Decode Your Stress Levels with the Perceived Stress Scale

Discover how to measure your stress levels with the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), a tool designed to evaluate perceived stress in your life.
Know someone who is stressed? Share the info!

Skip directly to the test!

Have you ever tried to measure your stress levels? Enter the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) 12, a widely used tool that can help you figure out how much stress you’ve been dealing with lately. Today, we’ll dive deep into the concept of the scale, its history, functionality, applications, and even some insider tips for interpreting your results.

Demystifying Stress: What is the Perceived Stress Scale?

Key Takeaways:

  • The PSS was developed in 1983 by Sheldon Cohen et al.
  • The PSS measures the degree to which situations in a person’s life are perceived as stressful.
  • High scores on the PSS indicate higher perceived stress levels.
  • The PSS is a widely used tool for assessing perceived stress in various research and clinical contexts.

The PSS, specifically the PSS-10, is a psychological instrument designed to assess an individual’s perceived stress. Originally developed by Sheldon Cohen and colleagues in 1983, this stress assessment tool is all about the degree to which situations in one’s life are appraised as stressful.

Here’s the kicker: Stress doesn’t have to be real to affect us, it just has to be perceived as stressful. Unpredictable? Uncontrollable? Sounds like a plot for a thriller movie, right? In reality, this is often how we experience stress. The scale measures not only the number of stressors but also the unpredictability and uncontrollability of these stressors.

The scale includes 10 questions (hence the name PSS-10) that gauge your feelings and thoughts during the last month. The questions revolve around how unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overloaded respondents find their lives.

Origins of the Perceived Stress Scale: A Historical Perspective

Our journey back in time takes us to 1983 when Sheldon Cohen et al. introduced the world to the PSS. This stress measure was a ground-breaking addition to the field of psychology.

Their study, “A Global Measure of Perceived Stress,” published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, turned out to be a significant contribution, bringing a new angle to stress assessment in psychological studies.

Cohen, Lee Mermelstein, and Robin Kamarck were among the first to argue that stress needed to be understood in terms of perception, emphasizing that it’s not what happens to us but how we perceive what happens to us that matters.

How Does the Perceived Stress Scale Work?

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. The PSS-10 is a self-reporting questionnaire. Each question is scored from 0 (never) to 4 (very often), and these responses are then summed to give a total score that can range from 0 to 40.

  • Scores ranging from 0-13 would be considered low stress.
  • Scores ranging from 14-26 would be considered moderate stress.
  • Scores ranging from 27-40 would be considered high perceived stress.
How to lower cortisol and stress science-based ways

The scale is unique in that it doesn’t target specific events or experiences but rather asks about your feelings of unpredictability, loss of control, and stress overload. Questions like “In the last month, how often have you felt that you were unable to control the important things in your life?” are meant to tap into your perceptions of stress.

Real-Life Applications of the Perceived Stress Scale

You might be thinking, “Alright, but how can I actually use the PSS?” Well, it has been used in a ton of studies as a reliable measure of perceived stress. From community samples in the social psychology of health studies to research on the connection between stress and susceptibility to disease, PSS has been there, and done that.

This scale has found its way into various studies and research journals. It’s been employed to explore correlations between perceived stress and health outcomes, lifestyle factors, mental health, and even biological markers like cortisol levels.

The scale has diverse applications across healthcare, psychology research, social work, and more. Some examples include:

Clinical assessmentsIt can assess patient stress levels at intake and over the course of treatment. This helps inform care plans.
ResearchStudies often use it to investigate links between stress and health/behavioral outcomes. Higher scores may predict greater risk.
OrganizationsAdministering the scale periodically can reveal workforce stress levels and evaluate stress management programs.
Personal useIndividuals can self-administer it to gain awareness of experienced stress. Periodic completion can identify patterns and prompt coping strategies.

Insider Tips for Interpreting Your Perceived Stress Scale Results

Interpreting your results isn’t like decoding the Rosetta Stone. The total score you obtain by summing your responses will give you a direct indication of your perceived stress levels. The higher your score, the more stress you perceive.

Keep in mind, though, that the PSS-10 is not a diagnostic tool. A high score doesn’t mean you have a stress disorder, it just points out that you’re going through a stressful time.

Remember, everyone experiences stress differently, and the PSS is just one way to measure it. If your score is higher than you’d like, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for support.

When reviewing your results, consider the following:

  • Remember that many factors can influence stress perception – your score alone doesn’t define your coping abilities.
  • Look at score patterns over time rather than getting stuck on one score. Long-term trends matter more.
  • Use it as a starting point, not an endpoint. Consider combining it with other tools like journals or biofeedback.
  • If your score is concerning, reflect on potential sources of stress and how you might better manage them.
  • Don’t hesitate to confide in loved ones or seek professional support if stress feels unmanageable.


In conclusion, the PSS is a powerful tool that can provide valuable insights into how you perceive and handle stress. It’s a testament to the timeless work of Sheldon Cohen et al., who understood the need for a tool that measures the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of stress.

Still feeling stressed? Take a deep breath, have a cup of tea, and remember: it’s not about the stress itself, but how we perceive it. That’s something we can learn to control, even if it seems as unpredictable as the ending of a Game of Thrones season!

See our comprehensive overview of validated stress quizzes for objectively measuring your current stress levels. Once you know your stress levels it is best to determine your personality type to see which coping skills suit you best.

Take the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS-10) Test here:

INSTRUCTIONS: For each question choose from the following alternatives:
0 – never 1 – almost never 2 – sometimes 3 – fairly often 4 – very often

Leave your email below to receive the results in your inbox together with my free eBook: Beyond Deep Breaths which contains 10 lesser-known but very effective stress coping skills to get you started.

In the last month, how often have you been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly?

In the last month, how often have you felt that you were unable to control the important things in your life?

In the last month, how often have you felt nervous and stressed?

In the last month, how often have you felt confident about your ability to handle your personal problems?

In the last month, how often have you felt that things were going your way?

In the last month, how often have you found that you could not cope with all the things that you had to do?

In the last month, how often have you been able to control irritations in your life?

In the last month, how often have you felt that you were on top of things?

In the last month, how often have you been angered because of things that happened that were outside of your control?

In the last month, how often have you felt difficulties were piling up so high that you could not overcome them?


Frequently Asked Questions

What scale measures perceived stress?

The PSS is a well-recognized instrument used to measure the perception of stress. Developed in 1983, it gauges the level to which individuals perceive situations in their life as stressful. It assesses how unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overloaded these situations appear to them.

What is the best Perceived Stress Scale?

While there are several versions of the PSS available, the 10-item version (PSS-10) is often considered the best. The PSS-10 is favored for its balanced mixture of negatively and positively stated items. The brevity of the scale also enhances its practicality and ease of use in various settings.

What is the Perceived Stress Scale used for?

The PSS is used to determine the degree to which situations in one’s life are regarded as stressful. It’s an insightful tool for psychologists who want to understand how different situations influence an individual’s feelings and perceived stress level. It’s often used in stress research and has applications in clinical practice as well.

How many perceived stress scales are there?

There are three main versions of the PSS: a 14-item scale, a 10-item scale, and a 4-item scale. The 10-item version, also known as PSS-10, is widely used due to its brevity and practicality. The different versions are designed to accommodate various research or clinical needs.

Who developed the Perceived Stress Scale?

The PSS was originally developed by Sheldon Cohen and colleagues in 1983. Still widely used today, this psychological tool is instrumental in studying how people perceive stress and cope with life’s unpredictable and uncontrollable situations.


  1. Perceived Stress Scale (PSS-10) ([]
  2. The German version of the Perceived Stress Scale – psychometric characteristics in a representative German community sample | BMC Psychiatry | Full Text ([]
Alex Reijnierse
Alex Reijnierse

Alex Reijnierse is a stress management expert with over a decade of experience in helping individuals effectively manage and reduce stress. He holds a Master of Science (MSc) and has a background in high-pressure environments, which has given him firsthand experience in dealing with chronic stress.