of lying.

Stress and lying

When we lie or omit the truth to others, stress hormones are released in the body. This causes heart rate to increase, breathing to become more shallow and quick, digestion to slow and muscle and nerve fibres to become tense. These are the body’s reaction to any kind of stress, and we feel these effects all of the time in our lives. The problem is not with experiencing these reactions, but with the long-term effects of these stress reactions. In prolonged periods of stress, these seemingly normal symptoms can turn into coronary heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and possibly, death.


Then there’s the matter of lying to yourself, also known as denial. Denial can be used as a healthy coping mechanism for situations in which a person is dealing with stressful or painful issues. A person may refuse to accept that something has happened in his or her life in order to buffer themselves from negative emotions and take time to adjust.  For example, if you found out that you had cancer, it would take a few days, weeks, even months, to adjust to and accept the situation. When in denial for too long, however, it may prevent the person from effectively dealing with the issues they face. For example, a college student denies that they were affected by the shooting that they witnessed and claims that they don’t need counselling. When denial is prolonged, like in this scenario, the person believes that they don’t need help or support for their issue, even when most others can clearly see that there’s a problem. Take, for example, an alcoholic. They may deny their addiction because they feel like it isn’t hurting anybody. In these cases, those who are around the addict are often the first to notice signs of self-sabotage, depression, or other serious effects that may co-manifest with addiction.

The domino effect of lying

We can prevent these symptoms from affecting us by being more truthful with others and ourselves. Those who carry the burden of a big secret will be most impacted by their lies, but even small frequent lies can have the same effect. According to psychological research, when we lie, it automatically becomes easier to lie some more, which causes a domino effect in which lies become interconnected and inescapable, leading to the stress-related symptoms mentioned above. When we’re being truthful, it becomes simpler to continue telling the truth, leading to a decrease in our bodily reactions.

So while lying may seem like the easy way out, we’re actually doing ourselves a big disservice by giving into our impulses to lie. And that’s no lie!

image: Leo Reynolds (Creative Commons – BY-NC-SA)