The global engineer
E&T on the new "ultimate stress-defeating gadget" - the Stress Eraser.
I'm so stressed. I can hardly sleep. I'm as wound up as a clock. My mind is whirling round and round, unable to figure out how to finish all the projects piling up on my desk. I'd love to pop out for a drink with friends, but I don't have the time. You see, I'm a successful woman, and people like me are always in a rush, always stressed. Why? Because to admit to be anything other would be admitting to being a failure. Only shirkers and losers are relaxed.
Stress is a modern-day badge of honour. Although we pretend otherwise, we secretly embrace stress as proof of the value of our working lives. If we don't carry the cares of the working world on our shoulders, then we can't be a very important piece of that world. It's simply not cool to be cool.
As a travel writer, I have a particular claim to this accolade. Travelling and being away from home is one of the most anxiety-inducing activities you can undertake. You think your office is a stressful place; try taking it with you on a long-haul flight and then implanting it in a hotel at the other end. That's stress. But it begins even before you get there. When two researchers from consultancy Mind Lab strapped stress-measuring devices to their bodies on the way to board a plane at Heathrow, they discovered their heart rates soared to levels exceeding those of riot policemen and racing drivers.
You can buy your way out of this dilemma. Travel-related stress relief is a booming business. Even before boarding, travellers are being given opportunities to cash in and chill out. Under the optimistic slogan, 'Relax, you've got a plane to catch', Virgin Holidays has launched its V Room airport lounge at Gatwick, open to any of their customers, from whatever class, for a small fee.
More companies are racing to make your in-flight experience as stress-free as possible. The EarPlug Shop sells more different sorts of 'stress-reducing earplugs' than you will ever need, even if you trial a different type each flight.
Stress has even become a sales pitch. To convince businesses to pay premium rates for flights in a time of slump, the lie-flat seat is being sold as a stress-busting bed. Raja Segran of luxury Indian airline Jet Airways says: "During such times of stress, clear heads and sound reasoning are all the more critical. And it is during such seasons that business class travel becomes all the more important, especially on carriers that have flat beds and allow you the opportunity of uninterrupted, comfortable sleep, so that you arrive refreshed, clear-headed, and ready to take on the rigours of the day. Downtrading during such times is a false economy, as frazzled, stressed and unrested employees who make poor business decisions cause harm to the organisation." All business beds in Jet Airways, of course, are flat.
Your hotel also aims to be a worry-free zone and your night's sleep there conducive to deep breaths and soothing thoughts. Last winter I stayed at Hotel Bryant in Manhattan's fashion district. In addition to the calming view over the ice rink in Bryant Park, each room was fitted with Sleep Therapy - an electronic device shaped like an alien egg covered in flashing buttons. Each button emitted a different relaxing sound: from 'Waterfall. Provide an ideal working background with the refreshing cascade of falling water' and 'Thunderstorm. Lull yourself to sleep with the rumbling of a thunderstorm' - through to 'Songbirds. Awake to the sensation of birds harmoniously singing'. Perhaps every office should have a waterfall - then the stress epidemic wouldn't be spreading quite so fast. Over 40 per cent of work days lost in Britain are now due to stress-related illness.
But are our hearts really pounding faster and our blood pressure rising higher than ever before? Stress specialist Angela Patmore notes this epidemic can't be explained by life becoming harder - because it hasn't. "How can a few phones going off be more stressful than seeing the plague carts go past?" she says.
Still, we're wedded to suffering. Ironically, much of our free time is dedicated to alleviating the strain caused by not having enough hours in the day.
Alleviating stress is a demanding job. I've just ordered the ultimate stress-defeating gadget - the Stress Eraser. It looks like a timer you'd use to see if the soufflé is done, but requires me to become familiar with my 'own real-time physiology using biofeedback'. I also have to use it 20 minutes a day for the next month, breathing rhythmically for much of that time, before reaching a state of complete serenity. "It requires a commitment, much like a diet or workout programme," says its American manufacturer Evan Birkhead. Now, that will put pressure on me. Already I'm fretting about how I'll slot the Stress Eraser programme into my hectic timetable. The advantage is it's a compact machine, no bigger than my iPod, so I can take it away with me. I could even use it in my flat bed on the flight.
And while I'm listening to the alien's egg. With my ear plugs in. Aaaaahhhhhh... I'm beginning to feel better already.