Man who is overwhelmed

Stress can be a side-effect of trying to live a smart life, and the key is the “trying.” Concentrating on wanting to work, learn, play and all-round be better is great way to turn your back into an armor-plating of stress-locked muscle. You’re always in a hurry, and always thinking about how you’re not good enough! The solution is just to do those things instead of worrying about them, and you’re better at everything except kicking open doors and punching people when you’re relaxed. We’re assuming those aren’t things you need to do daily (but if they are we’re sorry for criticizing you!).

A truly smart life is effectively stress-free in both meanings of the word “effective.” Stress is a hangover from when we were monkeys: just like hairiness, violence, and a very strong urge to make loud noises when we’re excited, it’s a habit that was incredibly useful when we lived in the wild and avoided death by tiger. But much less so once we started having pants and meetings.

Stress is proved to make you worse in every possible way. You get sicker, you’re dumber, and you’re infinitely more likely to be referred to a as a douchebag by anyone forced to interact with you. The paradox is that “This is Important!” actually means its most important to be relaxed. Relaxation enables you to work smarter for longer, and automatically projects professionalism to anyone who sees you. Especially the client who’s the cause of all the stress.

Short of flying to a remote mountain retreat, or the Dagobah system to live in a swamp, what can you use to calm down?

1. The Sandpendel

The Sandpendel is the Lava Lamp’s significantly smarter older brother. Instead of watching aimless blobs slowly moving around (which for some is far too close to the home or office which is causing all the stress), this is an elegant Foucault’s pendulum tracing patterns in a bowl of white sand.

Sandpendel White

The Sandpendel

The result is a blend between metronome, decoration, and science experiment — the rotation of the pendulum is driven by the spinning of the Earth, so as well as an endlessly fascinating rock-garden effect in the sand, it acts as a permanent reminder that the world keeps on turning no matter what. An incredible housewarming gift, and the perfect choice for an office waiting area.

2. Quiet Hours

Sitting and staring might be relaxing — and why beaches are such popular holiday destinations in bikini season — but it’s not getting anything done. When the only way to feel better is crossing tasks off the to-do list, Quiet Hours prevents electronic annoyances even when you’re working on your computer.

Quiet Hours

Quiet Hours

The program prevents any of your messaging apps from opening, but restarts them at a preset time. It’s an intelligent, self-inflicted focus: you will spend an hour working on this project and nothing can interrupt you, but because the outside world will be turned back on, you don’t have to stress about forgetting and missing an urgent message. If you’ve never tried it, you’ll be astonished just how relaxing cutting yourself off from online “friends” can be.

3. The Heartbeat Pillow

You might not think an artificially beating pillow is relaxing, what with the whole “disembodied mechanical heart constantly pulsing on your sofa” horror, but it’s not for you. At least not the part of you thinking like that. Huge segments of our lives are still defined by the lizard brain hardwired into our cerebellum and subconscious and the Heartbeat pillow speaks directly to those. And it tells them to calm down.

Heartbeat Pillow

Heartbeat Pillow

The Heartbeat Pillow beats and shakes in a subtly changing rhythm which simulates a deep meditative state. Instincts older than language tell our body to match itself to those nearby, and clutching this pillow as you nap fools your body into thinking that everything is okay. It doesn’t matter if you know it’s not real — your autonomic nervous system doesn’t, and it has far more control over your stress levels.

4. Surfshelf

The most important part of stress control is understanding that no matter how mental the cause, the effects are physical. And 10 minutes of exercise will do more good than an entire week of worrying about your blood pressure (which will only make things worse.) The Surfshelf admits that not everyone has time to hours out for exercise, no matter how essential it is to look after yourself. Instead it lets you combine work with working out.

Surfshelf In Action

Surfshelf In Action

The Surfshelf clamps on most standard gym equipment, letting your laptop keep you company as you grind through the miles. Obviously you won’t be typing much like this, but by scaling up the screen you’ll be able to read all the latest reports, papers, and presentations while getting adrenaline going through your system. It’s a great synergy: as well as letting you work, reading distracts you from physical exercise and eliminates the boredom problem of staring at the gym’s far wall for half an hour.

5. Stress Button

The Stress Button is simple and fun, two of stress’s mortal enemies. It’s a great big red button you can punch whenever you want, and if there won’t be a more tempting electronic object until they invent sex-bots. It even comes with a safety flip-top, to enable all those Monday morning fantasies of shouting “Let’s just blow up the whole world RIGHT NOW!”

Stress Button

Stress Button

The USB switch comes with software which can simulating punching people on the screen, start a simulated explosion or — most usefully — panic-switch your screen to a fake Excel workbook. Meaning it can also help avoid stress when you boss walks into the office.

Image credit: Qwasyx / iStockphoto