Please look at the following:

Dear Katharine (very dear):

I've had moments of despair during the last week which have added years to my life and put many new thoughts in my head. Always, however, I have ended on a cheerful note of hope. based on the realization that you are the person to whom I return and that you are the recurrent phrase in my life.

From Letters of E.B. White

From the context here, I think the phrase "add years to life" means that "it makes me worry and makes me feel years older" but I searched everywhere and cannot find another instance where this phrase is used with this meaning.

I have searched all dictionaries I have access to: OED, OALD, Cambridge advanced learner's dictionary, and American Heritage Dictionary, but cannot find the meaning for this phrase.

I also Googled it to try to find how it is used in different contexts. In all the cases I have found, it appears to mean "to make me live longer."

Can someone let me know:

  • can the phrase mean "it makes me feel years older?"
  • where else is it used with this meaning?

When EB White wrote that the moments of despair added years to his life, he meant that they made him feel years older than his real age.

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  • That’s what I guessed too, but I cannot find anything else that uses this phrase this way. Nor can i find it in the dictionaries. – Tom Bennett Mar 17 '19 at 12:32
  • It should be noted that "add years to your life" is often used to mean that the subject item/activity can make you live longer. – Hot Licks Mar 17 '19 at 13:02
  • I find a lot of examples that means to make life longer but haven't found another case which means to make one feel older. – Tom Bennett Mar 17 '19 at 17:47

put years on someone or put years on (one) TFD idioms

To cause someone to look, act, or feel much older than they are.

As in:

I'm not even 30, but having two kids has put years on me!

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  • My mother used to say "You'll put years on me!" to me and my sister. She also used to say "You'll make me drink Brobat!" Brobat is a UK brand of bleach. – Michael Harvey Mar 17 '19 at 12:41

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