This week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we turn our attention from self-esteem to stress. Researchers of cognitive psychology in Quebec, Canada exploring the effect of stress on our brains have found an important link: numerous studies have demonstrated significant connections between stress, anxiety, distractibility, and the functioning of short term memory. It seems that when we are chronically under significant pressure and our brains are asked to cope with high levels of stress, the tension and anxiety we feel detracts from our ability to focus – we become more distractible and the capacity of our short-term memory is reduced. Our modern technology, with its unremitting demands on our attention, may make us more vulnerable than ever to the cognitive effects of anxiety.

In our next few blog postings, we will explore the consequences of cognitive restructuring on our relationships, and help you to not only recognize but also address the unhealthy relationship dynamics created by these phenomena. We will open the discussion today with the following survey (developed by researchers Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, and used by Dr. Gottman in his books) to give you an idea of your current stress levels. 

The results of this test do not indicate your level of risk for experiencing the cognitive effects of stress, but rather the likelihood of developing a stress-related illness. Naturally, higher scores on this test predict both increased risk for problems in both cognitive and physical functioning. For more on fighting the effects of stress, see our previous blogs on self-care, flooding, how to have a stress-reducing conversation, and building trust in stressful times.

Circle the events you’ve experienced in the past year. Then, total the number of points assigned to the items you’ve circled:

Death of a spouse – 100

Divorce – 73

Marital separation – 65

Imprisonment – 63

Death of a close family member – 63

Major personal injury or illness – 53

Getting married – 50

Dismissal from work – 47

Marital reconciliation – 45
Retirement – 45

Major change in health of family member – 44

Pregnancy – 40

Sexual difficulties – 39

Gain of new family member (birth, adoption, elderly relative moving in) – 39

Major business readjustment (merger, re-organization, bankruptcy) – 39

Major change in financial state – 38

Death of a close friend – 37

Change to a different line of work – 36

with a spouse – 35

Major mortgage – 32

Foreclosure of mortgage or loan – 30

Major change in responsibilities at work – 29
Son or daughter leaving home – 29

Trouble with in-laws – 29
Outstanding personal achievement – 28

Spouse begins or stops work outside of home – 26

Beginning or ending formal schooling – 26

Change in living conditions – 25

Revision of personal habits  24

Trouble with boss – 23

Major change in work hours/conditions – 20

Change in residence – 20

Change in schools – 20
Major change in recreational activities – 29

Major change in church activities – 19

Major change in social activities – 18

Minor mortgage or loan – 17

Major change in sleeping habits – 16
Major change in number of family get-togethers – 15
Major change in eating habits – 15
Vacation – 13

Christmas season – 12

Minor violation of the law (traffic ticket, etc.) – 11

Less than 150 points: low risk of developing stress-related illness

150-300 points: medium risk of developing stress-related illness

More than 300 points: high risk of developing stress -related illness
If you’ve scored high on this quiz, don’t panic! Being aware of your stress levels is the first step to doing something about them. Refer to our previous postings on this blog – and, of course, to Dr. Gottman’s books – for tips and strategies to combat stress.

More in The Digital Age
The Digital Age: Your Stress Levels

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.