MAR 04, 2024 5:15 PM PST

Stress, Lack of Control Make Young People Look, Feel Older

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Younger adults look and feel older when they feel stressed and that they have relatively less control over their own lives. The corresponding study was published in Mental Health Science.

"There's substantial research that tells us stress makes older adults feel their age, or even feel older than they actually are," said corresponding author of the study, Shevaun Neupert, Professor of Psychology at North Carolina State University, in a press release

"This work may be particularly timely, as stress researchers are seeing an increase in the amount of stress younger adults are experiencing now, when compared to the amount of stress previous generations experienced when they were young,” she added. 

For the study, the researchers collected data from 107 adults aged between 18 and 36 years old, with an average age of 20 years old. They filled in surveys on eight consecutive days that captured their stress levels, feelings of control over their lives, and how old they felt and looked each day. 

The researchers found that participants reported feeling and looking older on days when they experienced higher stress levels. The effect was noticeable even if someone experienced relatively low stress, provided it was higher than their norm. The researchers saw the same effect with feelings of control over one's life ie. less than normally reported feelings of control were linked to feeling and looking older.

"For one thing, this tells us that the phenomenon of stress making people feel older is not limited to older adults -- it happens to young people too," said Prof Neupert. 

"It's also important because we know that experiencing chronic stress over time can have adverse effects, and that people generally report increasing levels of stress as they move from young adulthood to midlife- their 40s and 50s. If these young people are already experiencing historically high levels of stress for their age, and that stress is affecting how old they feel, it will be important for us to pay close attention to the markers we use to assess stress-related physical and mental health for this generation,” concluded Prof. Neupert. 


Sources: Science DailyMental Health Science

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets.
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