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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

MAY 2002

Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!

Table of Contents

Heads Up:    Canada's The Star Q&A, Training Kit/Book, AOL Chat
Stress Q&A:  Preventing a Burnout Battlefront
Main Essay:  Implementing High Tech and High Touch Teams
Readers:       Zen This, Parrots

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/Interview:

A reporter from "The Star" in Canada (vmenon@thestar.ca) recently posed these questions.  My brief answers from a "stress" perspective:

1. Why do we need entertainment in our lives?

In a 24/7, anytime/anywhere high stress world, we all need time for "R & R" -- rest & recreation.  The best entertainment helps our mind-body recovery by both relaxing and stimulating us.  It allows us to get our mind off the daily demands.  Alas, too much passive entertainment, like mindless TV watching or hours on end at the computer seems to be contributing to a more sedentary culture with a host of psychological and physical problems, e.g., diabetes and obesity problems in children.

However, certain entertainment, for example comedy, often is stress relieving as it pokes fun at the sources of stress and trauma in our lives -- an ex-spouse, a devil of a boss, an incompetent terrorist, etc.  This lampooning turns the scary into the absurd or ridiculous allowing viewers/listeners to distance themselves, feel superior to or have some perceived control over the fear-inducing object.

2. What is the physiology of entertainment? Technically, what happens to a stimulated brain and why is that so important these days?

Laughter also affects our brain functioning.  Hardy laughter releases endorphins, the mind-body's natural pain killers and mood enhancers.  Clearly, this helps our separation (from stress demands) and rejuvenation process.  It's less a runner's high, more a runner's or laugher's calm.

Also, some research suggests that watching humorous videos (compared to viewing people exercising or doing math problems) elicits more creative responding on subsequent problem-solving tasks.  So when not an overly passive, mind-numbing process, at least some entertainment can charge the brain.  And we all have heard how listening to Mozart is supposed to improve IQ.  (More about Mozart in a moment.)

3. How has the cultural role of entertainment changed over the past 20 years?

Alas, I do believe entertainment has paralleled the speeded up tempo of daily life.  Eventually, we can become addicted to the adrenaline highs (and lows) of life in the fast lane.  The only movies or music some can enjoy are loud, fast, action-packed, sexual, violent...or dark and deathly gothic.  Think MTV.  Perhaps it's the only input that can compete with the inner psychic maelstrom.  Or it's the wavelength with which these folks are stuck on.  Relaxing with Mozart of Debussy becomes difficult when constantly in overdrive.

Also, as alluded to earlier, the popular computer games, chat rooms, fantasy identity games encourage non-face to face interaction.  While for some very shy people this allows for some interaction for many it is depriving them of developing certain emotional and interpersonal/communicational skills and muscles.  Akin to the obesity resulting from too much time spent in front of a TV or computer screen, these folks may have a harder time adjusting to roles at school or at work.

Perhaps it's not surprising that many people inappropriately try to deal with workplace conflict by sending an angry or passive aggressive email rather than calling the person on the phone or strolling down the hall for a heart-to-heart talk.

And we know that children who overdose on aggressive media entertainment have an increased propensity for violence if they are psychologically predisposed and engage in this entertainment without proper parental discussion, fedback and monitoring.

Clearly, there are people who read, enjoy classical or folk music, the opera, etc.  But in general, I suspect this is an aging market.  As Marshall McLuhan noted, "The medium is the message."  As the world becomes attached by global screens -- video games, big screen TV, movies, computer monitors, the medium both reflects and shapes this increasingly visual and viscous cycle.  As noted, many studies show a link between watching violent movies, playing violent video games, etc., with some predisposition for violent behavior.  (Perhaps the media entertainment allows for more fantasy elaboration, though soccer fans show that sports, in conjunction with alcohol, can fuel destructive behavior.)

4. How has entertainment replaced religion and other institutions?

Being seen on the screen can make one seem larger than life.  In the past, our "larger than life" figures were religious leaders and military heroes, and sometimes sports figures.  Now, not surprisingly, our celebrities spawned and nurtured by the media, become the new role models, the vanguard for style, hipness, fashion, etc.  People who feel disconnected from their family, religious or native cultural roots are susceptible to this media worship.  As globalization increasingly makes much of the world nomadic, some of the battles between east and west involve nonwestern countries wanting to preserve their cultural identities, not to be swallowed up by Nike and Disney and other Western images and lifestyles.  At the same time these people often see these images as beacons of hope and escape to a better world.  Entertainment is at the confluence of all these currents.


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:  Work Stress

This question was forwarded by WorkforceOnline:

Preventing a High Demand Work Environment
from Turning into a Burnout Battlefront

Q. The seasonal nature of the work does not permit me to increase the size
of my workforce, at the same time I know that they are being over worked
and stressed out. Any suggestions?

A. A NASCAR analogy comes to mind.  When folks are frequently in overdrive and racing the clock two strategic actions are critical:  necessary pit stops and a well-coordinated team effort.  Consider these strategic steps:

1. Group Input On Overtime.  Have a team meeting re: optimal amount of overtime; see if employees set realistic levels.  If they are tolerating too much overtime remind folks that they are not running a short race.  For the long haul, too much overtime leads to burnout, mind-body breakdown and reduced productivity.

2. Buddy System. Have teams or departments come up with a coverage system whereby people can fill for a coworker who needs a break, a mental health day, etc.

3. Task and Process Meetings. Team meetings must be more than time- and task-driven affairs.  Build in a ten to fifteen-minute "wavelength" section (preferably at the end) so people can identify blocks or supports to good communication and coordination, as well as vent about sources of stress and frustration.  Ultimately, allowing employees to verbalize anger or anxieties in a safe forum, with management, strengthens trust and provides the foundation for real and effective problem-solving by the troops.

4. Morning Quickie.  Have a quick morning team or department huddle to include:  a) is there any unfinished business, e.g., does the day shift feel the night shift is leaving them too much work?, b) give folks a heads up on unexpected developments, c) make sure all members are on the same page regarding assignments and timeframes and d) identify issues that need to be discussed in lengthier, more formal meeting forums.

5. Accessible Management. As a manager BE VISIBLE!  Walk the workfloor.  Your employees want to know you are in the trenches with them.  An overworked, "lean-and-MEAN" work environment can easily become a burnout battlefront.  Leaders must be out in front, getting vital data from those on the front line and sharing the big picture.  You inspire people by being real, by accepting feedback -- the good and the critical.  You also must quickly confront dysfunctional behavior and recognize consistent good work or extra-ordinary performance.

If you've really listened to and acknowledged other's perceptions and positions, people won't always expect you to agree with them.  They feel respected when heard.  Employees also want you to make those tough decisions that only management can make.  Just be open and honest when evaluating the consequences of your decisions, continue to elicit employee input, and, when necessary make changes while pursuing what you believe is the best direction and decision.

And you can't have too many pizza parties for communal bonding and a little R & R.  Some strategies to help you and your crew win the race and to...Practice Safe Stress!

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2002
Shrink Rap Productions

Main Essay:

While video conferencing and e-training are capturing imaginations and audiences, the Stress Doc argues for an optimal balance between the virtual and the real for the most effective learning and teaming.

Implementing High Tech and High Touch Teams:
Pros and Cons of Virtual vs. Real Teaming

by Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™

What's your image of teamwork:  University of Maryland basketball, the efficient cooks and servers at your favorite breakfast place, frequently communicating sales and marketing departments or a coordinated tradeshow/production outfit?  Traditionally, the concept of team has been a group of people with varying backgrounds and biases, experiences and expectations along with supplies and skills working together to achieve short-term outcomes and long-term goals.  One operational assumption is that achieving such results would be unrealistic or, at least, more elusive through solitary pursuit.  Another unstated assumption is that the productive channeling of task energy and conflict along with trust and cohesiveness building results from members eyeballing and calling out to one another.

However, in our rapidly evolving, 24/7 telecommunications, increasingly security conscious world, instant cyberspace travel and videoconferencing can seem alluring when compared with the current burdens of air travel and live conferencing.  When e-zines bypass time zones, and latitudes and attitudes are magically bridged by bulletin boards, webcasting or the click of a mouse, familiar notions of team will be profoundly tested.  Let's focus on two interrelated dynamics -- one structural (the medium), the other psychological (the motivation) -- that are challenging common sense forms and functions of teaming:
1) Medium:  "Virtual" or Electronic vs. "Real" or In-Person Teams and
2) Motivation:  "Me" vs. "We" and the Process of Relationship/Team Building

Does the Medium Become the Message?

First, let me clarify this "Medium"--"Motivation" connection.  Does sitting alone behind a computer hours on end posting to a bulletin board (or being inundated with messages), passively watching a videoconference or being anonymously protected by a screen name mask in a chat group (you never hear the phrase "chat team") encourage a short-sighted or distracted, self-absorbed or superficial "me"-ness, if not a "meanness?"  For example, how often does emailing replace calling or face-to-face discussion when there's awkward interpersonal tension or a time crunch because it's "easier" or "more efficient"?  Or, when in conflict with a colleague or competitor, how frequently are emails transformed into e-missiles?  Invariably, it is civility that takes a hit.  To draw on that media guru and grandfather of the cyber-age, Marshall McLuhan:  Is the medium too often diluting, damaging or drowning the relationship- and team-building message?

Actually, like most profound changes or crises in a field, the telecommunication-cyber revolution poses both "danger" and "opportunity" for buyer and seller collaboration and for team building as a whole in the Hospitality Industry.  As in most aspects of life, the golden rule is achieving "dynamic balance":  an ability to blend flexibly high tech and high touch in our day-to-day operations!

Here are brief pros and cons lists of the "virtual" impact on teaming of the medium still somewhat less traveled.  Also under scrutiny is the related "Me" vs. "We" tensions.

Virtual Impact on Teaming - Positive Aspects

1.  Access, Efficiency and Economics.  In today's electronic world, so much information is available for research and transmission.  Targeted data enables a better and quicker determination of who does and does not fit into the potential buyer-seller team partnership profile.  In addition, not just efficiency but also economics is involved, e.g., a whole department can attend a videoconference for one fee, saving both time and money.

2.  Global Network.  Teams can be far-flung and diverse when casting a worldwide web.  Transcending geographical, cultural and ideational boundaries potentially means both a more expansive project perspective as well as market specific implementation of team goals and objectives.  Writing for e-zines and newsletters increases one's visibility around the globe.

3.  Individual Expression.  Wide ranging data gathering and local feedback enhances the exploratory, creativity and productivity potential of individuals and companies.  With a well constructed and smartly marketed website, for example, an array of collaborators, clients and consumers can be attracted to a product-service vision and team.  Cutting edge feedback and the potential for upgrading is ever-present.

In the early days of the environmental movement the slogan was: "Think Globally, Act Locally."  In today's telecommunication age, I like the expansively empowering, individual and team mantra:  "Think Locally, Interact Globally!"

4.  Openness and Intimacy.  Having run a "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" (a stress support group) on AOL/Digital City for four years, the social/networking bonds that can develop online over time no longer amaze me.  The sense of safety and varying degrees of anonymity often facilitate personal sharing.  For some participants there's less fear of criticism or rejection in an online mode; others feel free to bravely assert their own minority viewpoint, even when unpopular.

And let's not overlook list serve bulletin boards that, in addition to individual posting, encourage participants to cogitate on issues and questions posed by other members and then share developed responses and resources.  Is that an enlightened "We" at the end of the cyber-"Me" tunnel?

Virtual Impact on Teaming - Negative Potential

1.  Saturation and Addiction.  One downside of increased access is information overload, e.g., being overwhelmed by scores of list serve emails and the challenge of sorting wheat from chaff.  I suspect most readers at some time have been transfixed by (if not somewhat addicted to) the computer screen - whether single-mindedly working on a report or caught up in a video game.  Warning:  Isolation and procrastination, if not paralysis, may lie ahead.

2.  Distraction.  While electronic conferencing often conveys valuable information, what is the state of the message receiver?  One industry exec posited being "only 80% there" during most videoconferences:  a secretary invariably breaks in for a signature or there's an important call.  The challenge is establishing better learning site-work space boundaries.

And speaking of distraction and boundaries, all cyberites are faced with privacy concerns and invasion of time and space (spam) issues.

3.  Creative Problem-Solving Barriers.  Virtual teams, bulletin boards, webcasting or video conferencing often lack the real thing, that is, the crux of teaming:  there's more spontaneous brainstorming when face-to-face. Rough ideas can be more readily generated, grappled and played with and polished during the course of in-person team meetings.

And while virtual teams may better allow for individual expression, still idiosyncratic or innovative ideas must be workable within a team context.  Flights of self-absorbed fancy and fantasy are frequent fliers in cyberspace.  Remember, there's often a fine line between vision and hallucination.

4.  Communication and Conflict Resolution Obstacles.  As mentioned earlier, dealing with interpersonal team issues primarily through email suggests avoidance as a key coping strategy.  And while emailing or posting can be freeing, it can also fuel abrasive, insensitive or impatient messaging…as well as misunderstandings.  When you can't see body language or hear voice intonation, message sent might not be message received.


In an anytime/anywhere world, the goal of 21st century teaming must be high tech and high touch.  In unprecedented fashion, telecommunications and cyberspace are bridging and forging uncommon perspectives, places and partnerships.  At the same time, there are both dangers and opportunities:  we must find an optimal balance between the creative-self-centered or solitary electronic "Me" and the cohesive-conformist or too conservative face-to-face "We."  The challenge, of course, is integration -- from balancing cyberspace and air travel to blending the best of electronic and the real.  Beware one-sidedly succumbing to the siren sound and seeming "ease" of the virtual.

Telecommunication and cyberspace travel should further in-person connection:  interviews, social-networking events and various project team and committee meetings and conferences will remain our industry's "bread and butter," to quote strategic consultant, Jim Daggert (Back to Business," CONVENE, March 2002).  It is human and Hospitality nature to use all our senses to get to know each other; to stir up and channel group chemistry; to mutually solve problems and resolve conflicts, to share pain and triumphs; to evolve vital interdependence and basic trust…to build relationships.  Especially after a year of 9/11 and a recessed economy, working and playing, sighing and laughing together in virtual and real space-time becomes it's own reward...and words to help us...Practice Safe Stress!

Readers' Submissions:

Subj: Zen this 

Save the whales. Collect the whole set.

A day without sunshine is like, night.

On the other hand, you have different fingers.

42.7 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.

99 percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name.

I feel like I'm diagonally parked in a parallel universe.

Honk if you love peace and quiet.

Remember, half the people you know are below average.

He who laughs last thinks slowest.

Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.

The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

I drive way too fast to worry about cholesterol.

Support bacteria. They're the only culture some people have.

Monday is an awful way to spend 1/7 of your week.

A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.

Get a new car for your spouse. It'll be a great trade!

Plan to be spontaneous tomorrow.

Always try to be modest, and be proud of it!

If you think nobody cares, try missing a couple of payments.

If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.

When everything is coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.

Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now.

Everyone has a photographic memory. Some just don't have film.

Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines.

What happens if you get scared half to death twice?

I used to have an open mind but my brains kept falling out.

I couldn't repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.

Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?

Subject: Parrots
From:  Bogie361

A woman goes to her rabbi with a serious problem. Her two female parrots have picked up a bad habit. Any time she has visitors, the two parrots embarrass her by saying, in unison, "Hi! We're hookers. Want to have some fun?"  To her surprise, the rabbi breaks into a smile, explaining that he has two male parrots which he has trained to pray and who've become very observant, spending much of the day davening in their cage.  He's
confident that if the woman brings her two parrots over to his house, his two parrots will exert such a positive influence that her birds will turn into model parrots. 

The next day the woman drives over to the rabbi's house and brings her two parrots into his home. As she looks around, she notices a large cage with two parrots, each wearing a little kipah and tiny tallis and each holding a miniature prayer book while they rock back and forth in prayer. Sure enough, as soon as she places her parrots in the
cage, they shout out to their male counterparts: "Hi! We're hookers. Want to have some fun?"  One of the rabbi's parrots immediately turns to the other, squawking:  "Moishe, put the damn book down. Our prayers have been answered!"


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 just 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