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A Quiz to Measure Your (or Your Client’s) Stress Level

2024.01.30


You know when you’re stressed. Duh.

But did you know that there are actual ways to measure your subjective stress level?

The Perceived Stress Scale1 has been around since the 1980s and is still widely used.

Answer ten quick questions and tally your score.


Rate Yourself

Grab a piece of scratch paper and use the following scale to rate each of the questions below.

0 = never

1 = almost never

2 = sometimes

3 = fairly often

4 = very often

Over the past month, how often have you …

  1. Been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly?

  2. Felt that you were unable to control the important things in your life?

  3. Felt nervous and stressed?

  4. Felt that things were going your way?

  5. Felt confident about your ability to handle your personal problems?

  6. Found that you could not cope with all the things that you had to do?

  7. Been able to control the irritations in your life?

  8. Felt that you were on top of things?

  9. Been angered because of things that were outside of your control?

  10. Felt difficulties were piling up so high that you could not overcome them?


Scoring

First, reverse the ratings on questions 4, 5, 7, 8. (In research lingo these four questions were “reverse coded”.) On those questions, make the following changes:

  • a rating of 0 becomes a rating of 4 and vice versa,
  • a 1 becomes 3 and vice versa, and
  • a rating of 2 stays as 2.

Now add up your total score using your new ratings for 4, 5, 7, 8 and your original ratings for the other questions. You’ll get a number between 0 and 40.

The higher your score, the higher your level of perceived stress.

And if you’d like to compare it to a benchmark, here are some ranges:

  • 0 to 13: low
  • 14 to 26: moderate
  • 27 to 40: high

Insights

Here are some questions to reflect on.

  • What is your initial reaction to your score?
  • Is your score driven by chronic conditions or acute events this month?
  • Though you haven’t taken the quiz before, do you think you’d have scored higher or lower one year ago? 6 months ago?

Aside from the insight you get from your current score, tracking your score over time is often revealing. Set a calendar reminder to revisit it on a specific day each month. Here are some questions for reflection.

  • What events or circumstances might be driving my score this month versus last month?
  • Are there certain items that I always score the same on? What does that tell me?
  • What other patterns do I notice or observations do I have?

For Coaches

The PSS-10 is a user-friendly tool to use with clients. Because it is simple to administer and has solid research validity it might quickly become one of your go-to assessments. You can easily administer it verbally, pop it into an onboarding workbook, or configure it into a “quiz” in your learning platform or online form. It’s also been translated into, and validated for, a number of other languages.


1Research Citation: The Perceived Stress Scale was originally published with 14 items and the 10-item version is what is commonly used now.

  • Cohen S, Kamarck T, Mermelstein R: A global measure of perceived stress. J Health Soc Behav. 1983, 24: 385-396. 10.2307/2136404.
  • Cohen S, Williamson G: Perceived stress in a probability sample of the United States. The Social Psychology of Health: Claremont Symposium on Applied Social Psychology. Edited by: Spacapan S, Oskamp S. 1988, Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 31-67.

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