Daily Stressors

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.

They may also refer to more unexpected small occurrences such as arguments with children, unexpected work deadlines, and malfunctioning computers that disrupt daily life. Daily stressors are often assessed via self-reports of specific events 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 (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 recent series of analyses shows that emotional reactivity to DISE assessed daily stressors (upticks in negative affect on stressor days) predicts long-term psychological and physical health. Using longitudinal data from the Midlife in the United States Study, individuals who reported greater stressor reactivity 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). Greater stressor reactivity was also associated with higher inflammation, lower heart rate variably and greater morality (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 (DeLongis et al., 1992) Hassles Scale includes 53 items, assessing domains similar to those mentioned above. Zautra and colleagues (Zautra et al., 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 that the experience of a broad range of events is obtained at the expense of obtaining intimate, and potentially useful, in-depth knowledge that is captured in the DISE.

Author and Reviewer(s):

This summary was prepared by Dave Almeida. If you have any comments on these measures, email dalmeida@psu.edu. Version date: January 2018


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


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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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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

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

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