The Holmes And Rahe Stress Scale is often used by doctors to find this answer: Can the most stressful life events predict future illness? Two researchers in 1967 thought so. Combing through the medical records of over 5,000 patients with an eye to seeing if there was a connection between illness and the most stressful life events, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe found that a strong correlation did exist. This correlation was so strong that they ranked stressful situations on a scale from most stressful to least stressful. These could indicate which life stressors put people at higher risk for becoming ill as a result. Read on to calculate your own stress levels, and see how these stressful situations could be affecting your health.

The most stressful life events according to the Holmes And Rahe Stress Scale

These results were published as the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), more commonly known as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale.

Rahe tested the reliability of the stress scale again in 1970. He gave the scale to 2,500 U.S. military members (sailors) and asked them to rank their most stressful life events. He then followed the sailors for six months, tracking their visits to the dispensary, to see if there was a correlation between their reported “life stress” and their visits to the doctor. The study once again proved the reliability of the scale. There was the exact same positive correlation between reported stress and illness as found in the original examination of medical record: 0.118.

The more stressful the event, the higher likelihood of illness. This result held true cross-culturally (looking at Japan and Malaysia in addition to the United States). It’s also true among different groups in the United States (African, Hispanic, and White Americans).

Top 10 most stressful life events

So what are the top ten most stressful life events on the Holmes and Rahe scale, and how are they used to predict the likelihood of illness? 

Each event is assigned a “Life Change Unit” score. These are then added together over a year and used to predict your risk of illness. For adults, the top ten most stressful life events and their “Life Change Unit” scores are as follows:

  1. Death of a spouse (or child*): 100
  2. Divorce: 73
  3. Marital separation: 65
  4. Imprisonment: 63
  5. Death of a close family member: 63
  6. Personal injury or illness: 53
  7. Marriage: 50
  8. Dismissal from work: 47
  9. Marital reconciliation: 45
  10. Retirement: 45

*Note: Death of a child was not originally defined in the original Holmes and Rahe scale, but due to its catastrophic effects on an individual, we have since added it to our list on Pain Doctor. 

To calculate your stress levels, add up each number for an event that has happened in the past year or is expected to happen in the future. If the event is expected to occur more than once, add those additional instances into your total. According to their scale, you have an:

  • 80% likelihood of illness for scores over 300
  • 50% likelihood of illness for scores between 150-299
  • 30% likelihood of illness for scores less than 150