THE BLOG
12/15/2015 04:01 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2016

About to Blow Your Top? Read This First

Many stress experts believe that much of the degenerative illnesses we suffer from today are the result of our organs being bathed in high levels of stress hormones throughout the day. Even after a minor stressful episode, it usually takes about 40 minutes for your stress hormones to return to normal. But if you have more stressful events within that same time frame, the stress hormones in your body cascade one level on top of another until you often just blow your top.

The Importance Of Monitoring Your Stress Number
It's your stress hormones fluctuating throughout the day that give you that subtle feeling of anxiety in the pit of your stomach. When you wake up and realize today's the day you are having a root canal, both your level of stress hormones and your stress number are going to rise. However, when you stop to rank your stress on a scale from 0-10, to a large degree, you are self-monitoring your stress hormones.

And by so doing, you are giving yourself the opportunity to stop your stress from getting out of control.

Stressful events can and do build on previous stressful events. And when you lose control in regrettable ways, it's usually the result of a progression of stressful events and not one isolated incident. (Even though, through lack of awareness, you may think it was only the ONE straw that broke the camel's back.)

Stress Is Cumulative
This is probably the most important thing I've EVER learned about stress: Much of our stress is cumulative and major stressful events usually don't happen out of the blue. Often times, it's a cascading series of events, the first couple of which might be too minor to even notice. But as these events build, so do the stress hormones in your body, and so does the likelihood of you getting even more stressed.

And even more importantly, I learned that you can control your stress by simply tracking your stress levels at all times, but especially before the start of something you KNOW is going to be stressful like going to the dentist or going on a job interview.

I have applied this insight to all kinds of situations -- whether flying on a plane, speaking in public, or going to see the dentist. Any stressful situation that I can anticipate ahead of time, I can now control by simply bringing my stress number down to 0 or 1 beforehand, using techniques like the one I'm about to share with you.

Managing stress is not as hard as you think. In fact, you can lower your stress right now. Not next week, or next month or even next year, but right this minute. And you won't need a pill or a drink, or even have to pull out your wallet to do it.

Are You Interested?

If so, start by ranking your stress (how tense or relaxed you feel right now) on a scale from zero to ten. Zero is the complete absence of tension, (no anxious feelings in the gut or tension in the body), and 10 is a full-blown panic attack, (where you have so much tension that you either feel like you are having heart-attack-like symptoms, tunnel vision, feeling sweaty all over, or are having a nervous breakdown).

So what's your stress number right now? ______ (Don't over-think this. A reasonable guess is fine.)

Look at your watch or a clock. Before the second hand goes around twice, you are going to significantly lower your level of stress. Here's how.

How To Get That Stress Level Down:
Take a minute to reflect on the following instructions before beginning.
• Breathe in deeply (through your nose) to a count of four.
• Hold that breath in to a count of four.
• And then, breathe out to a count of six.
• Repeat this cycle three times.

Reread these instructions until you have them memorized. Close your eyes if desired before beginning.

(Please do the above breathing exercise before continuing on.)

Now rank your stress again from 0-10. _________.

If you're second number is lower than your first, then you've just lowered your stress level. And you will be better equipped to deal with your next stressful incident, because your base stress level is lower. So the next time you feel the anxiety rising in your gut, or your hands are clenching, or if you notice any other of the signs of stress, come back to this exercise, and see if you can't drop your stress levels down a bit. And the next time you blow your top, take some time to notice whether it was after a build-up of stress.

Just noticing and being aware of your stress during the day will start you down the road to lowering your stress levels.