A musician of the St Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra is silhouetted as he listens during the Crystal Awards Ceremony at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2014 in Davos. Picture: Denis Balibouse

London and Paris - As business and political leaders gather in Davos this week, those weary of the palaver over trade alliances, mergers and charity initiatives can stop by the Congress Centre tomorrow morning. There, Goldie Hawn will extol the benefits of meditation.

The “mindfulness” panel with Hawn, star of the 1975 hit film Shampoo, is among 25 sessions at the 2014 World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting discussing wellness, mental health, and the potentially pernicious effects of technology on the brain.

That’s at least 50 percent more wellness-related presentations than in 2008.

The theme shows how anxiety over stress and its impact on business is growing among the Davos set, who have spent the past five years dealing with crises from the collapse of Lehman Brothers to Syria’s civil war – all connected 24/7 to their buzzing smartphones.

Mental health-related illnesses may cost $16 trillion (R173 trillion) in lost output over the next 20 years, according to figures from Harvard University and the WEF.

“People are becoming aware of the huge economic impact” of illness, said Norbert Hueltenschmidt, a partner at consultancy Bain.

On the sidelines of the main forum, an inaugural Health Summit will bring together executives, academics and government officials to talk about large-scale challenges. Their interest is not entirely altruistic.

For businesses, “there is accumulating evidence about how one’s psychological well-being effects one’s productivity,” said Laura Tyson, a Davos participant who headed the US National Economic Council under Bill Clinton.

Underpinning interest in the subject in Davos is an emerging body of research indicating that constant attention to smartphones and other electronic devices may affect the human brain. – Bloomberg