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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 trust!

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 II)

Heads Up:

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: Training/Marketing Kit

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 make excellent fillers for newsletters.)

Price: $20 (which covers priority postage and handling)

Make check payable to: Mark Gorkin

Send check to:

Mark Gorkin
Stress Doc Enterprises
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" (anne@bachrachvbs.com)

c) Professional Convention Management Assn newsletter will publish in March "Dynamic Teams" (see below)

(Email stressdoc@aol.com 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…a 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 of Burnout.")

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 rejuvenation.

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 to waist!

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

Main Essay:

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 morale-building arenas

Team Definition

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 parts!

Team Concepts

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 insularity.

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 accordingly!


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!

Section II

Readers' Responses:

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!

From: wjbundren@erols.com

Hi Mark:

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.


From: LTracey888

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


From: Greenshep

<< 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 depression. >>

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

From: mamafiner@velocitus.net

I cannot wait to read this -- it's right where my girlfriend is at. Thanks!

From: sam@forbin.net

Hi there.

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! (hahahaha bazuk-bazuk)

I thought he was a girl and he thought I was a guy based on our first names. Funny!

From: Momb7

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 Scientology.

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...

From: drm@cybertowers.com

Hey Mark!

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!



Hi StressDoc,

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 SLAP them!

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

Goethe's couplet:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power

and magic in it.

Hi Mark,

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 lipstick

From: Liz

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 stressdoc@aol.com or call 202-232-8662 (in Wash, DC).

(c) Mark Gorkin 2002

Shrink Rap ™ Productions