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.

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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. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.

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Comments (91)
  • Midgie wrote This week
    Hi Bill, Hi Ashley,
    Thanks for sharing. Sounds like things have been rather tough for you lately! Or, is that an understatement?!?

    I encourage you to focus on taking good kind and gentle care of yourself, perhaps making 'self-care' your top priority before anything else.

    Much like while traveling on an airplane where they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. Otherwise, if you are struggling, how can you help others?

    What has to happen for you to put on that oxygen mask first?

    We're here to help, yet I would also encourage you to seek some sort of help and support locally through family, friends or professionals.

    Midgie
    Mind Tools Team
  • Ashley wrote This week
    Try just about all these in one week I am surprised that my score wasn't higher.
  • Bill wrote This week
    Took this last year and it was about 600, thought that was bad. I'm now up to 695. Stop the merry-go-round, I want off...
  • Michele wrote This week
    Thanks for sharing your scores with us.

    I am seeing some high scores from Lisa, Brandy, Ervinc and Candiann.

    Although everyone handles stress differently, I hope you are making plans to reduce your stress. It is important to take care of "you".

    Michele
    Mind Tools TEam
  • Lisa wrote This week
    my score was 744 its a wonder im alive but it has been a tough year for me
  • Brandy wrote This week
    Wow, 350... I didn't realize I was as stressed as I really am according to this. I do feel though that the number will decrease this year as my divorce is almost a year old as it is.
  • ervinc wrote This month
    Corey E.

    wow my Score was 421 which is high according to the calculation, I am going to have to really come up with some ways and things I can do to help reduce my stress level.
  • Candiann wrote This month
    511 is my score. if I did this lets say yearly I think the number will go down. I have been taking anger management twice a week and it helps majorly for me to not stress on things I cant change. also I now have a desired outcome which I make sure I never forget. but I guess 511 is a high score.
  • Midgie wrote This month
    Thanks everyone for sharing your scores and your thoughts.

    Everyone does indeed react differently to different 'stressors' in life and I believe the difference is what strategies we have in place to deal with them. And, whether we have developed the emotional resilience to bounce back.

    There may be times when we are 'wobbly' with all the stress we are experiencing in our lives, yet, the test is how long does it take us to stabilize and carry on afterwards.

    Midgie
    Mind Tools Team
  • agnewla wrote This month
    My score is 215, but I don't think this assessment test is accurate, I believe each individual deal with stress differently.
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