Measurement Toolbox

Purpose 

The Stress Measurement Toolbox provides a resource of informal recommendations of stress measures that researchers – primarily those involved in large-scale research – can use as an information source when deciding which psychological stress measures to include in their study. We asked contributing authors to select measures based on their expertise in studying the relationship between stress and health, describe what aspects of the construct each measure captures, and highlight unique or important features of each measure. By creating the Toolbox in this fashion, we hope other scholars interested in stress and health outcomes will learn about the various domains and aspects of stress, and ultimately advance the science of stress.

The full Toolbox compiled as a PDF can be downloaded here: http://stresscenter.ucsf.edu/resources.  

Methods for Measure Selection

Based on theory and expert consensus, the Network developed a list of psychological stressors known to be important for health. These are major life events, traumatic events, perceived stress, early life stress, caregiver stress, social isolation, loneliness, stigma/ discrimination, work stress, burnout, relationship conflict, financial strain, neighborhood safety and cohesion, and daily stress. The impact of stress on health depends in part on one’s appraisal of the stressor and trait level factors that make one more or less vulnerable to the impacts of stress, thus we also include measures that capture acute stress appraisals, measures of threat sensitivity, and psychological resilience measures.

Network members and affiliates were asked to write a brief summary of key measures within each domain given their expertise, and to have it reviewed by experts in that stress domain. Members chose measures based on their face validity, psychometric qualities, evidence linking them to physical and health outcomes, and length of time it takes to complete them. There were not formal literature reviews or meta-analyses conducted in each domain area. Instead, we relied on the experience of area experts to give us their opinion based on years of work in this area. Because our goal is to help improve stress measurement in epidemiologic studies in particular, we asked Network experts to select short measure in their evaluation. Note that for self-report measures, we discourage choosing specific items from the scale. In order to compare effect sizes or results across studies, it is important to have the full scale so scores can be calculated accurately and consistently.

Stress measures can be self-report questionnaires, interviews, physiological measurements, or task-based measures. We have not included full information on task-based measures. Other resources have been created that take more comprehensive and empirical approaches to psychosocial measure recommendations such as those found here: ADOPT, NIH Toolbox, PROMIS, PhenX Toolkit, and Repository of Positive Psychosocial Well-being Scales. The Stress Measurement Toolbox is a living document; we welcome input and suggested edits, please send them to [email protected].

 

SMN Toolbox
Acute stress is a relatively short-term response to an environmental, personal, or interpersonal situation, during which the body mobilizes metabolic resources and the individual’s cognitive and affective resources are directed at the stimulus/event. Some stress response profiles are believed to be detrimental to physical health and performance, whereas others are believed to benefit health and performance. This summary describes 'threat' versus 'challenge' stress appraisals and corresponding physiological reactivity, and provides the self-report measures to use in lab-based tasks to capture these appraisals.
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Burnout is a chronic form of work stress that is characterized by exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and lack of accomplishment/ ineffectiveness from work. This summary reviews several of the research measures of burnout that exist, and describes how they vary in terms of what dimensions of burnout are assessed.
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Currently under review. 

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Daily stressors are defined as routine challenges of day-to-day living, such as the everyday concerns of work, caring for other people, and commuting between work and home. This summary describes the Daily Inventory of Stressful Events (DISE), a semi-structured instrument used to capture daily stressors and responses to those.
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Stress in childhood is associated with vulnerability to psychological and physical illness in adulthood. This summary describes four of the most commonly used retrospective measures of adversity in childhood, and explains what aspect of adversity each measures and how they differ from each other.
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Coming soon

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This summary focuses on measures that capture the psychosocial distress related to insufficient financial resources (aka financial strain). Readers interested in measurement of socioeconomic status more broadly are directed to this existing resource: http://www.macses.ucsf.edu/default.php.
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Our genes are comprised of DNA, but those DNA genes only influence cellular function, health, and behavior if they are transcribed into RNA, or “expressed.” Only a subset of our ~20,000 genes are actively transcribed in any given cell, and which genes are “on” and “off” determines not only the identity of the cell but its functional capacities and behavior. As such, RNA “transcriptome profiling” has become the dominant method for analyzing the molecular underpinnings of healthy physiology, development, aging, and disease. Research has also found that social and psychological processes can influence RNA profiles. RNA profiling thus provides a useful method for mapping the molecular interface between social and behavioral processes and the biology of health and aging.
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This summary focuses on the measurement of the hormone cortisol in hair. Hair cortisol provides information regarding longer-term (weeks to months) cortisol exposure levels. We highlight why hair cortisol analysis advances neuroendocrine research for several reasons.
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There is fairly consistent evidence that stress, both acute and chronic, is related to elevated levels of inflammatory activity despite the fact that iInflammation is a fundamental immune process for maintaining survival in that it serves as the body’s natural response to insult or injury. This summary describes the various options for inflammation in studies of stress.