The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale

Understanding the Impact of Long-term Stress

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Test

Are you "burning the candle at both ends?"

© iStockphoto/Anyka

People use the word "stress" to describe a wide variety of situations – from your cell phone ringing while you're talking on another phone – to the feelings associated with intense work overload, or the death of a loved-one.

But perhaps the most useful and widely accepted definition of stress (mainly attributed to Richard S. Lazarus) is this: Stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that "demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize." In less formal terms, we feel stressed when we feel that "things are out of control".

Our ability to cope with the demands upon us is key to our experience of stress. For example, starting a new job might be a wholly exciting experience if everything else in your life is stable and positive. But if you start a new job when you've just moved into a new house, or your partner is ill, or you're experiencing money problems, you might find it very hard to cope.

How much of this does it take to push you "over the edge"? Not all unusual events are equally hard to deal with. For example, compare the stress of divorce with that of a change in responsibilities at work. Because of this, you need to be able to rate and measure your total stress score appropriately.

The Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), more commonly known as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, was created to do just that. This tool helps us measure the stress load we carry, and think about what we should do about it.

This article looks at the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, and explains how you can use it to manage the stress in your life.

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale

In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe decided to study whether or not stress contributes to illness. They surveyed more than 5,000 medical patients and asked them to say whether they had experience any of a series of 43 life events in the previous two years.

Each event, called a Life Change Unit (LCU), had a different "weight" for stress. The more events the patient added up, the higher the score. The higher the score, and the larger the weight of each event, the more likely the patient was to become ill.

The Stress Scale

To score your stress levels, simply select Yes or No for each of the events in the Statements column that have happened to you in the last year. Then click Calculate My Total.

This table is taken from "The Social Readjustment Rating Scale", Thomas H. Holmes and Richard H. Rahe, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Volume 11, Issue 2, August 1967, Pages 213-218, Copyright © 1967 Published by Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved. Permission to reproduce granted by the publisher.

This scale must not be used in any way to cause harm to an individual's professional career.

Your last quiz results are shown.

You last completed this quiz on , at .

43 Statements to Answer

Yes No
1 Death of spouse (100)
2 Divorce (73)
3 Marital separation (65)
4 Jail term (63)
5 Death of close family member (63)
6 Personal injury or illness (53)
7 Marriage (50)
8 Fired at work (47)
9 Marital reconciliation (45)
10 Retirement (45)
11 Change in health of family member (44)
12 Pregnancy (40)
13 Sex difficulties (39)
14 Gain of new family member (39)
15 Business readjustment (39)
16 Change in financial state (38)
17 Death of close friend (37)
18 Change to a different line of work (36)
19 Change in number of arguments with spouse (35)
20 A large mortgage or loan (31)
21 Foreclosure of mortgage or loan (30)
22 Change in responsibilities at work (29)
23 Son or daughter leaving home (29)
24 Trouble with in-laws (29)
25 Outstanding personal achievement (28)
26 Spouse begins or stops work (26)
27 Begin or end school/college (26)
28 Change in living conditions (25)
29 Revision of personal habits (24)
30 Trouble with boss (23)
31 Change in work hours or conditions (20)
32 Change in residence (20)
33 Change in school/college (20)
34 Change in recreation (19)
35 Change in church activities (19)
36 Change in social activities (18)
37 A moderate loan or mortgage (37)
38 Change in sleeping habits (16)
39 Change in number of family get-togethers (15)
40 Change in eating habits (15)
41 Vacation (13)
42 Christmas (12)
43 Minor violations of the law (11)
Total = 0

Note: If you experienced the same event more than once, then to gain a more accurate total, add the score again for each extra occurrence of the event.

Score Interpretation

Score Comment
11-150

You have only a low to moderate chance of becoming ill in the near future.

150-299

You have a moderate to high chance of becoming ill in the near future.

300-600

You have a high or very high risk of becoming ill in the near future.

What You Can Do About This

If you find that you are at a moderate or high level of risk , then an obvious first thing to do is to try to avoid future life crises.

While this is clearly easier said than done, you can usually avoid moving house, for example, close to when you retire, or when one of your children goes off to college; you can learn conflict resolution skills   to minimize conflict with other people; you can avoid taking on new obligations or engaging with new programs of study; and you can take things easy, and look after yourself.

For more on reducing stress, visit the Stress Tools area of Mind Tools.

Note 1:

Some scientists have suggested that the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale is weak in certain areas. For example, some feel that different cultural groups react differently to different life events.

One study compared scores of Americans with those of Malaysians. Interestingly, Malaysians had different attitudes toward breaking the law and toward relationships than the Americans did, meaning that their experience of stress was different at the same score.

Keep cultural differences in mind as you score your own life events.

Note 2:

While it's useful to know about this idea so that you can take action with it, don't dwell on it, and don't let this knowledge affect your mood. Think positively!  

Note 3:

Stress can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, can cause death. You should take the advice of a suitably qualified health professional if you have any concerns over stress-related illnesses, or if stress is causing you significant or persistent unhappiness.

Key Points

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale is a well-known tool for measuring the amount of stress you’ve experienced within the past year. Taking the test can help you see clearly if you’re at risk of illness due to stress.

Warning: Stress can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, can cause death. While these stress management techniques have been shown to have a positive effect on reducing stress, they are for guidance only, and readers should take the advice of suitably qualified health professionals if they have any concerns over stress-related illnesses or if stress is causing significant or persistent unhappiness. Health professionals should also be consulted before any major change in diet or levels of exercise.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

Add this article to My Learning Plan

Comments (108)
  • Yolande wrote Over an hour ago
    Hi chahar

    I'm so glad to see you haven't lost your sense of humour...you gave me a good giggle with your comment: "in the place that make you put your jacket on backwards".
    Seeing that you are a member of the Mind Tools Club you are more than welcome to join us on the forums too. We also run a Stress Support Group on one of the forums at : http://www.mindtools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=8611 It will be great if you can share some of your tips with the rest of the community about how you got to where you are now.
    Great that you gave us a good news story!

    Regards
    Yolandé
    Mind Tools Team
  • chahar wrote Over an hour ago
    So I scored 123 so I have a low or moderate chance of becoming ill due to stress. If this test had been done 4 years ago I would be in the place that make you put your jacket on backwards. I have come a very long way and am proud of what I am becoming everyday
  • Midgie wrote This week
    Hi Hank,
    It is great to hear that you have such a positive attitude and approach to life, even though you have experienced what typically causes stress. I do believe that our attitudes and beliefs about things, and about the typical stressful events, do make a different to how we get through it all. So well done to you and keep up the great attitude!

    Midgie
    Mind Tools Team
  • Hank wrote This week
    I am...confused. I feel great, I'm not sick, i think and act in a positive manner and yet I scored a 232. I had a death in the family but I chose to celebrate life rather than morn death. I started college but I'm excited not stress. I don't see how this fits everyone.
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Santesha and ANicole6,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Indeed prolonged stress can result in ill health like repeated getting ill. The key is to put in place strategies to manage or minimize the stressors and their negative effect.

    We have many more resources to help with stress management, and if you want additional support, why not join the Career Club and post a question in the forums to receive support, advice and ideas.

    Midgie
    Mind Tools Team
  • ANicole6 wrote Over a month ago
    Wow! To see how high my score is 252, is too much. I have been getting sick more often with the amount of
    stress and it has taken a big toll on my mind as well.
    So, I have chosen to get therapy to help me, become more
    better at dealing with my stressful issues at hand, so that I can live longer to enjoy my grandchildren and life more. I will also use the tools in my Learning Plan,
    too.
  • Santesha wrote Over a month ago
    I agree that I have been under a lot of stress and it can result into a health scare. I haven't thought that all the stress can cause me to become ill.
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Thanks for sharing with us, tluckett. I hope you're able to deal with the major stressors in your life and minimise their impact on you.

    Yolandé
    Mind Tools Team
  • tluckett wrote Over a month ago
    My score was 204 but I don't think these questions accurately highlighted the major stressors in my life within this past year.
  • juanitalong1 wrote Over a month ago
    My score was a 354. What some may think of as stress others consider as motivation to do better in life
Show all comments

Where to go from here:

Join the Mind Tools Club

Click to join Mind Tools
Printer-friendly version
Return to the top of the page

Your Score
Create a Login to Save Your Learning Plan

This ensures that you don’t lose your plan.


Connect with…

Or create a Mind Tools login. Existing user? Log in here.
Log in with your existing Mind Tools details
Lost Username or Password
You are now logged in…

Lost username or password?

Please enter your username or email address and we'll send you a reminder.

Thank You!

Your log in details have been sent to the email account you registered with. Please check your email to reset your login details.

Create a Mind Tools Login
Your plan has been created.

While you're here, subscribe to our FREE newsletter?

Learn a new career skill every week, and get our Personal Development Plan workbook (worth $19.99) when you subscribe.


Thank You!

Please check your Inbox, and click on the link in the email from us. We can then send you the newsletter.