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.

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 & 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 (215)
  • Midgie wrote This month
    Hi PollyC, tinajardine and Dante1974,
    Thanks for sharing. I believe that a big difference is how you actually deal with the stresses in your life. So whether you have a lot of a little, it's how you deal with whatever happens that is important. We have many resources here to help with developing effective strategies so have a look around and see whether you can adopt any of the ideas.

    Midgie
    Mind Tools Team
  • Dante1974 wrote This month
    I have a lot of stress in my life. I just have to find better ways of dealing with certain situations.
  • tinajardine wrote This month
    I have very little stress in my life
  • PollyC wrote This month
    This is a good basis test to thinking about what may cause stress in my life. I know that in my home life I need to de-clutter so I can move forward with feeling good to have guest over. My score was 288 and I am dealing with health issues and also helping out my mom. I think coming to work everyday around students and daycare kids is usually a happy part of my life.
  • Yolande wrote This month
    Rebecca you make a valid point. At the time when this scale was designed, long term non-marital relationships were not the norm. In my mind, a long term relationship that comes to an end would probably carry the same rating as divorce or marital separation. Being or having been the victim of abuse or violence will probably also fall under the top 10.

    Yolandé
    Mind Tools Team
  • Rebecca wrote This month
    This scale doesn't include things like non-marital break-ups, or having been the victim of abuse or violence. I would think that those things would also be very significant sources of stress for anyone.
  • Michele wrote This month
    Anna,

    Thank you for sharing your score. While your score indicates that there is stress in your life, you are taking good care of yourself.

    Michele
    Mind Tools Team
  • Anna wrote This month
    I have been told by health care professionals that even though you feel that you handled stressors successfully emotionally and spiritually, your physical body is dealing with stress itself and that process is not something you can stop or control. I find it best for myself to take time to stop and evaluate whether I am allowing myself enough rest, am eating quality food, and keeping myself hydrated. According to the quiz, I scored a 329. I can't control the stressors, but I can watch out for myself and realize that God's higher purpose is working out for my good and that of others in my life.
  • Midgie wrote This month
    Hi Jessie49 and CurtisM,
    Thanks for sharing yoru thoughts. I agree that this quiz is a good guideline and it is important to remember that everyone deals with stress differently. So, you might be more easily be able to stay cool under pressure whereas for others, it pushes their buttons and triggers a stress reaction.

    Whether you use the additional tools here or develop the skill to become more present in the moment, it is important that everyone put in place strategies to help reduce the effects of the stress in their lives.

    Midgie
    Mind Tools Team
  • CurtisM wrote This month
    Whelp I don't believe I scored a 673 even without allowance of cultural differences I thought that was high for someone whom prides himself on being the coolest under pressure. I have always relied upon my natural habits of staying cool to miraculously come to my rescue. Moving forward I can now begin to utilize tools such as Mind Tools to refocus when One has a lapse.
Show all comments

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