The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
Fight when you can
Take flight when you
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Table of Contents
Alexander Hamilton Institute; Dartnell Publications, AOL Chat
Anticipatory Grieving: Lingering Loss and Legacy
Main Essay: Purposeful and
Playful Workshop Exercises and Strategies
Reader Submission: Air Agent Award, Enron
Economics and Israeli Personals
1. Media Exposure:
a) Alexander Hamilton Institute (legal publication) interviewed me for an
upcoming article on desk rage
b) Dartnell Publications (business periodicals) interviewed me for and article on
helping managers deal with the effects of reorganizational change
c) Florida Beaches reported
interviewed me on the therapeutic potential of chat groups
(Email email@example.com if
you'd like to publish any essays, past or present, in your online or offline publication.)
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.
Lingering Loss and Legacy
As we baby
boomers are inexorably discovering, and with increasing frequency, "Death happens!"
Sometimes the grief process is ignited by an unexpected tragedy, for example, a favorite uncle in
his early 60s having cardiac arrest on a racquetball court. Working through the shock and
overwhelming loss are the immediate tasks. Other times, though, grieving for a loved one
begins considerably before the end of a life.
Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back
78-year-old father had another mini stroke the other day. Apparently, a K-Mart employee
illegally charged several hundred dollars of merchandise using dad's credit card number.
Another K-Mart employee called saying he would take care of the problem. Alas, nothing was
done. (Hello, K-Mart
might this quality customer service be a contributing factor to the
bankruptcy morass, duh?) Some time later, again over the phone, a K-Mart supervisor
aggressively questions why my father had not called the police about the matter. My father's
assumption that the matter was being handled internally did not initially satisfy this skeptical
authority. Dad's inability to grasp quickly all that was going on pushed his level of
frustration and tension to the implosion point.
At one time, dad, an aggressive New York
salesman, would have had this supervisor for lunch. Now, this confrontation was enough to set
off a stress attack, a rise in blood pressure, loss of memory and general disorientation along with
the familiar cycle of, "Will dad have another serious setback?" In the past two and
a half years he's had five mild to significant strokes. Plus a bout of Bell's Palsy which
really was the precursor to all these brain attacks. (And while we're at it, let's throw in
his bout with Prostate Cancer, which was diagnosed six months before the Palsy.) Yet
amazingly, with a determined will, careful eating and moderate exercise, he seems to crawl back to
some vital semblance, not just a shadow, of his essential self.
Still, each attack ignites a
double-edged emotional process: a feeling of anxiety, sadness and fragile vulnerability at the
impending loss of a man, who, before these last three years, since giving up smoking and playing
tennis thirty years ago, has always been a physical rock. (Emotionally, however, perhaps less
a rock than a maddeningly neurotic, yet loveable, wreck.)
At the same time, each stroke
upheaval evokes a sense of, "Here we go again." One more nail in the anticipatory
coffin. Perhaps a slightly calloused edge is inevitable after recurring bouts of "been
there, done that." Maybe the edge is for grabbing onto and crawling out of the vulnerable
The Baptism and the Legacy
Despite the "just handle it"
demeanor, the memory of his first stroke is very tender. Shortly after the "trying hard
not to panic" call from my mother
"Dad's in the hospital," "Don't come down
(to Florida) right now," I crumbled into that seemingly empty black hole. Then, soon
after, collapsed on the bed, curled in the proverbial fetal position, wrapped under covers, wave
after wave of memory and emotion hit: how dad survived years of shock therapy for depression;
in my mid-20s crawling in his lap and crying in his arms asking him to explain why he needed shock;
and my sharing similar fears and tormenting self-doubts; his years of group psychotherapy which
enabled him to leave the family and come back and rebuild a healthier marriage; the knock down drag
out fights in my mid-thirties as I felt compelled to explore the past family dysfunction; finally,
the burying of past guilt along with the great sense of love and trust that these father-son battles
Alive or dead, Dad will always be "the last angry man":
someone who quickly battles when feeling threatened; a fighter for what he believes in and feels
entitled to. Whether he is defensively overreacting or is actually entitled is another matter.
The best and worst of him are interred in my bones and mind, in my heart and soul.
anxious episode is also a time for anticipatory grieving. There's the sadness, of course, but
also some rage. I want back that Type A, aggravating yet challenging, old man; the enigmatic
guy I once confronted for seemingly going easy on (and favoring?) my younger brother while jumping
on me. His reply: "Yeah, I fight with you
I know you can take it. Larry
But with each psychic quake there's a sense of peace and integrity as
well. My world will hold; his complex and compelling essence is of and in my blood forever
fueling the drive to be my genuine self in a world that, to paraphrase poet, e.e. cummings, night
and day is trying to make you like everybody else. Cummings also exhorted: "And
never stop fighting!" Dad never stopped. Dad was like nobody else. And I am
my father's son.
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" , an international
speaker and syndicated writer, is America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" The Doc
runs his weekly "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on AOL/Digital City DC Stress Chat . See his award-winning, USA
Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com Stress Doc homepage. For more
info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call
Reflecting on his recent
successful Professional Convention Management Association Annual Meeting workshop, the Stress Doc
briefly describes the two key interactive exercises. He then anaylyzes why they are highly
effective for yielding stress relief, laughs and team building synergy.
and Playful Workshop Exercises and Strategies:
The Art of Practicing Safe Stress
recent Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) Annual Meeting in Nashville, I had the
opportunity to lead a Practice Safe Stress program for nearly two hundred. It was the last day of
the conference and the morning after the late night "Party with a Purpose." The
turnout and the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response to "Managing Stress and Building Team
Cooperation through Humor" says at least two things, especially in light of the tight economy
and the post-September 11th climate: 1) more than ever, people are looking for tools,
techniques and tips for getting a home and work life handle on stress and conflict and 2)
professionals are highly receptive to "4 'C'-ing" learning forums that allow for emotional
sharing, individual and group creative expression and that stimulate a sense of Confidence and
Competence, team Camaraderie and Cooperation. That is, people want to be energized and
synergized: to be part of a vital organizational process and product whereby the whole is
greater than the sum of its parts.
Let me first briefly describe two interactive workshop
exercises that gradually facilitated this synergistic effect. These exercises can be
operationalized in a variety of settings - from a handful of team members to hundreds of conference
participants. And then I will list the "how to' working principles that enable these
interventions to reduce stress while facilitating high performance and team morale.
Empathic Icebreaker Exercise. To get people in an open, playful and moderately risk-taking
frame of mind, psychically warm them up. Try my "Three 'B' Stress Barometer
Exercise." Break up a larger audience into clusters of a half dozen or so. Then,
with a volunteer recorder in each group, have the individuals briefly discuss: "How does
your Brain, Body and Behavior let you know when you are under more Stress than usual?"
Discussion and Drawing Exercise. Building on the Three "B's, the next logical
question is: "What are the sources of stress and conflict in your everyday workplace
operations?" Again, the large group is broken into smaller units (4-6 people).
However, after the discussion phase the team needs to create a group picture, logos or stress symbol
that captures the diverse stress experiences of the participants as a whole. Consider this
example: Years ago a burnt out CEO of an engineering company was running his company into the
ground. Actually, he was hardly running the company; more likely he was off flying his
airplane. Finally, he hired a Vice-President who called me for some stress and team building
help. In our workshop one of the groups drew a picture of a menacing creature, calling
this big stalking dinosaur a "Troublesaurus." All the little people in the plant are
scattering in fear. However, one person, bigger than the rest, is totally oblivious, has his
back to the dinosaur with his head in the clouds while watching a plane fly by. Helps you get
the picture, doesn't it?
My reassuring participants that this is not, "True
Confessions," that is, they can share at whatever level feels comfortable, actually seems to
free them up. Images run the gamut from staking dinosaurs, time bomb time clocks, never ending
mazes, sinking ships in shark infested waters, etc. Groups are kept on track by having up to
ten-minutes (with frequent reminders) for discussion and the same for the drawing segment.
and Purposeful Interventions
So what makes these exercises so successful as stress
reducers and builders of team synergy? Consider these six strategic components:
Universality. Everyone can readily participate and share their own stress smoke signals or
sources of pressure in a 24/7, anytime/anywhere and lean-and-MEAN world.
Acknowledgement Overcomes Anxiety, Shame or Isolation. People discover they are not alone
when it comes to pressures; they can begin to let down an "I've got to always be strong"
Rambo or Rambette persona. Participants find real support when being open with folks who have
been or still are walking in the same tight-fitting shoes. Common calluses make uncommon
3. Laugh at Our Flaws and Foibles. Just a little exaggeration
can tickle some knowing laughs from familiar yet often serious stress signals and our coping
a) Sleeping Problems: Aren't there days when you just don't want to get
out from under the covers? Still, aren't there some folks who, at 3am, know all the best buys
on E-bay or the QVC Home Shopping Channel?
b) Eating Issues: Do you find you eat
more or excessively snack when over anxious? Then again, are you one of those folks who lose
their appetite and eat less when under duress? (Of course, we hate these people. ;-)
Muscles: Does mind-body stress contribute to neck or back strain? What about a
clenched jaw or TMJ: "Too Many Jerks"
We know that one!
Mind-Body Healing. Getting people to laugh not only releases the body's natural
pain-relieving and mood enhancing chemicals such as endorphins, but also places stressful events in
a lighter perspective. Sigmund Freud, himself, saw philosophical humor as the highest defense
mechanism: "Look here! This is all this seemingly dangerous world amounts to.
Child's play - the very thing to jest about."
4. Non Verbal Expression and
Releasing Aggression. While many adults are anxious when it comes to drawing, once
reassured that stick figures are fine (and that I'm a graduate of the Institute for the Graphically
Impaired) they forge ahead. And by doing so, folks rediscover how emotions, especially
frustration and anger can be playfully drawn out with colored markers and large flipchart paper.
Nothing like putting a tail and horns on a devil of a boss to put things in a less frightening
perspective and to evoke a stress relieving laugh.
5. Open Interaction and Creative
Problem-Solving. Perhaps the most valuable problem-solving aspect of these exercises is
that no group member has "the one right answer." Everyone's responses are valuable.
Both verbally and non-verbally one person's suggestions will readily trigger ideas and images that
embellish the group product and strengthen the team process.
6. Group Feedback and
Recognition. In both exercises, groups get a chance to share their lists and drawings.
In the final phase of the drawing exercise ("the fashion show part of the program") the
groups show off their creative designs. For audiences in the hundreds, we'll have groups
display their artwork on tables or on walls and turn the hall into an art gallery.
Participants mill about and survey all the other groups' efforts. A few designs are chosen for
"show and tell." Participants experience pride from overcoming their initial drawing
confusion or anxiety. And in both scenarios, a final benefit is the self-esteem boosting
recognition each team receives from the collective for work well done.
the above six strategic tension busting, energy releasing, team building and playfully high
performing practices and principles provide both an individual and collective high-octane formula
for transforming workplace pressures into synergistic processes and products. And you now have
a blueprint for bringing back this robust learning experience into everyday operations and meetings,
to help yourself and others
Practice Safe Stress!
Air Agent Award:
An award should go to the United Airlines gate agent in Denver for being smart
and funny, while making her point, when confronted with a passenger who probably deserved to fly as
A crowded United Airlines flight was canceled. A single agent was rebooking a long
line of inconvenienced travelers. Suddenly an angry passenger pushed his way to the desk. He slapped
his ticket on the counter and said "I HAVE to be on this flight and it has to be FIRST
CLASS." The agent replied, "I am sorry, sir. I'll be happy to try to
help you, but I've
got to help these folks first, then I'm sure we'll be able to work something out." The
passenger was unimpressed.
He asked loudly, so that the passengers behind him could hear,
"DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHO I AM?" Without hesitating, the agent smiled and grabbed
her public address microphone, "May I have your attention please," she began, her voice
heard clearly throughout the terminal. "We have a passenger here at Gate 14 WHO DOES NOT
KNOW WHO HE IS. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to Gate 14."
the folks behind him in line laughing hysterically, the man glared at the United agent, gritted his
teeth and swore "F*** You!". Without flinching, she smiled and said, "I'm
sorry, sir, but you'll have to get in line for that too."
Subj: Enron twist on an old
FEUDALISM: You have two cows. Your lord takes some of the milk.
You have two cows. The government takes both, hires you to take care of them and sells you the milk.
You have two cows. Your neighbors help take care of them and you all share the milk.
You have two cows. The government takes them both, denies they ever existed and drafts you into the
army. Milk is banned.
CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd
multiplies and the economy grows. You sell them and retire on the income.
CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You sell three of them to your
publicly listed company, using
letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an
associated general offer so you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows. The milk
rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island company secretly owned
majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more.
Subj: ACTUAL PERSONALS FROM ISRAELI NEWSPAPERS
From: My friend Rick
Divorced Jewish man, seeks partner to attend shul with,
light shabbos candles, celebrate holidays, build Sukkah together, attend brisses, bar mitzvahs.
Religion not important. POB 658.
Sincere rabbinical student, 27.
Enjoys Yom Kippur, Tisha B'av, Taanis, Tzom Gedaliah, Asarah B'Teves, Shiva Asar, B'Tammuz.
Seeks companion for living life in the "fast" lane. POB 90.
Torah scholar, long beard, payos. Seeks same in woman. POB43.
Worried about in-law
meddling? I'm an orphan! Write. POB 74.
Nice Jewish guy, 38. No skeletons.
No baggage. No personality. POB 76
Female graduate student, studying kaballah,
Zohar, exorcism of dybbuks, seeks mensch. No weirdos, please. POB 56.
feminist, wears tzitzis, seeking male who will accept my independence, although you probably will
not. Oh, just forget it. POB 435.
Jewish businessman, 49, manufactures Sabbath
candles, Chanukah candles, Havdallah candles, Yahrzeit candles. Seeks non-smoker. POB
Israeli professor, 41, with 18 years of teaching in my behind. Looking for
woman who speaks English very good. POB 555.
I am a sensitive Jewish prince whom you
can open your heart to. Share your
innermost thoughts and deepest secrets. Confide in
me. I'll understand
your insecurities. No fatties, please. POB 86.
male, 34, very successful, smart, independent, self-made.
Looking for girl whose father will hire
me. POB 53.
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 email@example.com or call 202-232-8662.
(c) Mark Gorkin
Shrink Rap Productions