What’s Your Stress Level? 4 Easy Science-backed Ways to Stay Abreast of Stress


WHY RATE STRESS?

Life is never stress-free. Even good things – marriage, graduations, vacations – can bring on pressure and raise stress levels. Super challenging events – say, 2 or 3 in a row – have been linked to developing major health problems. For many reasons, keeping abreast of your stress – being proactive in managing stress peaks – is an excellent idea.

How you define stress – well that’s unique to each person. Generally, it’s when our “to do’s” exceed our abilities to handle them. Some thrive on levels of juggling that would leave the rest of us comatose. Others can have days when they’re sensitive and thrown off balance easily, by small things.

Stress levels are mostly subjective. Also, as stress piles up – let’s say due to a number of challenges hitting at once, it’s easy to start to feel overwhelmed and lose perspective. That’ll kick your Fight-Flight-Freeze (fight or flight) response in – and that takes a toll on mind, body and spirit. And, Health! There is no right or wrong here. It just helps to become more aware of how your stress and coping skills play out.

I’ve been alongside clients suffering from anxiety, depression, health changes and challenges for a couple of decades. It can help to rate your own stress. Remember, it is subjective, and it will change from day to day. Yet several of these “stress tests” can be helpful to get an objective sense of where you are.

You can also check back, to see progress you make over time. Don’t think too hard to rate these questions – just estimate or average your rating for now. Think of the last two weeks and rate your average. Maybe you name a range, 4-8 and pick a 6.

And, as you know, tomorrow’s a whole new day! Sleeping on it helps.

QUICK SCIENCE-BACKED STRESS TESTS

All of these tests have been researched and determined to be valid measures – I won’t go into those details now, but you can google any of these tests and add “validation of” to find out more on that.

Depression: You’ve probably seen the PHQ-9 at your doctor’s office. Several years back, there was a mandate in health care to be more proactive in assessing depression and mental health in healthcare settings. The PHQ-9 is meant to identify these struggles. There are 9 items to rate on this one. See next paragraph for this.

Anxiety: The GAD-7 test measures anxiety. You guessed it, there are seven areas to rate on this one. (This is a combined PHQ-9 and GAD-7 test.)

Subjective Stress: I like the Perceived Stress Score, or PSS-10, for measuring your sense of stress in your life. Just a little different angle than the above tests. The PSS has 10 items to answer.

Adverse Childhood Experience scaleThe ACE questionnaire measures stressful events that happened in the first 18 years of life. Science has linked more of these events, i.e., childhood trauma, to a person experiencing more life and health challenges. This is another 10 item questionnaire, which you just answer Yes or No, if you have or haven’t had the experience.

What the scores mean:

PHQ-9
The “depression severity” (level of depression) is none for a score of 0-4, mild for 5-9, moderate for 10-14, moderately severe for 15-19, and severe for 20-27.

GAD-7
Scores of 5, 10, and 15 for mild, moderate, and severe levels of anxiety. Anything over a 10 on this one would suggest further evaluation or support would be recommended.

PSS
Scores ranging from 10-13 would be low stress, 14-26 would be moderate, and 27-40 would be high. I have found this one a good additional indicator of stress levels and how you might be experiencing it. Note: for this test, items 4, 5, 7, and 8 – are scored in the reverse direction, so 0 = 4, 1 = 3, 2 = 2, 3 = 1, 4 = 0.

ACE
Possible scores for the ACE test is 1-10. A trauma trainer I studied with said even a 1 on this one means that this past history could be challenging your quality of life and ability to cope with change. The higher the score, the more stress or interference these past experiences can cause. That said, people are also resilient, and may have worked through these past influences in therapy or life.
   Sometimes though, current stress can activate old trauma, making your life more difficult. You might say, any ACE score can make things more complicated in your life, if the past hasn’t been dealt with.

Eeyore would be welcome in the June group…

Final thoughts

I like to give these tests out when I first meet a client. Then there is an objective and science-supported way to show progress. Scales like this can make some a bit frustrated when they feel they don’t quite fit into the numbers or rating levels indicated. But don’t take it too seriously – it’s OK to ball park or guesstimate your sense of things for now.

What’s most important? There’s less stigma now about getting relief from stress and trauma, and tons of helpful ways to stay balanced. I am offering an Amazon Stress Zapping group June 8th, 2022. See details here and the recent webinar and resources. Designed to exponentially increase / update your tool box for stress. Please join us!

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