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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 Tear

Heads Up:

1. MediaExposure:

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 Disarming

'I's: Power Struggles vs. Powerful Strategies" (email me for a copy).

(Email stressdoc@aol.com 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.

Shrink Rap:

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 world.

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 stressdoc@aol.com for more detailed info in a recent article, Traumatic Stress/Crisis Intervention Techniques and Tips.) And,

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 rain.

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 evening.

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 new perspective.

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!

ain Essay:

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)…What 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" ™ (creative synthesis).

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. Dickens…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 history…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!

Readers' Submissions:


From: dixiejazzberry@yahoo.com


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.


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.


"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 your face.

"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 to pee!

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 stressdoc@aol.com or call 202-232-8662.


(c) Mark Gorkin 2001

Shrink Rap ™ Productions