The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist (tm)
NOV 2000, No. 1, Sect. 1
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Table of Contents
Heads Up: Media Exposure, AOL/Digital City Chat and AOL/Online
Q & A: Stress Doc & ChickClick.com: Holiday Coping Tips
Shrink Rap: Holiday Stress: Fact or Friction
Reader's Submission: A Poem for Computer Users Over 30 Sect 2:
Main Essay: "How To" Manual for Leading a Practice Safe Stress
1. Media Exposure: a) Got some in-person exposure from the major
newspaper of the Virgin Islands, The Avis, November 18, 2000. Reporter Angela
Borchert did a fine job capturing the spirit of the Practice Safe Stress
Workshop with the National Association of Social Workers members of St. Croix.
The previous day I also led an all-day workshop for NASW folks on St. Thomas. In
next month's newsletter, hope to share impressions of all three islands.
b) See below for a delightful Q&A/Holiday Coping Tips collaboration with
ChickClick.com. Jen Loy, Body-Soul Editor, really captures the female lingo of
the thirteen to Gen X set.
2. Chat Groups: a) Stop by my AOL/Digital City "Shrink Rap
(TM) and Group Chat," Tuesdays, 9:30-11pm EDT DC Support Chat . It's a
dynamic, lively, at times witty and always warm, thoughtful and supportive
problem-solving group. We raise questions and share our ideas, hopes and
experiences with each other.
b) And catch a first Thursday of the month version, 10-11pm EDT on
AOL/Online Psych: OLP Chat .
Ask the Stress Doc:
Holiday Coping Tips
by Jen Loy, Body+Soul editor bodysoul.chickclick.com/articles/1568
I called author and therapist Mark Gorkin, otherwise known as the Stress Doc on
AOL, and asked him what holiday situations stress chicks out and how we can
cope. Here's what we covered.
The sitch: You want to hang with friends, but your family has different plans
for your timeall of your time.
The Stress Doc suggests that you negotiate with your parents, now, ahead of
time, so you can spend time with your friends.
If you take the lead and present your case before your family has planned
your every waking moment, you're more likely to avoid arguments later on.
Fun with friends
The sitch: There's just not enough days in December to spend quality time with
everyone on your list o' loved ones.
The Stress Doc suggests that you plan a special outing with your friends. Make a
movie date with your friends from school before you all get locked in to family
If you're more of a hostess, plan a pre-holiday potluck at your house. You
can make it super informalno one can cook for more than an hour. No one can
bring gifts. Call it an anti-holiday dinner!
The sitch: You're doing that split-the-holidays between mom and dad thing and
you really don't like it.
The solution: The Stress Doc points out that a lot of us in this situation
don't feel like we can talk to either parent about how we feel. He suggests that
we find a close friend or relative to talk to. If you're still living at home
it's very important to have an adult that you can open up to.
Fitness and food
The sitch: No matter how many times we tell ourselves that one or two huge meals
won't ruin our physique once and for all, we often feel like we overeat during
the holidays and have no time for fitness.
The Stress Doc suggests that you get an exercise buddy and make some plans to
get out and get active. You'll not only get off the couch and get your heart
rate back up above comatose but you'll get out the house for a while too!
The search for the great gift
The sitch: You've got a lot of family and friends but not a lot of cash.
"Be creative," suggests the Stress Doc. You're already in gift-giving
mode, it's time to let yourself get crafty. Allow yourself some time to make a
few gifts. You'll not only save money, you'll ditch some of that seasonal
The search for my great gift
The sitch: You always receive good gifts, but you want a great gift.
The Stress Doctor suggests that you try to negotiate for a gift you'd really
like to get. Talk to your parents or other major gift givers and tell them that
you appreciate their thoughtfulness, all the love they wrap up each year, but
there's one thing you've just got to have. If you suggest giving up the fluff
you might end up with less in quantity but more in quality. And your family
might even save some money in the process.
The sitch: You're just not into the whole holiday spirit of things, but even
You've heard all of this before, but the Stress Doc swears by it. If your season
is producing more stress than holiday cheer you should find the time to do
Join some kind of signing group, you might think caroling is cheesy, but
it's a great way to spend time with family and friends, spread some holiday
Keep a journal. The Stress Doc says research shows that writing out our
emotions is a good stress reliever. Keep a holiday journal and if you dig it,
keep it up after the new year.
Get a stress buddy. Find someone you can rely on, someone who won't just
tell you that you rock. Someone who you can open up to but who will be objective
and maybe give you a different way to look at life.
The sitch: You feel so busy you can't get anything done and at night you can't
seem to get to sleep.
Learn to relax. You can go out and buy tapes, or, like the Stress Doctor says,
do some visualization. Give yourself some quiet time to imagine yourself on a
tropical beach, listening to the waves, the wind; feel the sun slowly warming
And if that's too out-there for you, take a warm bath before you go to bed.
Be sure to drink lots of water so you don't get dehydrated. And, the Stress Doc
warns, don't light too-many candlesyou're the one that needs the oxygen.
The sitch: It's almost time for the big family dinner and you're dreading the
inevitable questions about school, career and love life.
Let yourself laugh. The Stress Doc says the most important tip for coping with
the holidays might just be this last one: Try to find the humor in your life.
Tell funny stories about yourself, learn to laugh with your family, and learn to
laugh at yourself. It might just keep you sane.
The Stress Doc wants to leave you with a classic holiday jokefun for the
OK. You have to know the difference between holiday blues and holiday stress.
Holiday blues is the feeling of loss and sadness you experience when you can't
spend the holidays with all the people you care about. Holiday stress is the
feeling you get when you have to be with some of those people.
Mark Gorkin, a licensed clinical social worker in Washington, D.C., is the
Stress Doc. His book Practice Safe Stress with the Stress Doc: The Art of
Managing Stress, Burnout and Depression hits the shelves in early December.
Shrink Rap: Holiday Stress: Fact or Friction
The Stress Doc makes a key existential distinction between holiday blues and
holiday stress and provides clever strategies and verse for tackling "The
Four 'F's of Holiday Friction: Fantasies, Family, Food and Finances."
Holiday Stress: Fact or Friction
While many associate the holidays with Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol,
and its theme of gaining and sharing the holiday spirit, the opening lines from
A Tale of Two Cities may have even more relevance:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of time
It was the season of light, it was the season of darkness...
It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
Like Dickens, I too have tried to capture the complexity of the holidays; if
not through a great novel, then with my one classic holiday joke. I realized
with all this talk of pressure during the holidays, I needed to distinguish
between "Holiday Blues" and "Holiday Stress." Now holiday
blues is the feeling of loss or sadness that you have over the holidays when,
for whatever reason, you can't be with those people who have been or are special
and significant. And holiday stress...is when you have to be with some of those
Now here's some lighthearted, seasonal verse I wrote years ago for my radio
feature, "Stress Brake." It's called "Cruisin for a Bluesin":
The holidays may bring you down
And you just sing the blues.
To turn those soured tones around
Just play these "don'ts" and "dos."
When you're cruisin on the town
Don't charge away the blues.
If you card the credit crown
Your spouse may blow a fuse.
For fussy dad the streets you'll pound
To find the perfect muse.
He might as well be tied...and bound
He'll never change his views.
If you're alone, don't be house bound
Or cuddle up to booze.
Go ahead. Drown a frown with tears
And folks who can amuse.
Why not try that choral sound
Spread some joyous news.
For when the voices do resound
Then notes you can abuse.
This year don't play the tragic clown
Be bold in how you choose.
You too can prance above the ground
Put on those dancing shoes.
So now we've come full circle round
More lines I must refuse.
Just know when love and friends abound
The blues have many hues.
(c) Shrink Rap Productions 1997
Despite this good advice, we know that when you are with some of those people
(or if they are just in your head), real sparks can fly. Here are "The
Four 'F's of Holiday Friction: Fantasies, Family, Food and Finances."
1. Fantasies. First, the idyllic image of the holidays portrayed by
the media seems so out of touch with reality, it's enough to make you overload
on eggnog (with or without the alcohol).
Another pressure is the internalized memories we carry around. I recall my
friend Linda, a single parent at the time, berating herself because she couldn't
keep up with the holidays - the cooking, the shopping, the house decorations,
etc. - the way her mother had. Of course, Linda's mom did not work outside the
home. I also recall Linda observing that, as a successful professional, she now
has the money but lacks the time for the season. Previously, when she wasn't
working, she had plenty of time and no money. The "Holiday Catch-22."
And, finally, this season turns most of us into sentimental jelly fish, just
waiting to get entangled in the arms of that "true love." Hey, I'm not
saying that Mr. or Ms. Holiday Hopeful is as possible or as real as Santa Claus.
(My motto: "I no longer count on nor discount any possibility.") Just
don't let childhood and childlike longings transform your internal memories and
voices into a frantic, salivating, love-crazed inner child.
The key to managing this friction: gently embrace, don't cling, to magical
memories. Discover a blend of magical realism that helps you balance love, work
and play in the present.
2. Family. There are so many permutations in families these days, it's
got to get a bit confusing. For separated families, a poignant question: which
parent (or grandparents) will we be with for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for
New Years? I vividly remember an eight year old boys lament: "Why can't we
just be one family again?"
Another common family issue is when a holiday gathering turns into a
competitive arena for sibling rivalry, along with a desire for long-standing
recognition and approval. And if you find in these family therapy sessions, I
mean holiday reunions, that you can't resist trying to change the attitude and
behavior of the parent (sibling or child) that "makes you crazy,"
patterns which have resisted influence attempts for decades...maybe there's only
one solution. Have you thought about getting far out of town for the holidays?
3. Food. The holidays turn most of us into bingeaholics. Running
helter skelter, not stopping for lunch, overdosing on the cookies and chocolate
that a colleague has brought to work. And discipline at a party is a
contradiction in terms. (Just ask the Democrats.) This caloric chaos is not
surprising considering the biggest role model of the holidays looks like he
hasn't met a single gram of fat in two hundred years that he doesn't love. Hey,
Santa Claus hasn't been doing his Jane Fonda workouts either. But wait...Appoint
a designated nagger, who will gently remind you when you are overdoing it. Don't
chat hovering around the buffet table. Take reasonable portions and move away.
Now replace food with some food for thought.
And face it, no matter what you do, or don't do, you are likely to add some
pounds on the holidays. So go to the malls and walk briskly for thirty minutes
before you start the shopping splurge. You'll spend less and, probably, will eat
less as well.
4. Finances. The holidays heighten our monetary consciousness -- from
the end of the year financial and psychological accounting (did we meet our
financial/family security and career goals?) to the never-ending list of holiday
gifts. And as the great Russian novelist, Doestoyevsky, noted:
"Consciousness is depression!"
For the first issue, seek a budget counselor, a CPA, a career counselor or
even a mental health specialist. For the last, "just say no" to your
child's "toy lust." Give your child choices; explain why there are
limits. Try this holiday mantra: "Presence precedes presents." This
season, invest time, not just money.
For big families, be creative. Divide up the gift list with other relatives.
You shouldn't have to buy something for everyone. Making a gift definitely adds
a personal touch. And, finally, don't overlook a very important person. Get a
special gift for yourself.
So the holidays may be a stressful time; a time of feelings of loss and
sadness. But with a little higher power humor it also, can be a source of
creative expression and sharing. Here's my gift to you:
Waves of sadness
Raging river of fear
Till I disappear
Into the depths of primal pain
Then again...no pain, no gain.
Is it chemistry or confession?
Dark side of perfection!
Climbing icy spires
Dancing at the ledge
The phoenix only rises
On the jagged edge
In a world of highs and lows
Hey, the cosmos ebbs and flows.
It's electrifried obsession
High flying depression
So I'm pumping iron
And Prozac, too
What else can A real man do
In a life of muted dreams
How about a primal SCREAM?
Even inner child rejection
Hallelujah for creative expression!
(c) Mark Gorkin 1994 Shrink Rap Productions
Just remember, for the holidays and beyond...Practice Safe Stress!
Reader's "Higher Power of Humor" Section
A POEM FOR COMPUTER USERS OVER 30
A computer was something on TV
From a science fiction show of note
A window was something you hated to clean
And ram was the cousin of a goat.
Meg was the name of my girlfriend
And gig was a job for the nights
Now they all mean different things
And that really mega bytes.
An application was for employment
A program was a TV show
A cursor used profanity
A keyboard was a piano.
Memory was something that you lost with age
A CD was a bank account
And if you had a 3-in. floppy
You hoped nobody found out.
Compress was something you did to the garbage
Not something you did to a file
And if you unzipped anything in public
You'd be in jail for a while.
Log on was adding wood to the fire
Hard drive was a long trip on the road
A mouse pad was where a mouse lived
And a backup happened to your commode.
Cut you did with a pocket knife
Paste you did with glue
A web was a spider's home
And a virus was the flu.
I guess I'll stick to my pad and paper
And the memory in my head I hear
Nobody's been killed in a computer crash
But when it happens they wish they were dead.
Seek the Higher Power of Humor:
May the Farce Be with You!
(c) Mark Gorkin 2000 Shrink Rap Productions