Shopping: a stress therapist’s challenge

The four most stressful experiences in the average person's life, it has been said, are bereavement, divorce, moving house and going furniture shopping at IKEA. But can a professional stress therapist survive the ordeal of shopping at IKEA on a hot Sunday afternoon, with two kids in tow? John Hind puts one to the test.

Alexandra ‘Rainbow’ Whittall is a stress therapist who offers her ‘well-being service’ to high-powered, high-stress companies that are not unlike the one she once worked for herself, before abandoning materialism for finding her ‘centre’ in a rainforest and ‘connecting with the great spirit’.

But on her 35th birthday, rather than meditate on her Farnham houseboat with candles and crystals, she agrees to drive for an hour through heavy Sunday traffic in order to push a trolley around the Croydon branch of IKEA, in hot weather and with two children in tow.

Distressed furniture

Alexandra arrives and finds a nice space in IKEA’s car-park. She then sits at a table next to two plant-tubs outside the entrance, in order to recover from too many mobile phone-calls during her drive.

Noisy shopping trolleys rattle across the cement and a tannoy by the entrance ding-dongs repeatedly. Her first stop is the cafeteria, to sit down for half-an-hour and feed the children. But after she’s done this the play area downstairs isn’t taking any more children (‘We start closing in an hour’); so the pressure is on to complete her shopping list.

Things start badly when a four-pack of curry-coned legs cannot be found. ‘In theory they’d have people around to help,’ she says hopefully. But then, out of the corner of her eye, Alexandra spots the second item on the list, a black side-table in lacquer finish.

When an overworked assistant is asked the location of a Sandi swivel chair, he types ‘Sani’ onto his computer and claims there’s no such thing. When his mistake is pointed out he looks again and admits ‘It’s just the Sandi underframe that’s available’. He’s seen ‘families lose their minds when they come great distances and stock is out’.

Who took the click-clack sofa?

‘I’m starting to get a headache above the eyes,’ sighs Alexandra. ‘What that says to me is bad lights, lack of air, paint toxins.’ A Bra wardrobe on castors is tricky to find and Alexandra is already becoming tempted by other items. ‘I make a deliberate effort to control that which my senses perceive, but it’s overload. I’m saturated and seduced by external influences.’ She picks up two lanterns, another spontaneous buy, then spots some mirrors.

But no Vitamin work stools can be found. The assistant reports: ‘We’re expecting some more in, some time, but we haven’t got any at the minute. I’m not sure we have the Micky mirror either.’

‘Enjoy Life’ say posters around the store. ‘A lot of people get a tight stomach when they’re stressed and that’s what I’m feeling now,’ comments Alexandra, while the children grab anything potentially entertaining. She feels that she is ‘snailing along a path, not unlike a vast serpent’.

A Click-Clack Inseros sofa bed, also on the shopping list, is nowhere to be found. ‘We only have the Bejinda,’ says an assistant. ‘Just follow the shop round this way.’

‘I’m feeling that I want to escape,’ frowns Alexandra. ‘I think the metallic grid hanging from the ceiling is not good. It’s like a dense hovering energy.’ Then she spots pot-plants and heads for more spontaneous purchasing. Saftlig plates are tried for, but an assistant admits they’re ‘not available right now’.

‘There’s lots of customers dumping their energies about the place. And I still have this headache,’ continues Alexandra. The tannoy requests that customers complete their purchases. We head under boards saying ‘Time To Play’, while really it’s time to pay, once a queue is slowly edged through.

‘I couldn’t stay in there any longer,’ she says outside. Leaving IKEA amidst noisy trolleys, Alexandra is greeted by the exhausts of three cars outside the door. ‘Oh, disgusting! A face of fumes!’ she exclaims. Her face has lost its once tranquil quality.

Alexandra feels that she’d need extra protection before coming to IKEA again. She suggests the store could be cleaned at night-time with incense in Tibetan bowls and that calm spots and places of tranquillity (‘with amethyst water features’) could be created at intervals for fraught shoppers. She thinks that crystals could be hung above the home furnishings and at the entrance and exit and that the whole roof of IKEA should be slid aside on sunny days.

Alex Whittall provides a range of stress therapy services, at cost ranging from £40. Tel: 07808294118

About John Hind

John Hind is a journalist. He writes primarily for The Guardian and the Observer.

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