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15th October 1999 at 01:00
Stressed out? Arnold Evans has a whale of a time on the Net and beats the blues while he's about it.

Click your way through one of the Internet's league tables of "the common causes for stress", and you'll find that once you've scrolled beyond bereavement, fatal disease, being skyjacked and divorce, the list reads remarkably like most teachers' job descriptions. Poor pay, long hours, relentless change, impossible deadlines, constant criticism, unpleasant working environment, etc, etc.

It's not surprising, then, that teachers who enjoy the rudest of health in the holidays - 'Zip-a-dee-doo-da' never off their lips - find that within a few weeks of being back at school they start to suffer from depression, fatigue, headaches, aching joints, poor sleep and the other dreary consequences of stress.

There is one obvious cure for term-time tension. It's dispensed every Wednesday and Saturday evening at about eight o'clock. But you should note: the chances that 'It Could Be You' are usually estimated at about 14 million to one.

Fortunately, there is another solution. You can avoid many of the debilitating side-effects of working in the classroom, without resorting to the extreme of escaping the classroom itself. It's simply (simply!) a question of learning how to keep your stress levels under control.

There are plenty of therapists, doctors, gurus and ageing hippies ready and willing to teach you. The problem is that it's impossible to decide which approach is best suited to your needs and temperament until you've given a fair few of them a try. That doesn't mean you must traipse off to evening classes or spend a fortune on those self-help books which never quite seem to live up to the claims emblazoned on the cover. All you have to do is curl up in the relaxing glow of your VDU and take a leisurely tour of the Net's awesome compendium of sites dedicated to putting the joie back into vivre.

Initially, you might be attracted by the regiment of cybershrinks who offer online counselling. But, be warned, they won't let you tell them all about your problems until, first of all, you've told them all your credit card details.

A few, it's true, claim to offer a free service. I tried one. Over several days, using different names and email addresses, I presented him with a variety of very different personal dilemmas. In fairness to him, he did reply by return on every occasion.

However, it was always exactly the same reply. In a nutshell: 'Buy my book'. I emailed him to the effect that anyone daft enough to buy his book after such blatant plugging was in urgent need of psychiatric help. His reply duly came by returnI yup, you've probably guessed what it said.

The Net, of course, is no place to be if you really do need one-to-one counselling. But it's ideal if you're searching for information and the necessary resources to embark on your own programme of self-help.

Several sites provide an exhaustive selection of links to pages where you can learn relaxation and breathing exercises or pick up useful tips on how to cope with addiction, anxiety attacks, phobias and a depressingly long list of other psychological problems.

If you start your explorations from somewhere sensible (such as the Stress UK site), you can feel reasonably confident that the material you access is based on sound medical research. The same can't be said for the Web's bewildering assortment of sites devoted to alternative remedies.

Before I visit any of them, I always first pop along to the Ocean Mammal Institute where it only takes a few minutes to download a few digitised samples of whales in full song. I have these playing constantly in the background during the rest of my time online - if nothing else, it's a reassuring reminder that the wide world is an even stranger place than the World Wide Web.

I also take some comfort from the fact that it shatters the composure of my cat who is otherwise insufferably at one with the universe. She only enjoys whales if they have first been tinned.

I do realise that some readers will be as appalled as my cat is that a man of mature years should waste time on the Internet listening to whales singing. Well, I don't give a hoot what you (or she) might think. What makes the Internet a unique and revolutionary resource is that each of us can use it in any way we choose.

So, if you are buckling under the pressures of stress, you can explore the various remedies on offer - without having to make any commitment; without having to shell out more than the price of a local telephone call; and without anyone else ever needing to know.

If, after your long search, you still haven't found the answer to your particular problems, please don't give up hope.You can always check out the predictions on Steve's UK Lottery Page.

Some useful sites on offer:

Stress UK: http:www.stress.org.uk

Stress Management and Emotional Wellness:

http:imt.netrandolfiStressLinks.html

Internet Mental Health: http:www.mentalhealth.com

Job Stress Help: http:www.jobstresshelp.com

New Age Cities: http:www.mindbodysoul.com

http:www.oceanmammalinst.comsongs.htm

Steve's Lottery Page: http:www.llednulb.demon.co.uk

Sned your stress relievers to arnoldevans@virgin.net

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