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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™


DEC 2002

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

Table of Contents

Offerings:       Training Kit & Book; AOL Chat
Heads Up:       Wall Street Journal, Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource                     Management, Washington Times and Travis AF Base, CA
Shrink Rap:    Laundry Wars
Main Essay:    Practicing Safe Stress for the Holidays
Readers:         Hu's On First, Wedding Plans, HMO Coverage and What's In a Word?

A.  Offerings:

1. Training/Marketing 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 or email.

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. Chat Group:
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.

B.  Heads Up.

1. Media/Interview:

a) Wall Street Journal Publication

Job Seeker News
November 25, 2002
Volume 3, Issue 22

Job Searching Tips: Job Hunting During the Holidays

While job hunting during the holiday season may seem less than festive, author Dale Buss, provides job seekers with some great advice: Turn "wassailing" into "networking."

The holidays are a natural time for socializing, so job hunters should be ready to do so with a different sense of purpose: Take along your business cards and resume.

For example, Ron Johnson was laid off in July after seven years with a Herndon, Va., employer where he implemented document-workflow systems for companies and government agencies. He's now looking for a job in project management or business analysis, with few nibbles so far. But the 46-year-old Mr. Johnson, who lives in Arlington, Va., plans to step up his search during the holidays. "I'm doing more
networking now, getting resumes out there more and meeting with various friends and acquaintances," he says.

Additionally, he's attending a D.C.-area networking group for job seekers.  "Groups like this help create a new community [so] you feel like you're not alone. [They also]
put you in contact with good resources and may get you back into some kind of routine," says Mark Gorkin, a Washington, D.C.-based psychotherapist and America Online humorist known as the Stress Doc. "You can go to your own church or synagogue and say, "How about we start something like 40Plus?"

Source: "How Wise Job Seekers Make the Holidays Work," Dale Buss, Career Journal: from The Wall Street Journal, November 2002.


b) Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management
I am writing for permission to reprint "Purposeful and playful workshop exercises and strategies: The art of practicing safe stress". We publish a monthly magazine/journal on behalf of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management, copies of which are distributed to all 4,000  members of the Institute in Hong Kong.

E.Dee Conrad
Managing  Editor


c) The Washington Times, Karen Goff, Dec. 22nd story on Holiday Stress, especially the stress of entertaining and being a guest.

d) Holiday Stress; Mental Health Promotions at Travis AF Base, CA

Greetings.  I'm a mental health technician in the Air Force currently working in Mental Health Promotions at Travis AF Base, CA.  My main job is giving briefings on suicide prevention, workplace violence and substance abuse for the entire base.  I recently received a request to present a briefing to a group from the hospital here on holiday stress.  As I didn't already have a ready made briefing I went to the internet and found your Holiday Stress: Fact or Fiction article.  I particularly liked the verse "Cruisin for a Bluesin" and was wondering if this had been put to music and where I could find a copy if it has.  I'd like to use that verse as my theme and entrance as an attention getter to give my briefing a lighter air.

My reply:  I feel flattered, by all means use "Crusin for a Bluesin."  It hasn't been put to music, so feel free to improvise.  I use my home grown "Rhythm (he says loosely) and Blues" beat. Having lived in N'Awlins for 16 years gets me out of a lot of jams.  ;-)

(Ed's Note:  Permission in both cases, of course, was granted.  See below for entire article.  Anyone else interested in reprinting my writings, just email.)


Shrink Rap:

The Stress Doc shares a tale of communal conflict in big city living along with techniques for defusing an "aggressive" interpersonal encounter.  And, lo and behold, assertion, apology and mutual affirmation has its own rewards.

Communication Strategies at the Communal Battlefront
or Surviving "Laundry Wars"

Living in a big city apartment building, for me, is a fairly insular experience.  I know a couple of neighbors but with the erratic schedule of one self-employed most fellow residents are but ships passing in the night.  However, there is a dramatic exception to the prevailing anonymity and impersonal civility -- that communal battle zone, i.e., the laundry room.  For a building with about 130 apartments, having five washing machines and five dryers often makes for intense evening competition.

Sometimes stress comes from discovering that all machines are in use or that a washer is out of service.  But the biggest potential source of conflict occurs when a resident does not retrieve his or her clothes in a timely manner.  Some folks leave their clothes so long that you wonder if they've been left in storage.  Maybe the washer has been hired like a babysitter.  (Not a smart strategy as you know this just gives the machine more time to swallow those socks.)  Or you imagine enviously the frolicking that must be transpiring to ignore one's possessions.  Of course, it couldn't be a case of a resident being lazy, self-centered or insensitive to someone else's needs, schedule and time constraints.

Alas, a few basement ventures left cooling my detergent or being discouraged altogether from doing a wash eventually generates a different coping strategy, more individual than communal.  It's urban survival and every man and machine for himself.  Okay, it's not quite so Machiavellian.  But now, after about five minutes, if the owner of the clothes is AWOL -- Away Without Laundry

Verbal Shootout at the Communal Corral

Before revealing my latest encounter, I will acknowledge a slightly confounding factor:  my tendency to do a wash every three weeks.  So I'm usually scraping the bottom of the underwear drawer by the time I hit the basement.  (Go ahead, when it comes to laundry room duty, call me a closet Social Darwinist.)

Now, on to the recent communal confrontation.  Perhaps a minute or two shy of my customary waiting period I remove the clothes of the tardy scofflaw and place them on another machine.  Suddenly, a guy with about 3 inches and, at least, thirty pounds on me bursts on the scene with an indignant look and a loud and challenging tone:  "Don't you touch my clothes!  Why are you being so aggressive?  The machine only has been stopped for a couple of minutes."  And with his voice getting louder and more agitated, again, "Why are you being so aggressive?"

Standing my ground, resisting backing off or counterattacking, I choose to expose his angry manner:  "Your voice is getting louder and louder; you're the one who is yelling.  I call that aggressive."

My antagonist made some effort to partially lower his voice and reduce his hard stare, but continued to harp on my role in the invasion of the apparel snatchers.  Feeling more confident that we weren't in a runaway aggressive spin cycle (also feeling pretty solid about my feedback and position) I countered with some reality:  "How am I supposed to know when you will be picking up your clothes?"  I reminded him that the building houses large numbers of the communal laundry-impaired.  Mr. Self-Righteous grabbed his clothes, placed them in the dryer and left in a huff.

Airing My Laundry and Clearing the Air

In the lobby, needing to vent, fortuitously, I bumped into a neighbor, one of my few friends.  E. is quite a lady, a spry widow in her '70s, who has raised five kids.  She can be everyone's grandma or an outrageously feisty character.  E. often regales me with stories about upsetting folks in her bible study groups by challenging crusty, unthinking dogma.

Even E., apparently, has had basement battle fatigue.  Upon sharing my encounter, E. could empathize with the dicey situation:  "I now just leave the clothes and wait."  Waving her hand dismissively, she continued:  "Those young people just start yelling."

Then E. hit the issue on the head:  "If you're so worried about my touching your clothes, then you need to get down before the cycle is over."

My initial response, fueled by some competitive instincts, was, "Why didn't I say that."  But upon reflection, I was not sorry for missing the chance to tell this guy what he should do (or where he should go).  I suspect the above would have put more fuel, if not fire, on the already smoldering power struggle.  By primarily affirming my concerns and position, by not having to be right, by not trying to put Mr. Aggressive on the defensive, we were able to move toward more neutral corners.

And about forty minutes later, while removing some clothes from the dryer, a startling development:  my antagonist walked into the laundry room and, in a humble tone, said:  "I want to apologize.  I don't know what got into me.  Of course you can't know when I'll be coming down (for my clothes)."

Upon recovering, I offered my hand, and said my first name.  Now he was taken aback, but quickly we shook hands.  He too introduced himself.  I then quietly affirmed his apology:  "I really appreciate this."

I also lightheartedly announced, "I've decided to wait three minutes from now on."  Again my message was that "some patience is a virtue" and that our interaction had yielded mutual learning.  Rick shook his head, implying, "No, that isn't needed."  He smiled and left the room.  (But knowing my time-conscious nature, I'm planning to buy a pair of rubber gloves!)

Satisfying Conclusion

I suspect Rick's acknowledgment wasn't easy; I respect his actions.  But more than his motivation and apology, more than "winning," was contributing to my inner glow.  I had stood my ground.  I had stated my position without having to counterattack or become offensive.  This laundry room encounter, once again, illuminated and reinforced the self-defining power and problem-solving potential of focusing on, "Who I am," "Where I'm coming from" and "What are my (perceived) rights" without being invasive, abrasive or a self-sacrificing martyr.  This "I" message vantage point is usually more constructive and effective than telling someone who or what he is, or what he should be doing.  And in this on the spot scenario, it's certainly better than playing mind games by analyzing motivations.  This communication strategy is a way of being and behaving that can help us all…Practice Safe Stress!


Main Essay:

Practicing Safe Stress for the Holidays:
Fact or Friction?

While many associate the holidays with Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and its theme of gaining and sharing the holiday spirit, the opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities may have even more relevance:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of time
It was the season of light, it was the season of darkness...
It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Like Dickens, I too have tried to capture the complexity of the holidays; if not through a great novel, then with my one classic holiday joke.  I realized with all this talk of pressure during the holidays, I needed to distinguish between "Holiday Blues" and "Holiday Stress."  Now holiday blues is the feeling of loss or sadness that you have over the holidays when, for whatever reason, you can't be with those people who have been or are special and significant.  And holiday stress...is when you have to be with some of those people!

Now here's some lighthearted, seasonal verse I wrote years ago for my radio feature, "Stress Brake."  It's called "Cruisin for a Bluesin":

The holidays may bring you down
And you just sing the blues.
To turn those soured tones around
Just play these "don'ts" and "dos."

When you're cruisin on the town
Don't charge away the blues.
If you card the credit crown
Your spouse may blow a fuse.

For fussy dad the streets you'll pound
To find the perfect muse.
He might as well be tied...and bound
He'll never change his views.

If you're alone, don't be house bound
Or cuddle up to booze.
Go ahead.  Drown a frown with tears
And folks who can amuse.

Why not try that choral sound
Spread some joyous news.
For when the voices do resound
Then notes you can abuse.

This year don't play the tragic clown
Be bold in how you choose.
You too can prance above the ground
Put on those dancing shoes.

So now we've come full circle round
More lines I must refuse.
Just know when love and friends abound
The blues have many hues.

(c) Shrink Rap Productions  1997

Despite this good advice, we know that when you are with some of those people (or if they are just in your head), real sparks can fly.  Here are "The Four 'F's of Holiday Friction:  Fantasies, Family, Food and Finances."

1.  Fantasies.  First, the idyllic image of the holidays portrayed by the media seems so out of touch with reality, it's enough to make you overload on eggnog (with or without the alcohol).

Another pressure is the internalized memories we carry around. I recall my friend Linda, a single parent at the time, berating herself because she couldn't keep up with the holidays - the cooking, the shopping, the house decorations, etc. - the way her mother had.  Of course, Linda's mom did not work outside the home.  I also recall Linda observing that, as a successful professional, she now has the money but lacks the time for the season.  Previously, when she wasn't working, she had plenty of time and no money:  The "Holiday Catch-22."

And, finally, this season turns most of us into sentimental jelly fish, just waiting to get entangled in the arms of that "true love."  Hey, I'm not saying that Mr. or Ms. Holiday Hopeful is as possible or as real as Santa Claus.  (My motto:  "I no longer count on nor discount any possibility.")  Just don't let childhood longings and memories and voices transform you into a frantic, salivating, love-crazed inner child.

The key to managing this friction:  gently embrace, don't cling, to magical memories.  Discover a blend of magical realism that helps you balance love, work and play in the present.

2.  Family.  There are so many permutations in families these days, it's got to get a bit confusing.  For separated families, a poignant question:  which parent (or grandparents) will we be with for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for New Years?  I vividly remember an eight year old's lament:  "Why can't we just be one family again?"

Another common family issue is when a holiday gathering turns into a competitive arena for sibling rivalry, along with a desire for long-standing recognition and approval.  And if you find in these family therapy sessions, I mean holiday reunions, that you can't resist trying to change the attitude and behavior of the parent (sibling or child) that "makes you crazy," patterns which have resisted influence attempts for decades...maybe there's only one solution.  Have you thought about getting far out of town for the holidays? 

3.  Food.  The holidays turn most of us into bingeaholics.  Running helter skelter, not stopping for lunch, overdosing on the cookies and chocolate that a colleague has brought to work.  And discipline at a party is a contradiction in terms.  This caloric chaos is not surprising considering the biggest role model of the holidays looks like he hasn't met a single gram of fat in two hundred years that he doesn't love.  Hey, Santa Claus hasn't been doing his aerobic workouts either.  But wait...Appoint a designated nagger, who will gently remind you when you are overdoing it.  Don't chat hovering around the buffet table.  Take reasonable portions and move away.  Now replace food with some food for thought. 

And face it, no matter what you do, or don't do, you are likely to add some pounds on the holidays.  So go to the malls and walk briskly for thirty minutes before you start the shopping splurge.  You'll spend less and, probably, will eat less as well.

4.  Finances.  The holidays heighten our monetary consciousness -- from the end of the year financial and psychological accounting (did we meet our financial/family security and career goals?) to the never-ending list of holiday gifts.  And as the great Russian novelist, Doestoyevsky, noted:  "Consciousness is depression!" 

For the first issue, seek a budget counselor, a CPA, a career counselor or even a mental health specialist.  For the last, "just say no" to your child's "toy lust."  Give your child choices; explain why there are limits. Try this holiday mantra:  "Presence not just presents."  This season, invest time, not just money. 

For big families, be creative.  Divide up the gift list with other relatives.  You shouldn't have to buy something for everyone.  Making a gift definitely adds a personal touch.  And, finally, don't overlook a very important person.  Get a special gift for yourself.

So the holidays may be a stressful time; a time of feelings of loss and sadness.  But with a little higher power humor it also, can be a source of creative expression and sharing.  Here's my gift to you:

Double-Edged Depression

Waves of sadness
Raging river of fear
Whirlpooling madness
Till I disappear
Into the depths of primal pain
Then again...no pain, no gain.

Depression, depression
Is it chemistry or confession?
Depression, depression
Dark side of perfection!

Climbing icy spires
Dancing at the ledge
The phoenix only rises
On the jagged edge
In a world of highs and lows
Hey, the cosmos ebbs and flows.

Depression, depression
It's electrifried obsession
High flying depression
Exalted regression?

So I'm pumping iron
And Prozac, too
What else can
A real man do
In a life of muted dreams
How about a primal SCREAM?

Depression, depression
Even inner child rejection
Depression, depression
Hallelujah for creative expression!

(c)   Mark Gorkin   1994 Shrink Rap Productions

Just remember, for the holidays and beyond...Practice Safe Stress!


Readers' Submissions


(We take you now to the Oval Office)

George: Condi! Nice to see you. What's happening?

Condi: Sir, I have the report here about the new leader of China.

George: Great. Lay it on me.

Condi: Hu is the new leader of China.

George: That's what I want to know.

Condi: That's what I'm telling you.

George: That's what I'm asking you. Who is the new leader of China?

Condi: Yes.

George: I mean the fellow's name.

Condi: Hu.

George: The guy in China.

Condi: Hu.

George: The new leader of China.

Condi: Hu.

George: The Chinaman!

Condi: Hu is leading China.

George: Now whaddya' asking me for?

Condi: I'm telling you Hu is leading China.

George: Well, I'm asking you. Who is leading China?

Condi: That's the man's name.

George: That's whose name?

Condi: Yes.

George: Will you or will you not tell me the name of the new leader of China?

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Yassir? Yassir Arafat is in China? I thought he was in the Middle East.

Condi: That's correct.

George: Then who is in China?

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Yassir is in China?

Condi: No, sir.

George: Then who is?

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Yassir?

Condi: No, sir.

George: Look, Condi. I need to know the name of the new leader of China. Get me the Secretary General of the U.N. on the phone.

Condi: Kofi?

George: No, thanks.

Condi: You want Kofi?

George: No.

Condi: You don't want Kofi.

George: No. But now that you mention it, I could use a glass of milk. And
then get me the U.N.

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Not Yassir! The guy at the U.N.

Condi: Kofi?

George: Milk! Will you please make the call?

Condi: And call who?

George: Who is the guy at the U.N?

Condi: Hu is the guy in China.

George: Will you stay out of China?!

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: And stay out of the Middle East! Just get me the guy at the U.N.

Condi: Kofi.

George: All right! With cream and two sugars. Now get! on the phone.

(Condi picks up the phone.)

Condi: Rice, here.

George: Rice? Good idea. And a couple of egg rolls, too. Maybe we should send some to the guy in China. And the Middle East. Can you get Chinese food in the Middle East?


From:  MDodick

Jacob age 85, and Rebecca age 79 are all excited about their decision to get married. They go for a stroll to discuss the wedding and on the way go past a drugstore. Jacob suggests that they go in. He addresses the man behind the counter:  "Are you the owner?"  The pharmacist answers, "Yes."

Jacob: "Do you sell heart medication?"
Pharmacist: "Of course we do.  All kinds."

Jacob: "Medicine for rheumatism?"
Pharmacist: "Definitely."

Jacob: "How about Viagra?"
Pharmacist: "Of course."

Jacob: "Medicine for memory?"
Pharmacist: "Yes, a large variety."

Jacob: "What about vitamins and sleeping pills?"
Pharmacist: "Absolutely."

Jacob: "Perfect!  We'd like to register here for our wedding gifts."

Subject:  HMO Coverage or "The Holy Quest for Health Care"
From:  gorkil@Pfizer.com (my younger bro)

Q. What does HMO stand for?
A. This is actually a variation of the phrase, "Hey, Moe!" Its roots go back to a concept pioneered by Dr. Moe Howard of "The Three Stooges" who discovered that a patient could be made to forget about the pain in his foot if he was poked hard enough in the eyes.

Q. I just joined an HMO. How difficult will it be to choose
the doctor I want?
A. Just slightly more difficult than choosing your parents.  Your insurer will provide you with a book listing all the doctors who were participating in the plan. These doctors basically fall into two categories those who are no longer accepting new patients, and those who will see you but are no longer part of the plan. But don't worry, the remaining doctor who is still in the plan and accepting new patients has an office just a half-day's drive away and that diploma from a small Caribbean Island is very fresh.

Q. Do all diagnostic procedures require pre-certification?

A. No. Only those you need.

Q. What are preexisting conditions?

A. This is a term used by the grammatically challenged when they want to talk about existing conditions. Unfortunately, we appear to be pre-stuck with 'pre and now' meaning the same.

Q. Can I get coverage for my preexisting conditions?
A. Certainly, as long as they don't require any treatment.

Q. What happens if I want to try alternative forms of medicine?
A. You'll need to find alternative forms of payment.

Q. My pharmacy plan only covers generic drugs, but I need the
name brand. I tried the generic medication, but it gave me a stomach ache. What should I do?
A. Poke yourself in the eye.

Q. What if I'm away from home and I get sick?

A. You really shouldn't do that.

Q. I think I need to see a specialist, but my doctor insists
he can handle my problem. Can a general practitioner really perform a heart transplant right in his office?
A. Hard to say, but considering that all you're risking is the $10 CO-payment, there is no harm giving him a shot at it.

Q. Will health care be any different in the next century?
A. No. But if you call right now, you might get an appointment by then.

Subj: What's in a word? 
From: MDodick

What's in a word?  Mark Twain once said, "The difference between the right word and the wrong word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."

Here are examples of what he was talking about:

Spotted in a toilet of a London office:

In a Laundromat:

In a London department store:

In an office:

In an office:

Outside a secondhand shop:

Notice in a health store window:

Spotted in a safari park:

Seen during a conference:

Notice in a field:

Message on a leaflet:

On a repair shop door:

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 and his writings appear in such publications as The Bright Side, HR.com, WorkforceOnline, Event Solutions, Professional Conference Management Association Newsletters, Mental Help Net and Financial Services Journal Online. 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 (recently cited as workplace resource in a National Public Radio feature on "Bad Bosses").  For more info, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 202-232-8662 (in Wash, DC).

(c) Mark Gorkin 2002
Shrink Rap ™ Productions