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Daily Stressors

Daily Stressors are defined as routine challenges of day-to-day living, such as the everyday tasks of work, caring for other people, and commuting between work and home. They may also refer to more unexpected small occurrences such as arguments with one’s children, unexpected work deadlines, and malfunctioning computers that disrupt daily life. Daily stressors are often assessed via self-reports over multiple days. These events represent tangible, albeit minor interruptions that may have a more proximal effect on well-being than major life events such as job loss and divorce. 


In terms of their physiological and psychological effects, reports of major life events may be associated with prolonged arousal whereas reports of daily stressors may be associated with spikes in arousal or psychological distress that day. In addition, minor daily stressors exert their influence not only by having separate and immediate direct effects on emotional and physical functioning, but also by piling up over a series of days to create persistent irritations, frustrations, and overloads that may result in more serious stress reactions. 


The Daily Inventory of Stressful Events (DISE) is a semi-structured instrument that combines stem questions about specific stressors followed by open-ended probes designed for daily use (Almeida et al., 2002, Almeida et al., 2011). For each daily stressor, the DISE provides six categories of information. Expert coders rate the first four categories: (a) content classification of the stressor (e.g., work overload, argument over housework, traffic problem); (b) who was the focus of the event; (c) dimensions of threat (i.e., loss, danger, disappointment, frustration, opportunity); and (d) severity of the stressor. Inter-rater reliability ranges from .74 to .90 across all of the codes. The last two categories include respondents’ reports of the (a) degree of subjective severity and (b) primary appraisal (i.e., areas of life that were at risk because of the stressor). Validation studies have shown a modest degree of independence between the severity ratings, threat dimensions, and appraisal domains (Almeida et a., 2002). A series of analyses shows that upticks in negative affect on stressor days predict long-term psychological and physical health. Using longitudinal data from the Midlife in the United States Study, individuals who reported greater negative affect on stressor days at baseline were 46 percent more likely to experience affective disorders and 33 percent more likely to have increased chronic health conditions 10 years later (Charles et al, 2013, Piazza et al., 2013a). Individuals who showed greater increases in negative affect on stressor days tended to have higher inflammation, lower heart rate variably, and greater risk for mortality (Chaing et al, 2018; Mroczek et al., 2015; Sin et al., 2015, Sin et al., 2016) 


The DISE is an outgrowth of previous checklist approaches to the assessment of daily stress. The Daily Life Experiences (DLE) checklist comprises a list of 78 events that represent various domains in daily life, and scales for obtaining subjective ratings of the desirability and meaningfulness of each experienced event (Stone & Neale, 1982). Brantley and Jones (1989) developed a similar measure, the Daily Stress Inventory, which assesses 58 minor events as well as a subjective rating of how stressful each event was. Similarly, DeLongis and colleagues (1992) Hassles Scale includes 53 items, assessing domains similar to those mentioned above. Zautra and colleagues (1986) have also shown that a shorter 18-item checklist, the Inventory of Small Life Events (ISLE), can be effectively adapted for use in a daily diary design. The approach of administering event checklists on a daily basis has important implications for the assessment of daily stressors. The repeated daily assessment of individuals using checklists allows for improved precision in characterizing the typical days of individuals as the day is the unit of analysis. Checklists such as the DLE and ISLE also include subjective ratings about each event that provide more information than whether an event simply occurred, adding multidimensional data about events, days, and individuals. A potential limitation of the daily checklist approach that the experience of a broad range of events is obtained at the expense at the expense of obtaining intimate, and potentially useful, in-depth knowledge that is captured in the DISE. 


In contrast to the specific stressors queried in checklist-style approaches, an alternative is the simple question of whether anything stressful occurred since the last survey (e.g., Zawadzki, Scott, Almeida, et al., 2019). In contrast to the 18 different stressor types assessed via the ISLE or the six contextual category codings from the DISE, researchers using this approach may rely on a single item about non-specific stressor occurrence with a binary yes or no response. This binary approach may be favored by researchers using ecological momentary assessment (EMA) designs in which participants complete surveys multiple times per day and in which having fewer survey items and lower burden may be necessary for individuals to be willing to participate (Smyth et al. 2021). Despite the less granular event-related information, in studies examining EMA and diary datasets together with either binary or checklist-style stress items, similar patterns have been found. For example, at times when individuals report stressors, their negative affect is higher (Stawski, Scott, Zawadzki et al., 2019) and the correlation between positive and negative emotions is stronger and more negative when stressors have been reported (Scott et al., 2014). Additionally, the trade-off in event-granularity relative to the more frequent sampling of events and outcomes may be necessary in order to profile the components of stress responses in daily life, in particular the time course of initial responses and recovery (Scott et al., 2017; Smyth et al., 2018; Smyth et al., 2023).  


As researchers make decisions about how to assess stressors in daily life, it is important to note that question format (binary yes/no vs. checklist or interview) may influence responding. That is, although the patterns of associations between stressor occurrence and outcomes appear broadly consistent across these approaches, the frequency of endorsement may differ which has implications for comparing across studies using different approaches and making statements about which samples are more “stressed.” In a measurement experiment embedded in one daily diary and one EMA study each spanning two weeks (Heron et al., 2021), participants were randomly assigned to queried about daily stressors via either a checklist or binary format for one week each with the order of question format counterbalanced across weeks. Although a small demonstration, the researchers found evidence in one of the studies that participants reported more stressors when asked via a checklist relative to a binary yes/no format.  


Author(s) and Reviewer(s): Prepared by Dave Almeida, PhD and Stacey Scott, PhD. Reviewed by Shevaun Neupert, PhD. If you have any comments on these measures, email or  


Version date: November 2023. 



Almeida, D. M., Wethington, E., & Kessler, R. C. (2002). The Daily Inventory of Stressful Events (DISE): An interview-based approach for measuring daily stressors. Assessment, 9, 41-55. doi: 10.1177/1073191102091006 


Almeida, D. M., Stawski, R. S., & Cichy, K. E. (2011). Combining checklist and interview approaches for assessing daily stressors: The Daily Inventory of Stressful Events. In R. J. Contrada & A. Baum (Eds.), The Handbook of Stress Science: Biology, Psychology, and Health. New York: Springer. 


Brantley, P. J., & Jones, G. N. (1989). The Daily Stress Inventory: Professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources. 


Charles, S. T., Piazza, J. R., Slwinski, M., Mogle, J., & Almeida, D. M. (2013). The wear-and-tear of daily stressors on mental health. Psychological Science, 24, 733-741. doi: 10.1177/0956797612462222 


Chiang, J. J., Turiano, N. A., Mroczek, D. K., & Miller, G. E. (2018). Affective reactivity to daily stress and 20-year mortality risk in adults with chronic illness: Findings from the National Study of Daily Experiences. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/hea0000567 


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Mroczek, D. K., Stawski, R. S., Turiano, N. A., Chan, W., Almeida, D. M., Neupert, S. D., & Spiro, A. (2015). Emotional reactivity and mortality: Longitudinal findings from the VA normative aging study. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 70, 398–406. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbt107 


Piazza, J. R., Charles, S. T., Sliwinski, M., Mogle, J., & Almeida, D. M. (2013). Affective reactivity to daily stressors and long-term risk of reporting a chronic physical health condition. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 45, 110-120. doi: 10.1007/s12160-012-9423-0 


Heron, K. E., Scott, S. B., Mogle, J. A., Howard, L. M., & Everhart, R. S. (2022). Ambulatory assessment of everyday stressors: a two-study experiment evaluating the effect of question format on self-reported daily and momentary stressors. Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science, 7(3), 368-380.  


Sin, N. L., Graham-Engeland, J. E., Ong, A. D., & Almeida, D. M. (2015). Affective reactivity to daily stressors is associated with elevated inflammation. Health Psychology, 34(12), 1154-1165. doi: 10.1037/hea000024 


Sin, N. L., Sloan, R. P., McKinley, P. S., & Almeida, D. M. (2016). Linking daily stress processes and laboratory-based heart rate variability in a national sample of midlife and older adults. Psychosomatic Medicine, 78, 573-582. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000306 


Scott, S. B., Ram, N., Smyth, J. M., Almeida, D. M., & Sliwinski, M. J. (2017). Age differences in negative emotional responses to daily stressors depend on time since event. Developmental Psychology, 53(1), 177. 


Scott, S. B., Sliwinski, M. J., Mogle, J. A., & Almeida, D. M. (2014). Age, stress, and emotional complexity: results from two studies of daily experiences. Psychology and aging, 29(3), 577. 


Smyth, J. M., Sliwinski, M. J., Zawadzki, M. J., Scott, S. B., Conroy, D. E., Lanza, S. T., ... & Almeida, D. M. (2018). Everyday stress response targets in the science of behavior change. Behaviour research and therapy, 101, 20-29. 


Smyth, J. M., Zawadzki, M. J., Marcusson-Clavertz, D., Scott, S. B., Johnson, J. A., Kim, J., ... & Almeida, D. M. (2023). Computing components of everyday stress responses: Exploring conceptual challenges and new opportunities. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 18(1), 110-124. 


Stawski, R. S., Scott, S. B., Zawadzki, M. J., Sliwinski, M. J., Marcusson-Clavertz, D., Kim, J., ... & Smyth, J. M. (2019). Age differences in everyday stressor-related negative affect: A coordinated analysis. Psychology and Aging, 34(1), 91.  


Stone, A. A., & Neale, J. M. (1982). Development of a methodology for assessing daily experiences. In A. Baum & J. E. Singer (Eds.), Advances in environmental psychology: Environment and health (Vol. 4, pp. 49–83). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 


Zawadzki, M.J., Scott, S.B., Almeida, D.M. et al. Understanding stress reports in daily life: a coordinated analysis of factors associated with the frequency of reporting stress. J Behav Med 42, 545–560 (2019).  


Zautra, A. J., Guarnaccia, C., & Dohrenwend, B. P. (1986). Measuring small life events. American Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 629–655. 

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