Understanding Your Stress with the Stress Overload Scale

Uncover how to quantify and manage your stress levels using the Stress Overload Scale (SOS), a key psychological assessment tool.
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Have you ever wondered, “How stressed am I, really?” Meet the stress overload scale 1 – the subjective key to unlocking the puzzle of your stress.

Stress is as multifaceted as a diamond and almost as hard to crack. Yet, tools like the stress overload scale provide a reliable means to measure psychological stress. While subjective feelings can be cloudy, tools like the SOS provide quantifiable measures of stress that bridge the gap between what we feel and what we can measure.

The stress overload scale (often simplified as SOS) stands as a beacon in the world of psychological assessment. Let’s unravel its depths and find out how it can make our lives a tad easier.

Identifying Stress Overload: Features and Functions of the Stress Overload Scale

Key Takeaways:

  • The stress overload scale is a paramount psychological assessment instrument.
  • With diverse subscales and versions, it’s adaptable.
  • High scores on the SOS are linked to potential health flags.
  • Embracing the SOS can empower you to mold effective stress management methods.

A tool is only as effective as its features. Let’s decode the SOS:

Key Features of the Stress Overload Scale (SOS)Description
MeasurementPrimarily, the SOS evaluates perceived stress.
SubscalesThe stress overload scale is robust, with various subscales targeting the nuances of stress.
VersionsThere are several versions of the stress overload scale, with the short form (aka SOS-S) offering brevity without compromising depth.
QuestionnaireDesigned as a user-friendly questionnaire, the SOS invites honest responses.

The Stress Overload Scale (SOS) is comprised of 30 items and is designed to measure “stress overload”, a state described in stress theories as occurring when demands overwhelm resources. The respondent uses a 5‐point Likert scale (1= not at all, 5= a lot) to indicate subjective feelings and thoughts experienced over the prior week. There are two factors underlying overload: Personal Vulnerability and Event Load, which are measured by two distinct but correlated subscales.

Deployment and Usability: How to Use the Stress Overload Scale Effectively

The true value of the stress overload scale is in its application. Let’s see how:

  • Audience: Championed by the Department of Psychology across institutions, it’s the go-to for professional assessments.
  • Questionnaire Nuances: The SOS comprises 30 items crafted to extract subjective feelings and thoughts. Every item utilizes a Likert scale, capturing the spectrum of feelings.
  • Interpreting Scores: Scores are not arbitrary. High SOS scores flag elevated stress, and a certain criterion validity establishes a solid benchmark.

Interpreting Your Results: Understanding Stress Levels and Impacts

So, you’ve taken the SOS. What do the results mean?

Understanding your stress with the stress overload scale

For CATEGORICAL SCORING: Use your PV and EL totals to locate the appropriate diagnostic quadrant for the respondent on the grid below. NOTE: In normative samples (combined n = 1518), mean values as indicated in the picture above were µPD = 28 and µEL = 38. However, means might vary with the nature of the population under study. Those scoring in the High EL-High PV category have been shown to be at the greatest risk for subsequent complications.

For CONTINUOUS SCORING: Add the PV and EL totals. Higher scores (over 66) indicate higher levels of stress overload.

Significance of SOS ResultsDescription
Markers and IndicatorsHigh scores, especially in the PV domain, signify an imminent risk for subsequent complications.
CorrelationThe correlation between SOS results and other measures of stress, like the perceived stress scale, solidify its accuracy.
Health LinkHealth isn’t just physical. High SOS scores could hint at possible health repercussions, emphasizing the tool’s importance.

Practical Applications: Using SOS for Stress Management and Reduction

Remember: your SOS score isn’t just a number; it’s a guide:

  • Real-time Feedback: The SOS provides a present snapshot of one’s stressor landscape, an initial step in addressing stress.
  • Clinical Relevance: Medical practitioners can harness the SOS to predict looming health challenges, given its correlation with health outcomes.
  • Personal Evolution: Engaging with the SOS can provide insights into the effects of stress, and even offer pathways for developing resilience.


The stress overload scale isn’t a mere tool; it’s a partner in navigating the maze of mental well-being. Regardless of your professional background or life stage, the SOS offers a wealth of insights.

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 Stress Overload Scale Test here:

INSTRUCTIONS: In the following section, you will find 30 questions about your feelings during the past week. Please answer every question, even though some might sound similar. Each question names a particular feeling that is common to people as they go through their everyday lives. 

Please check the one box that shows how much you have felt that particular feeling in the last
week. For example, you might check the last box if you had the feeling a lot. Or you might check
the second box if you felt that way just a little bit. Or you could check off any of the other boxes.

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 PAST WEEK, have you felt:







...no sense of getting ahead?

...swamped by your responsibilities?

...that the odds were against you?

...that there wasn’t enough time to get to everything?


...like you were rushed?

...like you couldn’t cope?

...like you had a lot on your mind?

...like nothing was going right?




...like your life was “out of control”?

...like things kept piling up?

...like you could focus on the important things?

...like you had to make quick decisions?

...like asking “what else can go wrong?”

...like you didn’t have time to breathe?

...like things couldn’t get worse?


...like there was no escape?

...like you were carrying a heavy load?

...like just giving up?

...like there was “too much to do, too little time”?


Frequently Asked Questions

What 5 items cause stress overload?

Stress overload can occur from a combination of many factors. These may include but aren’t limited to, excessive workload, challenging personal relationships, financial difficulties, health issues, and significant life changes such as moving or losing a job. Different people may respond differently to the same stressors, so it is essential to understand one’s capacities and coping mechanisms to deal with stress effectively.

What is the stress overload reaction?

The stress overload reaction is the body’s immediate response to excessive stress. It includes both physiological responses such as rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, and release of stress hormones, and psychological responses like anxiety, restlessness, and difficulties with concentration. If prolonged, this can lead to serious health issues such as depression, heart disease, and immune system deficiencies.

What is the subjective stress response scale?

The Subjective Stress Response Scale is a self-reporting tool used to measure an individual’s perception and personal response to a stressful situation. This scale considers how an individual feels and reacts, providing a more comprehensive understanding of how they manage and perceive their stress.

What causes stress to overload?

Stress overload generally occurs when demands from various aspects of life—work, family, relationships, health, finances—accumulate and exceed a person’s capacity to manage them efficiently. This ability to cope with stress varies from person to person and over time due to changes in personal circumstances, resilience mechanisms, support systems, and lifestyle habits.

How does the Stress Overload Scale measure stress?

The Stress Overload Scale (SOS) is a self-report questionnaire designed to measure stressors in terms of their intensity and the personal vulnerability of the individual towards them. The scale comprises 30 items addressing different facets of stress and the individual’s capacity to manage them, providing a comprehensive overview of the person’s stress levels.


  1. (PDF) Stress Overload: A New Approach to the Assessment of Stress (researchgate.net)[]
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.