First, three nickel-sized sensors are attached to your forehead, directly atop the frontalis muscle -- a "great indicator of often unnoticed stress," says psychophysiologist Sharlene Weiss of Medical Illness Counseling Center in Chevy Chase.
Three more sensors go on your shoulder to monitor hidden twitches in the bilateral trapezius -- the muscle wedged between the neck and the shoulder blade.
Then two sensors are taped to one palm to keep track of skin conductance (the electrical activity of sweat glands) and another is attached to the third finger of your left hand to monitor hand temperature.
Finally there's the blood pressure cuff, wrapped loosely around your upper arm.
Then it's time to lean back, put your feet up and relax.
Get ready for the psychophysiologic stress profile, one of the newest tools for measuring tension and the way your body reacts to it.
If you've ever wondered exactly what happens to your body under stress (cold hands and feet? tension headaches? high blood pressure? irregular heart beat? allergies? back pain?), then the stress profile may help you uncover your personal problem areas.
Although painless, the profile is not totally without discomfort, since one of the measures -- called the cold pressor test -- involves sticking your hand in a bucket of ice water. During the evaluation, you perform several simple tasks, ranging from answering some questions about yourself to calculating some simple math problems. It takes an hour to complete and costs $90, which is covered by many health insurance policies.
The idea, says Weiss, who also serves as a stress management consultant for the Army's Corporate Fitness Program, "is to pinpoint different body systems and their reaction to stress.
"The profile also measures baseline levels of stress. It tells us what a person's ability is to relax, and then it tells us about their response to a variety of stressors."
Then, based on this information, the final step "is teaching a person how to handle stress better," she says. This is done with follow-up sessions of biofeedback training -- at about $75 per 50-minute session.