Friday, May 17, 2013

Is Your Stress Level Toxic?

Stress can kill you. We all know that, right? But have you ever taken a test to evaluate your risk?

Six months ago, I had reason to worry that work-related stress had destroyed one of my most valued assets—my health. I rarely slept more than four hours a night, my hair was falling out in fistfuls, and I’d lost so much weight that even my smallest sized clothes hung on me like a scarecrow. I did a little research and discovered an online stress inventory that has been used for decades to help determine the risk of developing a serious physical illness as a result of stress.

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale (or Social Readjustment Rating Scale) was developed by two psychiatrists in 1967. It assigns a numerical score to each of 43 significant life events from the death of a spouse to minor legal problems. You determine whether you have experienced each individual stressor during the past twelve months then add up the numbers assigned to each one.  If your score is less than 150, you have only a slight risk of developing a serious, stress-related illness in the next two years. 150-299 presents a moderate risk. Over 300 and you have an 80% chance.

Here are two places you can try it out for yourself. The first asks the questions a bit differently then adds the points up for you.

Both tests told me that based on the events of the past year I am at a very high risk of getting sick. This is unsettling because I never get sick. With the exception of a nasty bout of norovirus I caught from a co-worker whose husband (a high school teacher) brought home from school, I haven’t had so much as a cold in nearly ten years.

While I’ll admit I’ve had more than my fair share of stress in the past year, I’m not entirely certain I took the test properly—that’s one of the main problems with self-administered tests over the Internet. Most of my stress was work-related, and there are several questions that address bad work situations from different angles. Per the instructions, I answered yes to all that applied, but I wonder if that might have over-magnified the true situation. If you take the test, you’ll see what I mean.

Based on the test, I’m feeling much better than I should. This is borne out by the results of yet another Internet test (don’t you just love them?). According to the Stress Screener at I’m in great shape. It evaluates one’s current emotional state in response to stress instead of measuring the quantity of stressful events. My results suggest I have developed healthy ways of coping with stress. In my next post, I’ll share the best article I’ve found on stress reduction and management.

Try the tests for yourself, and let me know if you think the results are valid.


  1. Interesting post, Alison. I hope you're doing much better now. I'm kind of afraid to check out those tests right now. I'm afraid they'll tell me that I should have exploded by now. Maybe one of these days, we'll figure out how to relax and just...breathe. *sigh*

    1. I'm definitely doing better, Maeve, but I have to hope the negative effects of so much stress will wear off before a full year. I don't want more stress from worrying about stress!

  2. Holy moley~! I scored 386. Not terribly surprising, I guess, considering life circumstances, but seeing it in a black and white number is a little depressing. :(

    1. Scary, isn't it, Barbara? My score was about the same as yours. Hopefully, we'll both be statistical anomalies.

  3. I'm at around 200, but I have a quibble with it -- some of the changes they think might be stressors I view as positive (vacation, change in eating habits, change in social habits [I'm way more social now that I moved]).

    I couldn't find the Stress Screener at the other site, but I'm not going to stress about it ☺