The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
MAR 2002, No. 1
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we
Table of Contents
Heads Up: Florida Natl Assn of Social Workers, Values-Based Financial Planning Newsletter,
Professional Convention Management Assn, AOL Chat
Stress Doc Q & A: Practice Safe
Stress Interview with "The Stress Doc"
Main Essay: Developing Dynamic and
Fully Functioning Teams
Readers' Responses: Heartfelt Thoughts on Valentine's Essays (Part
1. Training Kit: Want to strengthen your ability to lead or market a stress workshop or any kind
of speaking/training program? Consider the Stress Doc Training/Marketing Kit, which includes both
"how to" manual and articles and the opportunity for phone coaching. For more info:
2. Stress Doc Book:
From Stress Brakes and Shrink Rap to Safe Stress and Cool Moon Cats:
The Wit and Wisdom of the Stress Doc, Stress Doc Enterprises, 1995
A 90 page compilation of my former syndicated radio essays, pioneering songs in the field of
psychologically humorous rap music - "Shrink Rap" Productions - a creative visualization
poem and other humorous lyrics/poems. "Stress Brake" radio essays are short (300 words),
fast-paced and witty, covering such topics as stress, burnout, anger and conflict resolution, time
management, creativity, men's and women's issues, romantic relationships, codependency, etc. (They
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Price: $20 (which covers priority postage and handling)
Make check payable to: Mark Gorkin
Send check to:
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1616 18th Street, NW #312
Washington, DC 20009-2542
3. Media Exposure:
a) Florida Natl Assn of Social Workers newsletter published "Anticipatory Grieving:
Lingering Loss and Legacy"
b) Values-Based Financial Planning Newsletter published "The Four Stages of Burnout" (email@example.com)
c) Professional Convention Management Assn newsletter will publish in March "Dynamic
Teams" (see below)
(Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to publish any
essays, past or present, in your online or offline publication.)
4. 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.
Stress Doc Q & A
The Stress Doc fields some basic questions about stress, including what it is, the different
types as well as the stages of burnout. He also provides a formula for "Natural SPEED" and
a recommendation for helping an organization Practice Safe Stress.
How to Practice Safe Stress Interview with "The Stress Doc"
Q: These days it seems to be on everyone's mind
what is "STRESS" anyway?
STRESS DOC: Many people have a somewhat misguided, one-dimensional notion of stress. Stress, in
fact, is a series of mind-body reactions that: a) identifies a stimulus, challenge or threat, b)
assesses the degree of difficulty of the potential stressor, including whether one has the resources
to cope with the problematic situation, c) a problem-solving or tension reducing response is made to
regain control of one's environment and emotions and d) one's heightened state of arousal and
alertness either returns to a normal, pre-threat state (Normal or Acute Stress) or if the tension is
prolonged, without sufficient rest or relief, one is susceptible to exhaustion and other mind-body
stress symptoms, including burnout (Chronic or Distress). Sometimes, we may engage in
"heroic" coping under extreme conditions, and get through the trauma. However, there may
be delayed effects -- generalized anxiety, sleep disturbance, nightmares, weepiness, etc. -- weeks
or months after the tragic event, for example, the September 11th terrorist attacks, when our guard
is down (Post-Traumatic Stress).
Q: Stress doesn't sound very good
but is there such a thing as "good" stress?
STRESS DOC: Yes, there is good or "Eustress," the optimal level of mind-body activation
and alertness that facilitates peak performance, e.g., when those butterflies in the stomach align
and transform into a soaring squadron of eagles. We've done our homework, are up for the challenge
and flow with the experience. Sarah Hughes' gold medal skating performance in the 2002 Winter
Olympics, after landing her first difficult jump, totally tamed her butterflies. The sixteen year
old was definitely into "good stress" the remainder of her routine. The smiles and radiant
joy while skating were proof positive.
But one doesn't have to be a gold medallist to achieve "good stress." Create some
activity in your life for which you have a sense of purpose and passion (and try adding a little
playfulness, as well.) Mix in disciplined practice and patience and voila
you too will experience
the fulfilling flow and golden glow of "good stress."
Q: Can there be too much of this "good stress" thing?
STRESS DOC: Alas, sometimes we pursue goals that are so elusive, in which we are so ego-driven (I
call them egoals) that we ignore the Stress Doc's "Vital Lesson of the Four 'R's":
"If no matter what you do or how hard you try, Results, Rewards, Recognition and Relief are not
forthcoming and you won't say, 'No,' or can't momentarily 'let go'
then trouble awaits. The
groundwork is being laid for apathy, callousness and despair."
The result is often burnout: "a gradual process by which a person detaches from work and
other significant roles and relationships in response to excessive and prolonged stress and
physical, mental and emotional strain. The result is lowered productivity, cynicism, confusion
feeling of being drained, having nothing more to give."
Let me briefly outline the four stages of this "erosive spiral":
1) Physical, mental and emotional exhaustion - doing more with less is starting to produce a case
of the "brain strain" and frustration or guilt for cutting corners,
2) Shame and doubt - someone asks you to take on a new project; you want to but a voice inside
says, "Who are you kidding!"
3) Cynicism and callousness - having had enough of this chronic uncertainty and vulnerability you
are putting on the heavy armor: "look out for #1," "cover your derriere" and
"get out of my way,"
4) Failure, helplessness and crisis - here's where you start feeling, "Damned if I do,
damned if I don't; damned if I stay, damned if I leave." Your coping seems to be unraveling. It
may be time for some professional counseling. (Email for the complete classic, "The Four Stages
Q: How can we prevent burnout?
STRESS DOC: I recommend my formula for "Natural SPEED":
S = Sleep. If I may be lyrical, don't be cheap with your need for sleep. It's nature's way to
ebb and flow and help you grow. While recent research questions the health benefits of excessive
sleep (over eight hours) a pattern of less than six hours for most people yields cognitive
impairment, that is, a loss of mental sharpness. Lack of sleep, not just all work, makes Jack and
Jill dull. Also, sleep research supports brief napping (10-40 minutes) during the day for mind-body
P = Priorities. In a "do more with less" world, it's imperative to grasp two
organizational and interpersonal maxims:
a. Pareto Principle (named for an Italian sociologist). 80% of your results are produced
by 20% of your activities. So focus on the strategic when problem-solving or trying to be
productive. The principle also means you can drop 4/5 of what you are doing without feeling guilty.
b. N & N. Establishing limits on and boundaries with others is critical for generating
positive expectations and achievable goals, especially when quantity and quality are paramount. The
essential tool: the ability to say "No" and to "Negotiate." In other words,
don't "Just do it." Tactfully yet assertively discuss what's "urgent" (must get
done now) versus what's "important" (which gets prioritized) as well as develop manageable
timelines. There really can be life after deadlines!
E = Empathy. Many folks place their own stress in perspective by helping or, at least,
supportively listening to others. Just make sure the shoulder lending is not a one way transaction.
If you are always the pillar, those who lean on you may not be quick to see when you're feeling
shaky. This is especially likely if you habitually play a heoric, self-denying superman or
superwoman role. At work and/or in your home life, have at least one stress buddy with whom you can
let your hair down (especially on a "bad hair day." As a t-shirt purchased for an
ex-girlfriend proclaimed: "How can I control my life when I can't control my hair!")
E = Exercise. The benefit of regular exercise is both physical and psychological. Thirty
minutes of vigorous, non-stop, large muscle movement activity -- brisk walking, swimming, bike
riding, dancing, etc. -- releases brain chemicals called endorphins which are the mind-body's
natural mood enhancers and pain relievers. It's less a runner's high and more that we can step back
and see things with a calmer disposition and fresher perspective. Also, exercise itself can be a
positive ritual. When everything's up in the air, doing a 2-3 mile walk or jog creates a beginning
and end point for a tangible sense of accomplishment and control. And as we'd say in N'Awlins, the
"lagniappe" or added benefit: "I like feeling virtuous!"
D = Diet. More than a waistline is at stake. A diet high in saturated fats (red meat, whole
milk products, fried oyster po-boys; it was tough eating sensibly in "The Big Easy") and
simple sugars (sodas, chips and cookies and excessive chocolate; sorry folks) induces drowsiness and
mental torpor, not to mention clogged arteries. And too much alcohol and caffeine is a roller
coaster headache -- moodiness or depression often follows aggression and agitation. Balancing
protein, fruits and vegetables, complex carbs, grains, nuts and sufficient water is vital for
optimal energy and alertness along with cardiovascular health. Remember, a mind is a terrible thing
Q: Do you have one tip to help organizations deal with workplace stress?
STRESS DOC: In a 24/7 world that's cycling from "lean-and-MEAN" downsizing to ever
faster upgrading while periodically spinning scarily out of control, managing stress and effective
team communication and cooperation are on everybody's mind in today's diverse workplace. The
pressures to sustain individual and organizational productivity and morale have never been greater.
My suggestion: management and employees (or association members) participate in dynamic and
interactive, inspiring and fun-filled "Practice Safe Stress" speaking programs and
training workshops having meaningful group exercises and problem-solving discussions. With
"hands on" concepts and skills and job relevant exercises, participants channel stress,
frustration and real conflict into safe sharing, cooperative/creative action and team building.
Seek the higher power of Stress Doc humor: May the Farce Be with You!
Don't miss your appointment with the Stress Doc!
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 email@example.com or call 202-232-8662.
In conjunction with the Professional Convention Management Association Capital Chapter, the
Stress Doc begins a series for developing dynamic -- high performing, morale building and
participatory -- teams. Part I outlines the fully functioning team and highlights four vital
concepts for bringing such teams to life: 1) Open and Closed Boundaries, 2) Conflict and Consensus,
3) Vision, Mission and Goals and 4) Leadership Role
Developing Dynamic and Fully Functioning Teams:
Definition and Conceptual Outline
On the last day of the January 2002 Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) Annual
Meeting in Nashville, two hundred attendees showed up for "Managing Stress and Conflict and
Building Team Cooperation through Humor" despite the workshop being the early morning after
"Party with a Purpose." I realized something (if not someone) was up. And I suspect the
ensuing energy, camaraderie and laughter was more than just engaging in fun exercises. The group
dynamism also reflected a desire for closeness and community, for experiencing the support and
strength in numbers, especially in light of an economically tense and uncertain, post 9/11 world.
More than ever organizational structures and personnel comprising companies, associations,
non-profits and government agencies must work and play together as truly interdependent, high task
and high touch teams. In light of this compelling need, in tandem with the PCMA Capital Chapter
Communications Committee, this newsletter will feature several articles on developing high powered,
passionate and compassionate teams. The series will launch with a general examination of the concept
of team. Next comes a hands on view of how team issues work and play out in motivational and
Let's begin with a definition of team followed by some critical components for achieving working
groups that: a) foster organizational and individual productivity and support, b) address and
resolve conflict in a genuine, WIN/WIN manner and c) strengthen morale and commitment to the team,
the organization and the industry or profession.
A dynamic, fully functioning team:
1) consists of a number of individuals with some common identity and purpose yet with distinct
experiences, aptitudes, historical/cultural backgrounds, desires, communicational skills and
personalities, for example, differing needs for achievement and affiliation,
2) while having a leadership structure, mature teams provide designed and spontaneous
opportunities for all members to be both task (product) and/or emotional-relational (process)
leaders or facilitators,
3) is a collective that comes together -- in-person or electronically -- to share openly (though
sometimes covertly) their perspective, agendas, expertise and biases,
4) through coordinated task activity, data gathering, information sharing, delegation, resolving
conflict and building consensus and providing mutual assistance and support,
5) establishes a vision and/or mission statement, articulates roles and responsibilities and
identifies, negotiates and attempts to realize short-and long-term goals.
Clearly, a team is more than just a gathering with a common goal. Every high-powered team can be
conceived musically as a quartet, if not a symphony, whereby a collection of instruments and
musicians transform the potential for their own individual sound (if not a cacophony of noise)
through disciplined practice and feedback. (Still, the best teams also allow for some solo
performance that both gives to and takes from the ensemble.) When all are on the same sheet, the
result is a harmonious and inspiring collective effort. A fully functioning team exemplifies the
dynamic systems principle of synergy: interaction yields a whole that is greater than the sum of its
Now let's outline some key concepts that affect the achievement, problem support and
morale-building potential of fully functioning teams.
1. Open and Closed Boundaries. Who is allowed on the team and who is kept out? For example, in
the Hospitality Industry, providing opportunities for buyers and suppliers to work together on
committees or having suppliers as contributing partners on boards are examples of open systems and
teams with the potential for dynamic interchange. Conversely, current events also provide examples
of the dangers of too much openness or rigidity. The Enron debacle with accountants confounding
their oversight role as business consultants reveals porous boundaries. Employees and supervisors
having little or no access to top Enron executives shows autocratic, arrogant and dysfunctional
2. Conflict and Consensus. Naturally, having access to the table doesn't guarantee open
exchange. Have you ever been involved with a tightly controlled group where your only role is part
of the "amen chorus"? While these so-called team meetings may be efficient in the short
run, without the airing of differences and sharing of resources there's more lip service than
genuine buy-in for the long-term. Such groups ignore the Stress Doc maxim: Difference and
Disagreement does not equal Disapproval and Disloyalty.
Actually, group research shows that teams: a) allowing for diversity of composition and
viewpoints and b) having a channeling process for this complex energy invariably produce more
creative problem-solving outcomes than teams without optimal levels of conflict or those controlled
by groupthink. While reaching consensus may take more time, member passion and commitment are the
likely rewards. The best definition encountered of consensus: Each person or entity gives up a
little (e.g., of their individual assumptions, desires, territory and/or resources) which then is
harnessed for producing a greater whole and greater good.
3. Vision, Mission and Goals. Successful organizations have a company vision as well as
working teams and individuals with a meaningful sense of their place in the big picture. A dynamic
vision illuminates and integrates past, present and future directions and facilitates creative
interconnection amongst parts, partners and the greater whole. A mission statement along with goals
and objectives are guidelines and plans for closing the gap between the ideal (vision) and the real
(ongoing performance and service/product quality).
While initially a vision may have been conceived by a leader or small coterie, ultimately goals
and action plans come to life when all relevant members of the organization and teams have some
input in the development and implementation phases of project management. Major reorganization plans
should not be presented to employees or members as a "fait accompli." True and timely
inclusion in decision-making or project development fosters both creativity and commitment; for
example, staff embracing team bonuses before individual bonuses. Remember, there's often a fine line
between vision and hallucination with input and feedback often making the difference.
4. Leadership Role. Being open and participatory as a team doesn't preclude the need for a
leader. Actually, more sophisticated leadership is required -- from the role of coach and
informational catalyst to fostering leadership and ownership amongst the other team members. With
situational leadership, not only is there variety in leadership styles, but also new leaders emerge
depending on the nature of the problem or the problem-solving skills and experience of members.
But of all the many leadership roles and responsibilities -- from delegation to performance
evaluation -- perhaps the most important is encouraging backtalk and dissent. According to esteemed
management consultant, Warren Bennis, writing years before the Enron meltdown, "Leaders need
people around them who tell the truth, the good news and the bad
who have contrary views or
'variance sensors' who can tell (leaders) the difference between what is expected and what is really
going on" (in On Becoming a Leader). And then, of course, we need leaders who listen and act
In closing, I would like to hear from readers about your team issues of greatest concern. Also,
please share any successful and innovative team concepts you've put into practice. How do your team
experiences square with this article's definition of team? How do the dynamic issues of 1) Open and
Closed Boundaries, 2) Conflict and Consensus, 3) Vision, Mission and Goals and 4) Leadership Role
play out in your workplace? Until next time, to good teaming and
Practice Safe Stress!
A little belated, but hey, there's always time for love...or at least there should be. Here are
your responses to last month's Valentine Essays. They run the gamut from heartfelt to irreverent.
Thanks so much. Enjoy!
Your question piqued my interest ... I am in the camp that beleives that online relationships can
begin there, but they can never truly blossom there. My first two reasons: there is no substitute
for the hard work needed to maintain and grow a committed relationship -- as a society we tend to
look for easy ways for many things, e.g., losing weight, staying in shape, etc. For long term love,
I believe the internet is too easy and protected. Which leads to my second point: true love involves
some degree of shared vulnerability, the exchange of which is one of the building blocks of
developing trust and faith in the other. If someone keeps themselves safe within the protective
walls of internet space, how do they gain experience giving and taking the unexpected areas of
vulnerability of the other? I also beleive that true love requires touch, both physical and
emotional. Physical presence also provides that other critical form of communication, body language
and those other "truer" signals.
Thanks for the question, Mark.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and
magic in it.
Go Boldly!!! You nut. You CAN meet this woman when you choose. Even Clinton sneaked Monica into
the White House! Love & Valentine Hugs to you --Linda
<< we are particularly susceptible to codependent fantasy when profoundly lonely,
dissatisfied with one's self-worth or life or when grappling with an unrecognized underlying
I agree with you on these matters! I have been online for 4 years, lonely at times, unhappy with
my life at times, and have really enjoyed getting to know the heart of another without all the
fol-de-rol that goes on when two persons feel the electricity of being together. Sometimes I've met
the person, to discover the electricity didn't happen when face to face, but the friendships last
online anyway. Thanks for your wirting today. I appreciate you.
P.S. Love the Cool Moon Cat! Thanks
I cannot wait to read this -- it's right where my girlfriend is at. Thanks!
I met my current guy on line!
Am I just full of stories, or what!?!?!?!
We have been 'together' for 3 years! He is from Europe. He has been here three times, I have been
there three times. His family adores me, and my family adores him. Neither of us were 'looking for
love' at the time....I was looking for my relatives in the lazy email/icq/net way when I ran across
him. He lives in the same town as my relatives, and has the same last name! But we aren't related!
If we ever got married I told him he should change his name to mine! He thinks we should hyphenate!
I thought he was a girl and he thought I was a guy based on our first names. Funny!
Thank You for the latest musings, as usual very good and carefully thought out .
You know I've been aware for some time of your cross-country romance, and have sent a few
comments your way re virtual "connections" and the value thereof. Of course I wish you all
happiness and joy, but remain skeptical of those sorts of liaisons in general, as they tend to set
up mazes of false expectations and ego-props not subjct to close scrutiny -- kinda like buying
What happens when the fights occur ? You say that this is the inevitable clash of two intelligent
people defending their equally valid positions, but I ask how either can see the expression on the
others' face, or gauge the extent of their passion/anger either via Email or phone.
I'd also submit that neither of the participants have ever seen how "their" other
relates to other people (family, friends, groups, etc.) in the flesh, body language, etc., or felt
the dynamics of the other's existence up to this time, therefore ill-equipped to make an informed
assessment of the other's social skills, or how oneself might fit into their social mix. The simple
basics of dating face to face in various situations just aren't there -- delusions are more than
possible for both parties -- probable.
I won't go into the little annoying personal habits that can only be addressed by personal
contact -- that is YOUR dream to envision!
Far be it for me to chastise the expert, or burst your bubble, while I sit here sipping my Coors
Light on ice-- everyone needs a comfort-zone to retreat into on occasion, but you and the West Coast
lady should've met over a year ago. At least half the fault is yours-- you've had many oppty's to
travel west, and've done so twice since you "met" her. Shit or get off the pot!
Enough love-massage from here...
Thank you for sending your article to me, as well as your many others. I always enjoy them, and
have a list of them I want to place in the magazine.
Given the topic of this latest article, I wonder if you know of my recently published book about
Infidelity on the Internet. If you want to know more, visit this page: http://selfhelpmagazine.com/cyber-dating/index.html
If you can give the book a plug here or there, I'd appreciate it a lot!
Your "love online" article was funny as well as insightful. I like all these wonderful
new words you invent, such as "romantasy", etc. Also, I cannot argue with you on any of
the points you bring up about the pluses and minuses of online relationships. I have to tell you,
the funniest thing I have ever heard is your phrase: "give good email or chat". Omg!
I have been involved in the online world since 1999. At first, I found the chat rooms (peers or
romance rooms) very exciting. I mean, the potential for scintillating banter was incredible! I went
online primarily out of boredom, as well as loneliness. It was the humorous conversations that I
mostly craved. It really brought out the clown in my own personality. I live with a very somber
husband so this was an opportunity to get silly. Also met some interesting men online. Three of them
I ended up engaging in erotica as well as phone sex with. It became sordid. I felt used as it became
clear that the sexual aspect was all they wanted from me.
There have been three men that I have met that I would say truly care about me as a person, two
of whom I maintained communication for about a year or so before we drifted away. The third has
become my very best online friend as well as an accountability partner. He makes me feel as if I am
worth more than just sexual appeal and I thank God every day for him. We write to each other several
times a day. We exchange stories, updates, anecdotes, personal insecurities as well as insights. We
both love each other and admit it. Yet we refuse to cyber each other out of mutual respect and the
desire to protect our friendship. What a gift he is to me.
I have become pretty cynical, overall, about the Internet. I feel as if too many creeps, weirdos,
and teeny boppers inhabit the cyberworld. I cannot tell you the number of times I've seen very young
teens in the 30s, 40s or other adult rooms. It shocks and disgusts me. Also, I don't mind talking to
other married men. But Mark, hey, there are waaaaaaay too many idiotic married guys out there just
wasting their time looking for someone to talk dirty to. What a turnoff! I hate those tacky little
invitations, "married man looking for a discreet woman to cyber with". Makes me want to
Having said that, I disagree with the overused phrase, "the Internet is bad". I tell
people, "Look, the internet is a vehicle. You can use it for either good or bad, just like your
phone lines, or your car.
As far as cyber romance I've had some lovely encounters. But for me personally, actual cyber sex
is very rare. That's because I only offer to engage in that when I'm very lonely (example, hubby is
out of town for several weeks). And only then if the perspective recipient is willing to invest an
entire hour or two to really develop the experience with lots of foreplay, banter, etc. But seldom
do I allow myself to do that because it's generally degrading. Why would I want some scumbag to come
onto me because he saw my picture if he doesn't even display the slightest interest in my soul? (Can
you sense a bit of combativeness here?)
And that's all I care to reveal for now. But Mark, your outlook on the human condition is both
tender as well as humorous. Thanks for your interesting insights, and do keep us informed as to the
progress of your own cyber friendship. hugs, m
Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power
and magic in it.
I saved your essays to read today (Hallmark's Holiday). I thought they (the essays) were both
great. I really appreciate the closing Goethe wisdom and I must say, when I read something, I
intently pay attention to what I am supposed to be learning. Goethe struck a nerve and provided the
validation that I really need at this moment in time.
Subj: RE: goethe -one of my favorite couplets too...it's scrawled on my bathroom mirror in
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" , is an internationally recognized speaker and
syndicated writer on stress, anger management, reorganizational change, team building and HUMOR! His
monthly newsletter was recently featured by List-A-Day.com. The Doc has been profiled in Biography
Magazine and has appeared in a Workplace Violence segment on CBS-TV News. He is America Online's
"Online Psychohumorist" (Keyword: Stress Doc) leading a weekly chat group for
AOL/Digital City -- http://www.digitalcity.com/washington/stressdr DC Stress Chat. Check out his USA
Today Online "HotSite" - www.stressdoc.com Stress Doc homepage. For more info, email
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-232-8662 (in Wash, DC).
(c) Mark Gorkin 2002
Shrink Rap Productions