Life, Change, and Stress (Holmes & Rahe)

LIFE, CHANGE, AND STRESS (Holmes, T.H, & Rahe, R.H.) 1967.


Life Stress - external changes that occur in people's lives requiring them to make major internal, psychological adjustments

Do you believe in a clear connection between stress and illness? Most people would answer "Yes." However, just until 20 to 30 years ago, people were not aware of the fact that stress affected our health conditions. As defined above, life stress is stress that bring big changes to our lives, such as moving to a new school, or losing your job. Of course, scientifically it is impossible to precisely measure these life stresses, because it's not like the psychologists can stuff people into a room and expose them to long term stressful events. Therefore, Holmes and Rahe developed a written scale to measure life stress, and what effect it has on a person's health.

METHOD and Rahe first came up with a list of 43 life stresses that causes a person to make adjustments in their lives. Then, they showed the list to 394 subjects and asked them to determine how much stress each event brings. They also asked the subjects to assign a point value to each event, in which marriage had been given an arbitrary value of 500 points. Then, if the subjects saw an event that cause more changes than marriage, they would give that event more than 500 points, and if it was less, they would give it less than 500 points. These scores were averaged and then divided by 10 to arrive at a score for the individual items.


As you can see, the death of spouse was ranked the most stressful event and minor violation of law was ranked as the least. To make the result consistent to all subjects, Holmes and Rahe divided the subjects into several subgroups (such as male vs female, higher socioeconomic vs lower socioeconomic, etc) and correlated their ratings of the items.

Holmes' and Rahe's SRRS have been criticized mostly for its lack of accuracy, for the scale includes both positive and negative life events as well as events that are in your control and events that are out of your control in the same scale. This is inaccurate because events that are sudden, negative and out of your control are much more predictive of illness than are positive, controllable life changes. Furthermore, the scale also does not take into consideration each person's interpretation of a stressful event. For example, retirement may mean for a person, the end of a career and being forced out of pasture, while for another person, it may mean freedom and leisure time.

RECENT APPLICATIONS have been many new tools for measuring stress, however, the SRRS is still chosen frequently by researchers as the most useful tool. Recently, a study incorporating the SRRS examined the relationship between life stress and coping abilities to the increased chance of serious injury in elderly individuals. The results showed that there was a clear connection between the number of life-change events with hip-fracture injuries. Furthermore, there also has been a study with the SRRS to examine the link between drug abuse and stress among white collar workers in Quebec. This also showed that there was a statistically significant association between psychotropic (i.e, marijuana, cocaine) drug use and job stress. Lastly, there was an important cross-cultural study that sought the validity of applying Western definitions and theories about stress to other diverse cultures. This study showed that for example in India, the word stress cannot be clearly translated, which is a problem for researchers in non-Western cultures. Furthermore, people in different cultures see different events as stressful events, which may not be included in the scale.

Several factors in life effect illness, and among them is stress. Though in the past it has been ignored, nowadays, people realize that successful treatment of illness must involve the entier person: mind and body.


This video shows stressful events or situations and the consequences

This video shows how stress affects health

This video shows ways of coping with stress


The Holmes-Rahe Scale - Calculate your score!
Stress - How stress affects you

Stress - Definition
Stressful Life Events - Chapter Summary

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