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Book closed, light off. It’s a little before noon. But am I able to sleep? Yes, I am tired, but wide awake at the same time. I stare into the darkness for a while before I realize what is wrong with me. I am stressed. Quite a bit. My attempt to slip into dreamland is in vain. As I toss and turn, my heart rate spiking, I think about the last phone conversation with a friend. About the article I just had to start working before I missed the deadline. And about completely nonsensical things. “Should I have responded in the vacation group app?” After waking up five times from a restless sleep, I reluctantly start up the computer in the morning to get to work. I feel jaded. And the bags under my eyes: they could have stayed away.

Two months ago, I found myself in this scenario. My life reached a boiling point. Fortunately, it didn’t last so long. By now I am back to my old self.

I’m not the only one who sometimes stares at the ceiling before bed. About a quarter of Dutch adults regularly feel very stressed. Because of work, too much scrolling on social media, illness, and, in recent years, increasingly because of financial problems.

I know pretty well now how to calm myself down. A purring cat on my lap works wonders, I now know. But more and more, technology also offers a solution. My sister recommended an app with meditative sounds, from the rainforest for example. That works better than I had predicted!

However, with the advent of AI and advanced VR techniques, among others, much more will be possible in the future than simple apps. Let’s think about that. What would the world look like if … we got our stress management very right? If we find peace through technology, tuned to our specific, personal situation?

Neurointerfaces and nanobots

Gone are the apps: we’ve developed something much more effective. Neurointerfaces embedded in a tiny, comfortable headband that communicate directly with our brain. The headband analyzes our brainwaves and can perform real-time stress detection.

That sounds complicated enough, but we’re adding to the complexity. The interfaces are linked to nanobots inside our bodies: too small to see with the naked eye. Should stress occur, these bots can release small doses of calming neurotransmitters, such as serotonin or oxytocin. Directly into our blood. They lower stress levels even before we are aware of it ourselves.

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Next-level Google Home app

In addition, the headband is paired with an advanced version of the Google Home app, allowing us to adjust the external environment to our needs at that moment. Imagine this: you come home after an intense day (annoying emails, colleagues, and customers: we can’t escape it), and the headband detects an increased stress level. Automatically the nanobots spring into action, as well as the lights dim, your favorite artist starts playing in the background, and the temperature changes. This all happens without you having to lift a finger.

A holodeck

So to some extent, we can control our environment. But sometimes it is even better to escape reality completely for a while. We are all familiar with VR by now, but in the future, we will go one step further. Most of us are the proud owners of an immersive holodeck, a bit like in Star Trek, in which we can instantly replace our environment with a serene setting. These holodecks offer not only visual and auditory stimulation but also tactile (sense of touch) and even thermal stimulation. This makes for an immersive experience. Our brain immediately calms down upon “arrival” at the beach, as we sip a cocktail and feel the sun burning on our skin.

Society reaps the benefits

Wonderful, a life without extreme stress peaks. But the impact of these technologies extends further. For example, workers are less likely to be absent from work due to burnout. Moreover, people’s life expectancy has increased by four years. Heart attacks are less common. And, not insignificantly, the divorce rate has dropped dramatically. After all, less stress leads to less conflict within relationships. We can stand each other again!

A balancing act

By the way, although technology helps us manage stress effectively, it does not mean that we live completely stress-free lives. In fact, stress hormones, such as cortisol, play a crucial role in our daily functioning. The hormone is essential for regulating our energy, alertness and responses to emergencies. It also helps reduce inflammation in the body.

In other words, to some extent, we need stress. Fortunately, in the future we will be adept at finding that ideal balance, thanks in part to our smart technology. Until then, I’ll have to make do with a purring cat on my lap. I’ll take it in!