The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
SEP 2001, No. 1
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Special Announcement: Tonight, Sep.27th, from 8-9pm EDT I will be hosting
a special chat for healthAtoZ.com: Stress Survival Tips for Trying Times .
Simply go to http://www.healthatoz.com and click on community on the top right
column of the home page. This will give you a list of the chats. Click on my
chat and follow the registration process. (You will be asked to choose a User ID
and a password.) Then click on submit. Expect to receive an email from
healthAtoZ confirming your registration, your user ID and password.
Table of Contents
Heads Up: Winds of War and Crisis Intervention; AOL/Digital City Chat
Shrink Rap: Laughing in the Face of Layoffs
Main Essay: Getting Beyond The Box
Readers' Submissions: Games for When We Are Older, Menopause and Wear and
a) Winds of War and Crisis Intervention Tips have appeared in numerous online
publications these past two weeks, including Messages from the Financial Masters
(a reader thanked the Editor for "going out of the box," in her
editorial selection; very apt, see below) HR.com, SelfHelp Magazine and Business
KnowHow. Thank you all for your support.
b) Financial Services Journal Online published, "Alarming 'You's' or
'I's: Power Struggles vs. Powerful Strategies" (email me for a copy).
(Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to publish any essays, past or
present, in your online or offline publication.)
2. Chat Group and Live Workshops
a) Stop by my AOL/Digital City Shrink Rap (TM) and Group Chat DC Support
Chat, Tuesdays, 9:30-11pm EST 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.
In light of the tough times all around, the Stress Doc decides to bring a
light-hearted and an enlightening perspective to surviving in a downsizing
Laughing in the Face of Layoffs
Three events in the past week have motivated me to include the essay,
"Laughing in the Face of Layoffs," in this month's newsletter:
1) A morning interview with a freelance writer for a Human Resources magazine
on the long-term morale and productivity effects of the terrorist attacks and a
war-like climate on businesses and workers. A key element of the discussion
noted that our national trauma occurred within the backdrop of an economic
downturn, if not a budding global recession. For companies and their employees
hit by layoffs and major restructuring, Tuesday's atrocities may well be the
terrorist straw. If the corporate camel doesn't fully break, there's sure a lot
of back strain amongst the airlines, travel industry, hotels, etc., not to
mention all the recent IT dot.bombing and dislocation. This double-punch can be
a trigger for traumatic effects if not some depression, or a crisis state that
inspires a critical challenge.
2) Taking a half-day American Red Cross Disaster Recovery class. A key
teaching point was that many folks are in the "Heroic" and
"Honeymoon" phases of the emotional response to human-generated
catastrophe - bonding with others, volunteering, hopeful of success in our
search and eradicate efforts at home and abroad. However, within a month to
three months, because of the broad-reaching visibility and effects of this
crisis, significant numbers may reach the third stage -
"Disillusionment." Now, the reality and enormity of the social and
economic impact hits home. Some will become despairing, exhausted, risk-averse;
rates of domestic violence and substance abuse will rise along with delayed
post-traumatic stress symptoms. (Email email@example.com for more detailed info
in a recent article, Traumatic Stress/Crisis Intervention Techniques and Tips.)
3) A Practice Safe Stress Workshop with a Program Office of mostly civilians
and some military personnel working for the Naval Sea Systems Command at the
Washington Navy Yard. The program had been scheduled a couple of months before
the horrific and haunting zip code moment (91101). Actually, my antennae went up
when the liaison, walking me to the training room, in response to my query about
program focus, replied: "No, people have been talking amongst themselves
all week. Do the original program. We all need some laughter right now!"
Guess she was a fan of the pioneering film genius, Charlie Chaplin, who
noted: A paradoxical thing about making comedy is that it is precisely the
tragic which arouses the funny. We have to laugh due to our helplessness in the
face of natural forces and in order not to go crazy. And we know laughing
with gusto is like giving your vital organs a brief inner massage.
Laughing On the Edge
So laughter may be a critical component for surviving our national tragedy. I
suspect the timing for humor will improve as we (the general populace) better
grasp the implications and influences of the tragedy in our daily routines and,
thereby, gain confidence in managing potential threats. (I already envision a
host of "gas mask" jokes.)
However, the timing for dealing playfully with layoffs and cutbacks is
overripe. As a psychiatrist whose name escapes me observed; "What was once
feared and is now mastered is laughed at." And believe me, I know
personally the subject of reorganization and RIFs (Reduction In Force). (Email
for my wicked satire on how top management can screw up a downsizing.) Consider
this Stress Doc inversion of the aforementioned observation: "What was once
feared and is now laughed at is no longer a master!"
Enlightened laughter and hard-earned mastery
I can't think of a better
combo for helping a displaced or downsized person:
a) overcome fear, inertia and feelings of rejection,
b) awaken latent desires and uncover late blooming or incubating talents and
c) transform personal grief into professional growth.
As noted French Algerian author and philosopher, Albert Camus, observed: Once
we have accepted the fact of loss, we understand that the loved one [or loved
position] obstructed a whole corner of the possible pure now as a sky washed by
Can a person displaced or downsized see both the danger and opportunity in
career change or disruption? Can you learn, even, to both cry and chuckle at
this career crisis turning point, and gain liberation through laughter?
The Light Side of Layoffs
Layoffs-the "L-word" of the '90s has again raised its ugly head.
Whether framed as "reorganization," "downsizing," or,
perhaps, most cutting of all - "rightsizing" (though I like "frightsizing"
- layoffs can create feelings of betrayal, a loss of face and faith, and anxiety
about the future. As one woman caught in the throes of her government agency's
reorganization exclaimed, "I once had a career path. Then this boulder fell
from the sky and crushed it." (Surely, this statement takes on both
relativity and a heightened poignancy in light of the WTC razing.)
People experiencing a layoff need to let go and transform their emotional
pain, fear, and aggressive energy into exploration and acceptance. Those going
through this grieving often overlook positive facets of their layoffs:
Job worry reduction. What a relief, you can finally stop worrying about
the prospect of losing your job. Anticipation can be worse than any termination.
Less stressful rituals. Not having to set an alarm clock is definitely a
stress reliever. What about a real daring act -- gradual withdrawal from the
morning coffee fix? And consider my radical 'Old Age" (as opposed to 'New
Age") meditation technique: I find a quiet place, then close my eyes and
chant "N-A-P, N-A-P" for 10 to 20 minutes in the afternoon and/or
Family highs. Layoff transition means more opportunity for you and your
family to share personal and meaningful interaction. Now there's time for family
dinners and in-depth discussions of, for example, the relationship between
homework, television, and migraine headaches. (Of course, too much joy with the
family too fast can induce culture shock. Don't try to make up in two weeks for
20 years of benign neglect.)
Boredom breakout. When we invest much time, energy, money, and/or ego in
a position, it can be difficult to recognize or admit it's time to move on.
Before the layoff, were you increasingly frustrated, restless, or underwhelmed
at work? Well, now's the time to "fireproof life with variety."
Transitional vacation time. Make the shift from being
"laid-off" to having "time off." Instead of thinking of
yourself as unemployed, consider yourself in transition. (Wouldn't you have
liked a semester off during college to reconsider direction and options?) Don't
just conduct a job search-use the free time as a catalyst for self-discovery.
Explore these questions: What are my true talents, interests, passions? What do
I really want in a career/position at this juncture? What is no longer
acceptable to me? To my family? Rushing into jobs or judgments usually confines
people to less creative and meaningful paths. So here's my prescription: Take an
incubation vacation to rejuvenate the mind-body-spirit connection and to hatch
Existential capitalism. This is my pioneering philosophy - inspiration
from the challenge of not knowing where your next dollar is coming from. Money,
of course, can be a cause for worry during this trying transition, but wouldn't
it be nice to simplify your life a bit? Now's the time to get in touch with
wanderlust or bohemian desires rather than impulsive decisions. Live on the
edge. Paint. Write poetry. If you can't move to Montana, become a freelance
consultant. Consider part-time work.
And don't be brought down by false pride: Even van Gogh regularly got money
from his brother and Thoreau would routinely escape Walden Pond for his mother's
Sunday dinner. (It's true.)
Pursuing a genuine, fulfilling, and creative life that's respectful of one's
essential talents, nature, and spirit is a challenge. But there's no better time
than transition time to take it up. So explore and remember: We're not human
doings, but human beings. Learn to laugh at the difference. And, finally, seek
the higher power of humor: May the farce be with you!
Leading a recent workshop on "Thinking Out of the Box" challenges
the Stress Doc to give some strategic mindfulness and heart along with humor and
soul to this vital yet overused and misused concept. Consider these three Part I
innovative ideas and interventions: 1) Embrace Contradiction, 2) Reframe the
Content and Context and 3) Find the Pass in the Impasse.
Getting Beyond the Box: Part I
For Creative Rebirth
Think Out of the Coffin
"Thinking out of the box." What exactly are we talking about? Not
being limited by obvious assumptions or expectations? Experimenting with problem
solving steps that are untested or that are not necessarily logical or
predictable? Perhaps mentally meandering along, if not jumping from, your
paradigmatic edge? Or does it mean consciously and unconsciously weaving and
unraveling till you've spun a conceptual web that catches those elusive and
defiant bits (and bytes) of data and imagery?
So the first principal: there are many escape hatches as opposed to "one
right way" out of the box. Yet, even when doing your headwork, heart work
and homework, with bold liberating steps risks often lead rewards and fantasies
partner with fear and frustration. Your worldview may need to be twirled around,
if not turned upside down, to discover a heart that sings and a mind that dances
out of the box.
The second principal also sounds an encouraging yet cautionary note: thinking
is just the first step; one must also act and test out of the box, presenting
ideas in a more public forum. Still, you now are grappling along the innovative
edge. And remember, if you're not living on the edge
you're taking up too much
(conceptual) space! So here are the Stress Doc's Out of the Box Skills and
Strategies: Part I for being dynamically balanced and "lean and keen":
1. Embrace Contradiction. Why might oppositional thinking or a capacity
for embracing contradiction be intellectually and emotionally liberating?
Consider this: Dr. Albert Rothenberg, a Yale research psychiatrist, found
subjects who responded with more opposites or antonyms in a word association
test - e.g., "wet" to the word "dry" or "fast" to
the word "slow" - had higher scores on certain creative personality
measures than subjects generating mostly synonyms or "original' responses.
While his sample was small and the results can only be suggestive, why might
there be a correlation between creativity and contradiction?
a) To think oppositionally reveals a willingness to challenge the
conventional and the accepted or even "the authority." As von Oech
noted in his classic on creativity, A Whack On the Side of the Head:
"Sacred cows make great steaks."
b) Challenging the status quo, especially from a 180 degree opposite
perspective creates a polar tension. If you are rigid or self-righteous, then
the answer simply involves being right or wrong, productive or wasteful. One
rarely sees shades of gray or discovers a higher-level perspective, for example,
how the tension between thesis and antithesis can yield a creative synthesis.
Years ago, I tried writing some rap-like lyrics for a black beauty contest theme
song. (Don't ask. ;-) One morning, shortly after my noble effort, I awoke
chastising myself: I was a university professor, a psychotherapist (thesis)
was I doing trying to write rap lyrics (antithesis)? A blazing flash scattered
my sleepy haze. As the mist lifted, there
a mystical (if not hysterical)
conceptual vision; a catalyst for my pioneering psychologically humorous rap
music. I was no longer just dreaming in the field of "Shrink Rap"
c) And finally, a comfort with contradiction often allows us to discover a
paradoxical essence. To quote the artistic giant, Pablo Picasso: Every act of
creation is first of all an act of destruction. (Guess sometimes you have to
blow up the box.) So things that appear oppositional or contradictory may, in
fact, have a complex or subtle relation that yields a higher truth. For example,
do you know any maddening passive aggressive or "yes, butt"
individuals? Maybe a little "tough love" (or my variations of TLC,
"tough loving care" and "tender loving criticism") might
straighten them out.
A New Yorker cartoon forever embedded the dangers of rigid non-oppositional
thinking. A pompous looking publisher standing behind his power desk begins to
chastise a humbly dressed, hat in hand Charles Dickens: "Really, Mr.
was it the best of times or was it the worst of times? It could
scarcely have been both!"
2. Reframe the Content and Context. The potent creative problem-solving
tool of reframing generates new or unexpected ways of defining and designing or,
even, marrying the components and character, the events and effects of ideas and
images. For example, the French author, Edmund Rostand, upon turning 75, while
gazing at his reflection declared: "Mirrors just aren't what they used to
be!" And Mark Twain, while calling it wit, cleverly illustrated the
surprising (and often amusing) essence of reframing: Wit is the sudden marriage
of ideas, which before their union were not perceived to have any relation.
And when you can reframe both content (data or messages) and context
(psychological, communicational and/or physical environment or conceptual
envelope), you are definitely thinking and performing out of the box. A dozen
years back, I was consulting with a federal court that was automating their
record keeping process. Management had not solicited much input from employees
directly impacted by the technical changes, especially involving a key
administrative form. The employees were not just anxious about an uncertain
future but were also angry for being bypassed in the decision-making and
implementation process. And not surprisingly, there was passive group resistance
to the change.
Memos and motivational exhortations were having minimal effect when I
experienced that "out of the box" (actually, "out of the
coffin") moment: "Let's have a forms funeral." This proved a lot
more creative than a group gripe session. We gave employees a public forum for:
a) mourning the loss of the old data processing system, b) expressing
frustration with management's unilateral process and c) articulating concerns
about the upcoming changes. This group grieving enabled folks to gradually and
more objectively recognize the limitations of the old and the productive
potential of the new. Now all levels in the organization acknowledged that the
whole had to be part of the problem and part of the solution.
By shifting the content from critical top-down memos to bottom-up expression
and by thinking and acting out of a reframed coffin context, a more cohesive and
responsive Organizational Phoenix rose from the administrative ashes of
unilateral decision making.
3. Find the Pass in the Impasse. Today's downsizing climate makes
"out of the box" problem solving especially timely and critical. And
ironically, sometimes, we must go deep inside the box in order to break out. Let
me explain. One December, just before the holidays, I had become a political
hatchet job casualty. The newly appointed leader believed his division no longer
needed the team building services of the Stress Doc. (Was it a coincidence that
three weeks before his appointment, in a meeting with IT contractors, I had to
set limits on his intimidating micromanaging style?)
Missing my clients and our long-standing work, as well as concerned about
finances and, in general, having a case of "Holiday Blues," I was
moping around the house. Sitting in front of my AOL screen, mostly wasting time
looking at personal ads or scrolling around websites, I finally admitted my
avoidance pattern: a reluctance to explore "The Writer's Forum." Why
bother. I probably wouldn't get published. And if my work were picked up, how
many folks would actually eyeball it? Serious case of being boxed in by
self-doubt and cynicism, not to mention narcissistic injury. (A not unlikely
consequence of being rightsized or frightsized.)
Despite myself, I responded to a request for humor writing by a small
electronic newsletter. The editor was excited, the publisher tentative. But I
had the green light for 100-word stories. 100 words!!! Who can say anything
meaningful in such a tight space? (Obviously, still stuck in a numbers box.)
Somehow I did; sometimes you need to be pushed out of a comfort zone. And got
good feedback from several readers. (Okay, the newsletter's high school
contingent wanted me to walk the cyberplank for sullying their cyberjokes
format.) But with a little confidence and some healthy calluses I contacted
AOL's Online Psych mental health forum. They jumped at getting insightful and
playful stories from their future "Online Psychohumorist" . An AOL
Keyword followed: Stress Doc. And as they say, the rest is well, maybe not
but, now, at least I'm a legend in my own mind!
So go deep into the heart of darkness and with hard work, a penchant for
contradiction, a reframing touch, embracing both risk and support along with a
bit of luck, you too may find some liberating light and lightness. It's a
strategy that will help you break out of the box and
Practice Safe Stress!
Subj: GAMES FOR WHEN WE ARE OLDER
GAMES FOR WHEN WE ARE OLDER
1. Sag, You're it
2. Pin the Toupee on the bald guy.
3. 20 questions shouted into your good ear.
4. Kick the bucket.
5. Red Rover, Red Rover, the nurse says Bend Over.
6. Doc Goose.
7. Simon says something incoherent.
8. Hide and go pee.
9. Spin the Bottle of Mylanta
10. Musical recliners.
SIGNS of MENOPAUSE
1. You sell your home heating system at a yard sale.
2. Your husband jokes that instead of buying a wood stove, he is using you to
heat the family room this winter. Rather than just saying you are not amused,
you shoot him.
3. You have to write post-it notes with your kids' names on them.
4. Your husband chirps, "Hi honey, I'm home." And your reply,
"Well, if it isn't Ozzie Nelson."
5. The Phenobarbital dose that wiped out the Heaven's Gate Cult gives you
four hours of decent rest.
6. You change your underwear after every sneeze.
7. You're on so much estrogen that you take your Brownie troop on a field
trip to Chippendales.
SIGNS of WEAR
"OLD" IS WHEN..... Your sweetie says, "Let's go upstairs and
make love," and you answer, "Pick one, I can't do both!"
"OLD" IS WHEN..... Your friends compliment you on your new
alligator shoes and you're barefoot.
"OLD" IS WHEN..... A sexy babe catches your fancy and your
pacemaker opens the garage door.
"OLD" IS WHEN..... Going bra-less pulls all the wrinkles out of
"OLD" IS WHEN..... You don't care where your spouse goes, just as
long as you don't have to go along.
"OLD" IS WHEN..... When you are cautioned to slow down by the
doctor instead of by the police.
"OLD" IS WHEN..... "Getting a little action" means I
don't need to take any fiber today.
"OLD" IS WHEN..... "Getting lucky" means you find your
car in the parking lot.
"OLD" IS WHEN..... An "all-nighter" means not getting up
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" , is an internationally
recognized speaker and syndicated writer on stress, anger management,
reorganizational change, team building and HUMOR! The Doc was recently featured
on CBS TV's Newspath segment -- Workplace Violence -- and in Biography Magazine.
He is America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" leading a chat
group for AOL/Digital City --http://www.digitalcity.com/washington/stressdr .
Check out his USA Today Online HotSite - www.stressdoc.com. For more info, email
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-232-8662.
(c) Mark Gorkin 2001
Shrink Rap Productions