Health Team

'Emerging adults' suffer from increased stress

Posted October 5, 2018 6:23 p.m. EDT
Updated March 14, 2019 10:11 a.m. EDT

— The college years can be a very stress-filled time for “emerging adults,” who are transitioning from their parents' care to independence.

Balancing a part-time job, school and a social life are just a part of 28-year-old North Carolina State University student Jessica Archibald's full plate of stress.

"There is a lot of fear in going back to school and figuring out what I wanted to do and spending a lot of time and money and effort in picking the wrong major," Archibald said.

A recent N.C. State study found she's not alone. Archibald fits into a group called "emerging adults."

"[This is] where people don't necessarily identify as a child or adolescent," said N.C. State psychology professor and Ph.D recipient Shevaun Neupert. "They don't necessarily identify with all the roles and responsibilities of adulthood, but they are ‘emerging.’"

Neupert led a study involving 106 students, mostly between the ages of 18 to 22, in which participants regularly filled out questionnaires to track their stress levels and how old it made them feel.

"I do personally feel older when I encounter stressors like that," said N.C. State senior Elizabeth Anglis.

Anglis, 21, said she felt that way as a freshman, but now she is settled into her psychology major. She fits into a group called "fixed identity.”

Students like her said they felt less aging effects of stress compared with "identity explorers," who are uncertain about career choices.

"What we found in this study is that those people who were actively searching were the most vulnerable to the aging effects of stress,"Neupert said.

She says "identity explorers" felt five years older than "fixed identity" students. Long term, those levels of stress are related to poor physical health, cognitive decline and early death, she said.

"The extent to which this study can help identify students who may be in that phase and could help them deal with potential stress, I think, could be valuable," she said.

Anglis said she learned that kind of positive support doesn't come knocking on your door.

"You have to really seek out guidance. You have to really seek it out," Anglis said.

Neupert said that the study was based upon picking a major, but that identity issues go beyond college. Many people experience the same stressors in social relationships or in establishing their political and religious beliefs, she said.