New research has shown that the “phenomenon” of feeling older when you’re stressed applies to younger adults as well as older people.

With younger adults now seeing an increase in the amount of stress they experience, the researchers behind the study have described their findings as “timely”.

They found that younger people both look and feel older when they are stressed but this is limited to periods when they don’t feel as in control over their own lives.

Corresponding author Shevaun Neupert, professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, said: “There’s substantial research that tells us stress makes older adults feel their age, or even feel older than they actually are.

“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.”

Just over 107 young adults with a mean age of around 20 took part in the study, which recorded stress levels each day, how in control of their own lives they felt, and the extent to which they felt or looked old on that day.

Professor Neupert said: “The key finding was that on days when study participants reported experiencing higher levels of stress than they normally did, they also reported looking and feeling 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.

“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.”

Read the study in Mental Health Science.

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