HATFIELD, England (AFP) — As the financial crisis kicks in and stress levels surge, one British boffin claims to have invented the world's most relaxing room -- just the thing to soothe away the troubles.
Professor Richard Wiseman has examined 30 years' worth of research to concoct what he believes is the most relaxing combination of colours, sounds and smells.
Once inside the room at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield, north of London, people lay down on soft mats, bathed in glade-like green light, gazing at a screen of blurred blue light, as cloud-like smoke, the scent of lavender and soothing sounds of soprano and strings drift though the air.
The stressed-out bankers, frazzled city types and worried workers of London's commuter belt have trooped into Wiseman's ultimate chill-out zone to try it for themselves.
And the scientist's heart rate monitors show his mysterious mix is certainly having a calming effect.
"It's been a lovely experience," said health coach Mary Barton, 54, from nearby Welwyn Garden City.
"I feel ready to face the day much more calmly now. My heart rate went down from 84 to 68.
"The best thing was giving myself permission to stop... I forgot about the rest of my life.
"Because my mind is less full of stuff I'm probably more focused on what I'm going to do later."
Psychology expert Wiseman explained the science behind the sensory elements in his retreat.
"With some of them, we know why they work, with others, we just know that they work," he told AFP.
"The green light reminds people of being outside in a very natural environment. The blue light turns people's attention inwards and stops them worrying about daily anxieties.
"The lavender has a very direct impact on the brain, affecting beta waves and making people more relaxed, and the music is very soothing: there's nothing jagged in there -- we know that danger is associated with sudden sounds.
"It lets people know they're in a very safe environment."
Despite the heart rate monitors, it is participant feedback rather than reams of data that Wiseman is after to fine-tune his relaxation room.
Groups of businessmen, children and the general public have tried out the space in the Weston Auditorium.
"There are two benefits to being in the room," he explained.
"One is a lowering of all the physiological indicators of stress -- so blood pressure and heart rate, and so on.
"The second is also enhancement of mood: people feel great when they're in there and that has a longer-lasting effect. We know that good mood is associated with creativity, people are much more better socially, they're more able to cope with their problems."
Wiseman believes it could be the perfect, budget antidote to the credit crunch.
"Stress is a problem at the moment," he said.
He hopes that "if we can do some very simple interventions like this" it will spread to businesses, airports, and other public spaces "right the way throughout the world."
Ken Dougall, 56, from nearby Hitchin, a manager with Swedish bank Svenska Handelsbanken, said his colleagues' stress levels had been driven up by the financial crisis.
"When it affects the customers, it affects the bankers," he told AFP after a session in Wiseman's lair.
"Lying on the floor listening to music is very different to what I'm normally doing on a work day morning.
"There are times when it would be good to just relax during the day, to take time out and think."
Andrew Bendefy, 43, a hypnotherapist from nearby St Albans, said he had witnessed a recent rise in clients with work-related problems and relaxation rooms could be of help.
"An opportunity... just to step back is such a good way of getting things back in perspective and this is definitely one of them," he said after emerging from the green and blue haze.
"It was lovely," he said, explaining that his pulse fell from 80 to 58.
"As the smoke came in, it started going upwards, there was a feeling of release. It was very enjoyable."
But it has not been a relaxing experience for everyone.
"Setting up the room has been enormously stressful," Wiseman said, adding: "I thrive on stress, so it's been very enjoyable."
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