The vast majority of people living in Britain feel life is considerably more stressful than a decade ago, according to research from The Priory Group

According to leading behavioral care specialists, The Priory Group, tough economic challenges are taking their emotional toll, forcing a rise in the “quarter life crisis”.

Key findings of a survey conducted by OnePoll, who sampled 500 UK employees over the age of 18, include that nearly one in three adults aged 25-34 have regular headaches, while a quarter feel constantly exhausted. One in 10 works 11-20 hours overtime a week, and the constantly online generation is making ‘out of office’ emails obsolete.

Younger workers feel stress the most

The Priory Group argue that the survey shows that the vast majority of people living in Britain feel life is considerably more stressful than a decade ago and that younger Brits between 25 and 34 years old are more stressed than the rest of the population.

While nearly 60 percent of working adults of all ages say their emotional health has deteriorated since 2005, mostly as a result of work and financial pressures, the figure escalates to 70 percent for those in their mid-twenties and early thirties. The success and happiness they experience in other parts of their lives appears not to offset this anxiety.

The figure for stress remains high for 35-44-year-olds at 60 percent, but drops to 34 percent for the over-55s.

Younger adults also suffer more physical signs of stress than “baby boomers” – those born between 1946 and 1964 – with 28 percent saying they often feel exhausted, compared to 19 percent of the over 55s in work, 30 percent have regular headaches (compared to 20 percent of over 55s) and 23 percent say they are getting more bad-tempered – compared to just 13 percent of the over 55s.

It is unsurprising perhaps that younger adult workers, worried about their bank balances and job insecurity, feel they must put in the most overtime – with one in 10 of those aged 25-34 working between 11 and 20 hours overtime a week, compared to 5% of those aged 35-44.

The ‘quarter-life crisis

The report backs up other research on the rise of the so-called “quarter-life crisis” – which psychologists say occurs a quarter of your way through adulthood, in the period between 25 and 35, although they cluster around 30.

Bearing the hallmarks of the midlife crisis, it’s the period when younger adults are anxiety-ridden about debt, unemployment and relationships – and overwhelmed by life choices and pressures, especially to get on the housing ladder and start a family.

The majority of all those 500 adults polled said they would regard their biggest life achievements as owning their own home and having children.

The online generation

The poll was carried out for the Priory Group, which runs the largest network of mental healthcare hospitals and clinics in the country, as part of an exploration into people’s emotional wellbeing in relation to their work and social commitments – and the need to feel online all the time.

Part of the stress across the age groups appears to be caused by the digital deluge, with well over a quarter of all workers feeling compelled to check work emails while on holiday or at weekends, and feeling stressed out as a result.

There’s no gender divide between men and women feeling forced to monitor their work inbox when they are not even in the office; one in four of both sexes (28 percent) felt their office should come home or on holiday with them on their smartphones.

But younger workers are more inclined to access work emails out of hours than older colleagues.

Some 36 percent of those aged 25-34 felt so insecure about their jobs that they didn’t let their out-of-office message fulfil its function, but constantly monitored their boss’s emails on vacation and during time off, compared to 26 percent of those aged 35-44 and just 19 per cent of those aged over 55s.

Work-related stress on the rise?

Jon van Niekerk, consultant psychiatrist and medical director at Priory Hospital Bristol, said more people were coming to the Priory as a result of the recent economic downturn, with work-related stress. They faced the fear – or reality – of redundancy or restructuring, or worked in environments where targets were stringent and people were often doing the work of two or three people who had been “restructured” out of the business.

Those people – often public sector workers and young professionals – felt that switching off from work emails was not an option, which effectively meant they were accompanied by their boss wherever they went – but with this came a feeling of overload and loss of control.

Dr van Niekerk said: “When this feeling leads to people’s relationships being affected, or their ability to fully function at work being compromised because they can’t switch off, it might be too late and their mental health could be at risk.  It’s important to prioritise your own needs and to speak out when you are overwhelmed.”

The survey also revealed that 96 percent of respondents working and living in the UK regularly worked beyond their contracted working hours.

The main reason for this, say a quarter of employees, is that they feel it is expected of them. Many also say that their work cannot be completed in the allotted hours or wanted a head start at the beginning of the week. Dr van Niekerk added: “It is important to recognise when you are experiencing work related stress.”

He said common unhealthy coping strategies were not exercising, over eating or skipping meals, or eating unhealthily to soothe difficult feelings.

“An unhelpful cycle can quickly develop, where you are not sleeping well due to worrying about work and then having to keep yourself alert at work by drinking excessive caffeine, or overeating, which in turn can make you feel more irritable.”

The Priory Group has seen a rise of nearly a fifth in patients suffering from stress and anxiety related to work between 2012 and 2015.