Four Easy, Science-backed Ways to Rate your Stress Level

Life is never stress-free. Even good things – marriage, graduations, vacations – can bring on pressure and raise stress levels. Super challenging events 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. There is no right or wrong here. It helps though to become 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 a bit from day to day. Yet several of these “stress tests” can be helpful to get an objective sense of where you are, and any progress you make over time. Don’t think too hard to rate these questions – just estimate or average your rating for now. Tomorrow’s a whole new day!


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..

Anxiety: The GAD-7 test measures anxiety. You guessed it, there are seven areas to rate on this one.

Subjective Stress: I like the Perceived Stress Score, or PSS, 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 scale:  The ACE questionnaire measures stressful events that have 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/haven’t had the experience.

What the scores mean:

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.

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.

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.

The possible score for the ACE test is 1-10. A trauma trainer I studied with said even  a 1 on this one meant that this past history could be challenging your quality of life and ability to cope with changes. 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.

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 is that therapy provides relief and improvement in as short a time as possible – and you’ll be able to see that here, even if you’re not quite sure if they’re as spot on as you’d like.

Here are the tests and scoring instructions. I hope this helps you in learning to master your own stress. Let me know if you have any questions.

Contact Denise for a STRESS LESS and MANIFEST consult.
Call or text 303.501.7402 today. She’ll get back to you within the next business day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *