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The Science of Feeling Older: A Study on Stress and Control in Young Adults

Medically reviewed by 
Amitha Kalaichandran
The Science of Feeling Older: A Study on Stress and Control in Young Adults

Stepping into adulthood is like entering a whole new world filled with exciting opportunities, but it also comes with its fair share of challenges. Between juggling school work, part-time jobs, and trying to keep up with friends, life can get hectic. 

It's during these times that stress becomes a constant companion, affecting not just how we feel on the inside but also how we appear to others. An interesting multilevel modal survey study of 107 adults explores this complex relationship, examining how the stress we face every day can make us feel and even look older than we actually are. 

For many young adults, this era of life is all about making key decisions that will shape their future. Feeling older than our actual age or noticing signs of stress when we look in the mirror are not just fleeting thoughts; they are real consequences of the stress we carry around.

The research brings to light the importance of believing in our ability to manage these stressors, known as control beliefs. As we explore the findings from their study, it's crucial to recognize that the journey through young adulthood, with all its ups and downs, is a common path many of us walk. 


The Daily Grind: Stress and Its Ageing Echo

Daily life is riddled with stressors, from the minute annoyance of a traffic jam to the more significant worries about health or financial stability. These stressors, as the study uncovers, do more than just damage our nerves; they make us feel and look older. 

This correlation is particularly pronounced in younger adults, individuals aged between 18 and 36, who, according to the research, reported feeling and looking significantly older on days fraught with stress.

At the heart of this study is the concept of control beliefs — our confidence in our ability to influence outcomes and steer through the chaos of daily life. Interestingly, these beliefs play a pivotal role, acting as a buffer against the aging effect of stress. 

On days when young adults felt a stronger sense of control, the usual correlation between stress and feeling older was notably diminished. This intriguing finding underscores the power of perceived control in mitigating the subjective aging effects of daily stressors.

Why This Matters

The implications of these findings are vast. For one, they underscore the importance of nurturing a strong sense of personal control as a coping mechanism. This is particularly vital in our formative years when our identities and capacities are still in flux. 

Moreover, the study's insights open new avenues for interventions aimed at bolstering young adults' resilience against stress — by enhancing their control beliefs, we might not only improve their day-to-day well-being but also their long-term health outcomes.

Evaluating the Stress Response Through Functional Medicine Labs

Functional medicine offers a window into the physiological impacts of stress by examining various biomarkers, notably through hormonal assessments and comprehensive stool tests. 

Hormonal evaluations, including salivary cortisol measurements, provide insight into the body's stress response by mapping cortisol's daily pattern and detecting any disruptions indicative of chronic stress.

Micronutrient tests play a pivotal role in understanding how stress depletes essential nutrients, leading to potential deficiencies that can exacerbate stress's physical manifestations. By mapping out nutrient levels, these panels help identify specific deficiencies that need addressing to support the body's resilience against stress. 

Armed with the detailed insights provided by these functional medicine labs, physicians can craft personalized treatment strategies aimed at mitigating the effects of stress. This approach not only aids in alleviating the immediate symptoms but also targets the underlying causes, fostering a holistic path towards health and equilibrium in the face of stress.

A Path Forward

Given the study's findings, it becomes clear that fostering an environment where young adults can cultivate a sense of control and mastery over their lives is crucial. 

This might involve educational programs focused on stress management, mindfulness practices that encourage presence and awareness, or even policy changes that address the root causes of stress in academic and work settings.

As we navigate the complexities of modern life, understanding the subtle interplay between stress, control, and our perception of age can be empowering. It reminds us that, amid the chaos, finding our locus of control might just be the key to preserving not just our youthfulness but our well-being. 

The research doesn't just open our eyes to the aging shadows cast by daily stress; it offers a beacon of hope in the form of control beliefs, a tool every young adult has within their reach to sculpt a resilient, vibrant path forward.


Key Takeaways

  • Daily stress significantly impacts young adults aged 18 to 36, making them feel and look older, a phenomenon that can be mitigated by strong control beliefs, which act as a buffer against the aging effects of stress.
  • The study highlights the importance of developing a sense of personal control to cope with stress, suggesting that enhancing control beliefs could improve young adults' well-being and potentially their long-term health outcomes.
  • Functional medicine labs offer insights into the physiological impacts of stress, such as hormonal imbalances and nutrient deficiencies, enabling personalized treatments that target both the symptoms and underlying causes of stress.
The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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Lab Tests in This Article


1. Cloyd, J. (2023, October 2). A Functional Medicine Approach to Stress Management. Rupa Health.

2. Lee, S. E., & Neupert, S. D. (2024). The effect of control beliefs on the relationship between daily stressors and subjective age in younger adults. Mental Health Science.

3. Maholy, N. (2023, April 14). How to reduce stress through mind-body therapies. Rupa Health.

4. Micronutrient Test by SpectraCell Laboratories. (n.d.). Rupa Health.

5. Salivary Cortisol x4 by Access Med Labs. (n.d.). Rupa Health. Retrieved March 7, 2024, from

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