The Holmes & Rahe Stress Scale

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale is a well-known tool for measuring the amount of stress you’ve experienced.

In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe studied the connections between stress and illness.

They examined the medical records of more than 5,000 patients, and focused specifically on 43 common life events. They called these Life Change Units, or LCUs.

They asked people which LCUs they’d experienced in the previous two years and that allowed Holmes and Rahe to work out the relative “weights” of different types of stress.

It showed them the point at which someone’s combined stress load was likely to put them at risk.

Initially they called this the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) and this was then revisited and revised in 1997 and retitled the Recent Life Changes Questionnaire (RLCQ).

SRRS Social Readjustment Rating Scale

Life events on the Holmes and Rahe scale are not necessarily good or bad. They are simply times of extra strain.

Keith Sedlacek (1976)

The scores are interpreted as follows:

11-150 = You only have a low to moderate chance of becoming ill in the near future. Less than 150 life change units and you have a 30% chance of suffering from stress.

150 – 299 = You have a moderate to high chance of becoming ill in the near future. This equates to a 50% chance of suffering from stress.

300-600 = You have a high or very high risk of becoming ill in the near future. You have an 80% chance of developing a stress related illness.

If you find that you’re at a moderate or high level of risk, then you’ve got to seriously re-evaluate and stop doing something that could have a major impact on your health.

But are daily hassles and irritating demands of everyday life rather than major life events the most stressful?

Kanner et al (1981) think so and in their study they found their hassles scale tended to be a more accurate predictor of stress related problems, such as anxiety and depression, than the SRRS.

It’s not the large things that send someone to a madhouse but a series of small tragedies. This is captured by Charles Bukowski in his poem The Shoelace.

It is these little trivialities that count and one of them will be the straw that broke the camel’s back!

It’s not the large things that send a man to the madhouse… no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies… not the death of his love but the shoelace that snaps with no time left.


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