The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale

Understanding the Impact of Long-term Stress

The Holmes & 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.

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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 & 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!

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Comments (283)
  • Midgie wrote This week
    Hi Hi1234,
    It great to hear your score which indicates no major stressful events in your life. Stress can be caused by many different factors, and this quiz highlights some of the typical major life situations that cause stress.

    Perhaps you already have some great strategies for dealing with stress in your life. Yet, if you are feeling somewhat stressed, take a look at some of the stress management strategies we talk and see which ideas you can implement.

    Midgie
    Mind Tools Team
  • Hi1234 wrote This week
    Even after tacking the test and doing the reading I'm not to sure what all of this means. But I have a 120 even with classes, Kids, And a full time job.
  • Yolande wrote This month
    Thanks all for sharing your scores with us.

    Patricia - you are right. Sometime we take care of everybody but ourselves. Problem is, you can't give what you don't have. So if you don't have much of 'you' left, there isn't much to give! There's a lesson in that for all of us.

    sister1 - I admire your courage and motivation. I love your attitude and that you're committed to a long and healthy life. What a shining example you are.

    mikecb1972 - please take good care of yourself. Get enough rest, eat healthy food and get help from external sources such a a doctor or a therapist if you need to. Most important thing is that you stay healthy and happy.

    Yolandé
    Mind Tools Team
  • mikecb1972 wrote This month
    I just learned I have some serious adjustments to make with a score of 472
  • sister1 wrote This month
    My score was 272, and that tell me that I have a moderate to high chance of becoming ill in the near future. What I plan to do about that is to avoid future life crises, and any one getting on my nerve. I will take care of myself and I refuse to be ill. I am 60 and stress free and that the way it is going to be. My goal is to take care of myself and get my degree and to live a long health life enjoying every day.
  • Patricia wrote This month
    I was aware some stress was present in my life, and I am working to rid them ASAP. We can be so busy with our day to day and never stop to check ourselves or take care of ourselves. This is an area I am really bad at, by the time the day is over who has time for self. I am now turning this behavior around, first step is making myself a priority. The decision of obtaining my degree is a result of this decision. I am proud of myself for moving forward.
  • Michele wrote This month
    Hi LaToya1,

    Please do take care of yourself. Do you have access to counseling? Other steps you can take is to reach out to friends and family and introduce exercise into your daily routine. A walk in the neighbourhood or in a local park or trail does wonders.

    Michele
    Mind Tools Team
  • LaToya1 wrote This month
    I don't know what I'm going to do, but I do know that. I need to change some things. My stress levels have been high a very long time, I'm very surprised that I'm not already gone. Stress can cause sickness because I've been there too.
  • Teresa wrote This month
    suffering through a serious illness now. gearing toward getting these problems corrected now.
  • Yolande wrote This month
    Paying attention to our own bodies and our own needs is challenging at times - yet it's a responsibility that only you can take care of. Rest enough, eat healthy food, get some exercise and laugh every day - but a few small things you can do for yourself.

    Yolandé
    Mind Tools Team
Show all comments

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