Numerous theories have proposed that acute and chronic stressors may exert a cumulative effect on life-span health by causing biological “wear and tear,” or allostatic load, which in turn promotes disease. Very few studies have directly tested such models, though, partly because of the challenges associated with efficiently assessing stress exposure over the entire life course. To address this issue, we developed the first online system for systematically assessing lifetime stress exposure, called the Stress and Adversity Inventory (STRAIN), and describe its initial validation here.Methods
Adults recruited from the community (n = 205) were administered the STRAIN, Childhood Trauma Questionnaire—Short Form, and Perceived Stress Scale, as well as measures of socioeconomic status, personality, social desirability, negative affect, mental and physical health complaints, sleep quality, computer-assessed executive function, and doctor-diagnosed general health problems and autoimmune disorders.Results
The STRAIN achieved high acceptability and was completed relatively quickly (mean = 18 minutes 39 seconds; interquartile range = 12–23 minutes). The structure of the lifetime stress data best fit two latent classes overall and five distinct trajectories over time. Concurrent associations with the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire—Short Form and Perceived Stress Scale were good (r values = .147–.552). Moreover, the STRAIN was not significantly related to personality traits or social desirability characteristics and, in adjusted analyses, emerged as the measure most strongly associated with all six of the health and cognitive outcomes assessed except current mental health complaints (β values = .16–.41; risk ratios = 1.02–1.04). Finally, test-retest reliability for the main stress exposure indices over 2–4 weeks was excellent (r values = .904–.919).Conclusions
The STRAIN demonstrated good usability and acceptability; very good concurrent, discriminant, and predictive validity; and excellent test-retest reliability.