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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

APR 03

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

Table of Contents

       Training Kit & Book; AOL Chat
Shrink Rap:    DC Coded Messages; Passionate Prose-Poetry:  Reality vs. Fantasy
Main Essay:    The Stress Doc's Tips for Managing Fear in Tension-Filled Times
:         Colonoscopally Correct???; Spaghetti; Rules of Life
Heads Up:       Woman's Day, Mental Health Assn of Montgomery County, Research Shows People Handle Anxiety Wrong

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 http://stressdoc.com/kitbook.htm 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.

Shrink Rap:

Coded Messages:  Distinguishing Reality from Fantasy

With thoughts of invasion and beyond crowding out spring and Washington's Cherry Blossom season, this newsletter gives war it's due (see Main Article, "The Stress Doc's Tips for Managing Fear in Tension-Filled Times") but opens with a powerful prose-poem about passion on the edge, if not over.

Just to add to my surreal quality of life, while Code Orange in DC is getting a lot of attention, I'm moving into a Code Red situation.  As a guest speaker on a Caribbean cruise this week, I'm seriously worried about third degree sunburn!  Okay, so I know how to rub it in.  ;-)  Forgive my being a smart a_ _; those of you who have seen my prose poem, "Who Knows War?," know my real feelings on the subject.  (Email stressdoc@aol.com if you'd like the piece.)  As for the cruise, I'm curious to see what the experience will be like for crew and guests with war raging.  Will there be many no-shows?  Will we be able to get information?  Will extravagance be toned down?

This trip comes right on the heels of a Friday Practice Safe Stress Program for Embassy Country Representatives from around the world, sponsored by the State Dept. volunteer organization, The Hospitality and Information Service (THIS).  I've been forewarned that the international audience (35 countries and counting) will be greatly divided about the war.

Lately I've been opening my stress programs with a quip about how we live in a www.stressedout world (and not just due to the crazy pace and everpresence of technology).  Especially for us in DC, its been Work, Weather (with this season's unusual onslaught of snow) and George W.  Now, I'll stick with Work, add War and, of course, living in terror prone ) Washington, DC (a mile from the White House):  tractor trailer man just being the latest episode; think the Pentagon, anthrax scare, sniper, etc.


Poetic reflections from the passionate edge and the continuing challenge to sort out emotional reality from fantasy.

A Boundless Person, A Blinding Passion or
Does Destiny or "Romantasy" Ride Again?

While a war unknowable begins faraway
A more personal one rages within, yet again
A seemingly tender, seemingly uncontrollable desire
To grab your hand, to coax your heart
For a journey ongoing to, for now, a future unknown
Still my mantra gives hope:  "Though not knowing where we are going...
I believe we know how to get there."
With you lovely lady I long to laugh at and learn of the real and surreal.

You are highly desirable, but why?  On the one hand it's obvious
Just look in the mirror
On the other, I grab for the illusion:  I know you
You know me, or so I believe…with us it's not so hard.
Why so quick does my pregnant psyche and chemistry expand beyond boundaries?
Birthing the magical call of "Romantasy"
A wild cry from the neologistic/nihilistic edge
Of infatuation, of fantasy, of expectation, of fervent desire for…
The chance of a seedling…for a special friendship, for a genuine closeness, maybe for true romance…
For "love?"  As if using the word contaminates everything
Yet, once exposed, this Emperor still has some clothes.

So is there any truth to elusive belief?
With some encouragement from you Miss M, I too had a dream
Two uncommon ones sparking some as yet fully conceived concept:
"Creative Intimacy?"...On what basis you say?
Mutual artistry and sensitivity; emotional intelligence
Agile minds; quick wit, a light playful laugh
A multicultural gumbo seasoned with humor
Our Mardi Gras masks blending comic and tragic
The yang and the yin
Flowing, hiding and transforming perhaps
Just for a moment the loneliness
Now let us share the heart echo within
Two outsiders articulating notes from the underground
Leaving significant others shaking their heads:
Some pity, some scoff at our magical, musical masks so inscrutable
But we understand much more than our decades of therapy
I trust the word "kindred" seems hardly casual.

Still, one can't overlook a red hot psyche fueled by the blues
As long slender fingers play and probe head and heartstrings
A subterranean psyche, unpredictably porous
A simmering mix:
Of dark, doubting solitude
Bone weary emptiness
Biochemical moodiness
Like a deep buried mine with long rooted veins too close to the surface
Interacting gases just barely contained
But really, too frequently, alas, seeping elements volatile, combustible
Now just needing a spark of uncommon desire or destiny
Or is it but fecund friction (or fiction) making a head swell and hype spring eternal?
A sudden rising...then streaking Phoenix -- both gothic and mythic
With little warning or comprehension
Mind-body-soul all ablaze.

Who can prevent such spirit fires consuming?
Or slow burn a psycho-echo system on the verge of igniting?
Parts dangerous addiction, parts disconnection
Reflecting, revealing, resulting in wounds
From a cutting-edge crown and cross both futile and fertile
Yields a brain shimmering after the riotous Fall-colored palette
For drawing out the mysteries within a blank canvas
An organic kaleidoscope radiating archetypes -- wholeness and vision
A flowering force field of swirling ideas and passion; even ancient memories of self-love
For a long-lost curly haired child with little arms joyfully raised to the sky
Stirred by a hypo-manic, holistic-mystic, if not holy, communion
All this humanness -- forceful and fragile -- spinning and springing again and again
Yet again from that ever dark, seething void.

How can one resist?
How can one resist trying
Filling that black hole with hot fusion and starry-eyed lumination?
While my gravity, my force field tries to bring you still closer
How can you not start feeling sucked in?
There's little room for two planets
There's no space-time for exploration with my racing the future
But, I pray, believe me
In this celestial showcase there is no performance
No trying to dazzle nor to impress
Mercifully, I have come this far
Though undeniably lingering, an unconscious habit
Too often still doing, not being
Comfortable nor familiar with soft soulful sharing
Old insecurity seeping at the embryonic intimate nexus evolving
So despite a hard-earned, growing integrity
You feel pressured; neither seen nor heard
And yes, being "in love with love" is blinding
In this part mystic, part manic egocentric perspective
Oh how so sad!

How does one channel this primal force-fantasy, lying and lurking?
Can the tears of a grieving nourish the seed of a gentle emerging?
Or could the control switch, alas, have but two settings -- "On" and "Off?"
Can I do an old-fashioned slow dance
Holding prayerfully pangs of instant intimacy at a distance
Wrestling the urge to pull you near quickly, to whisper impulsively…
Crowding you out of rhythm and orbit?
How to forego rapid ignition, blasting off
A careening space invader
Making our unlikely journey
As dicey as a NASA space mission?

So in the end there is one question overriding:
Will I choose to accept my "Mission Impossible?"
Still I am the author most elemental:
"One must begin to separate
One must be separate to begin."
So there is hope, thank you again
My friend who inspires with her sure, quiet presence
Though beyond the horizon this poetic unveiling
Of earthly real and essential from the mercurial, high-flying virtual.

Main Article:

The Stress Doc shares some tips and strategies for maintaining a sense of control, humor and grace in these trying times.

The Stress Doc's Tips for Managing Fear in Tension-Filled Times

It doesn't take the nightly news beat of war to know the past eighteen months have been fraught with terror-related trauma and economic stress beyond the 9/11 horror.   In large and small ways, we in the Metro-DC area hospitality and conference management industry, in particular, have been hit hard and wide:  a) the anthrax and dirty bomb scares, along with the region-gripping sniper tragedy, b) the current positioning of antiballistic weaponry and biochemical detectors, c) the continued downturn in the airlines and hotel industries and, even, d) the ever-present reminder of not being able to leave your plane seat 30 minutes into and out of Washington National.  (Not to mention this past winter weather onslaught, which precipitated a new "sister city" linkage: Buffalo-on-the-Potomac!)

So how can you maintain some sense of control, humor and grace under pressure?  Consider "The Stress Doc's Five Key Tips for Managing the Fear Factor":

1.  Stay Connected, Not Compulsive.  Don't just bury your head in work as a way to tune out anxiety.  Conversely, beware the deer in the headlights syndrome from CNN overload:  "To become stress free…pull the damn plug on news addict TV!"  And you'll likely prevent developing "color" blindness.  Talk with significant others to help release and reduce your fears.  Seek a serene mean:  constant venting (or being exposed to such an invasive "stress carrier") likely will fuel anxious ruminating and company rumor-nating.

2.  Sustain Commitment, Demonstrate Courage.  When it comes to managing trauma and strengthening emotional muscle, more is on the line than just individual stress.  Consider this vignette:  a month after 9/11, a Ph.D. Research Psychologist working at the National Institutes of Health (in the Metro-Washington area) at a Center meeting recalled the terror-induced distraught weeping of her ten-year-old daughter.  The girl was trying to dissuade her mother from attending an out-of-town conference shortly after the September attacks.  Despite having left the child with her parents, this single mother was still not sure she had done the right thing.  Once discerning that the daughter was doing fine, I asked this Mom to loosen her guilt knot and to consider that, "You've been a role model for courage.  That despite having some fears, the message you gave your daughter was not of neglect.  Your actions revealed having enough confidence in yourself and in her, and a belief in meeting important responsibilities even in tough times."

3.  Spread the Humor.  Clearly, there's no joking away today's litany of fears, scares and tragedies yet, as the comedic genius, Charlie Chaplin, understood, more than ever we need to laugh:  "A paradoxical thing is that in making comedy the tragic is precisely which arouses the funny...we have to laugh due to our helplessness in the face of natural forces and (in order) not to go crazy." 

Infusing the industry as a whole with both light and enlightening in-house training and conference programs filled with laughter and fun would be an invaluable and inspiring gift.  Sometimes, though, major planning isn't necessary; healing humor may only require a deft touch at a sensitive or "higher power" moment.  Consider the repertoire of a Southwest Airlines employee at a traditionally somber interlude.  Reviewing takeoff procedures, the steward, holding both oxygen mask and float cushion, suddenly says, "Since part of this trip will be over water, in the unlikely event that this flight becomes a cruise"…and before he could complete his instructions, waves of laughter rolled through the cabin.

Facing our doubts and demons, whether getting on a plane or being apart from family while attending a conference are all vital components for long-term relief and rejuvenation.  As the psychiatrist, Ernst Kris, noted:  "What was once feared and is now mastered is laughed at."  And as the Stress Doc inverted:  "What was once feared and is now laughed at is no longer a master!"

4.  Distinguish Probable vs. Possible.  Do some basic preparedness at the office and at home:  whether it's assembling a "first aid" type response kit or having extra bottles of water and jars of peanut butter.  Just being proactive helps us feel more in control.  But again, don't go overboard.  A recent New York Daily News headline had it right:  "Daffy Duct!"

When decision-making is driven by "the possible" (adverse consequences) then we are nearly always anxious, vulnerable and on the edge.  With a fertile mind, almost any negative influence or occurrence or omen can be lurking in the shadows.  However, by evaluating situations more objectively, often with the help of dependable feedback, thereby discerning what is a reasonable expectation or likely result, that is, "the probable," we can:  a) better assess past and present issues and events as well as future warning indicators, b) identify more accurately the problem-solving content and context, what's relevant background data, what's noise, and c) generate more reliable, optimally risk-taking and likely effective individual and collective response options and actions.

5.  Develop Natural SPEED.  In summary, try this formula for stress inoculation:

S = Sleep. 
Don't be cheap with your need for sleep.  Less than six hours a day for most folks dulls cognitive sharpness, a critical faculty for firmly grasping those fear factors.
P = Priorities.  One example:  distinguish "the urgent" (which must be handled immediately) from the "the important" (which can be prioritized).
E = Empathy.  Have a stress buddy at work and/or home; someone with whom you can both give and get a shoulder.
E = Exercise.  Not only does aerobic level exercise stimulate the mind-body's natural mood enhancing chemicals, but walking two miles or a 30-minute workout at the gym provides a beginning and endpoint for a tangible sense of accomplishment and control.  In uncertain times, success rituals definitely strengthen psychological hardiness and resilience.
D = Diet.  This is not the time to use food to numb your angst.  High fats and simple sugars along with excess alcohol dull the brain in the long run and can even trigger moodiness and depression.  A conscious healthy eating regimen will be another self-control component in your strategic plan for mind-body safety and personal-professional integrity.

Of course, if after implementing these action steps, you are still in a fearful funk, don't suffer in silence.  Reach out to a health professional skilled in post-trauma counseling.  Surely words to help us all…Practice Safe Stress!

Mark Gorkin, "The Stress Doc" ™, PCMA member, is an international speaker, workshop leader, syndicated writer and psychotherapist based in Washington, DC.  For more info, check out his award-winning website - www.stressdoc.com - or call 202-232-8662.

Readers' Submissions


Colonoscopally Correct???
From:  MDodick

A physician says these are actual comments from his patients made
while he was performing colonoscopies:

1. "Take it easy, Doc, you're boldly going where no man has gone        

2. "Find Amelia Earhart yet?"

3. "Can you hear me NOW?"

4. "Oh boy, that was sphincterrific!"

5. "Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"

6. "You know, in Arkansas, we're now legally married."

7. "Any sign of the trapped miners, Chief?"

8. "You put your left hand in, you take your left hand out. You do the
   Hokey Pokey...."

9. "WOW! Now I know how a Muppet feels!"

10."If your hand doesn't fit, you must acquit!"

11. "Hey, Doc, let me know if you find my dignity."

12. "You used to be an executive at Enron, didn't you?"

13. "Could you write me a note for my wife, saying that my head is not,
    in fact, up there?"

From:  MDodick

A wealthy man was having an affair with an Italian woman for several years. One night, during one of their rendezvous, she confided in him that she was pregnant. Not wanting to ruin his reputation or his marriage, he paid her a large sum of money if she would go to Italy to secretly have the child. If she stayed in Italy to raise the child, he would also provide child support until the child turned 18.

She agreed, but asked how he would know when the baby was born. To keep it discreet, he told her to simply mail him a post card, and write "Spaghetti" on the back. He would then arrange for child support payments to begin.

One day, about 9 months later, he came home to his confused wife. "Honey," she said, "you received a very strange post card today." "Oh, just give it to me and I'll explain it later," he said.

The wife obeyed, and watched as her husband read the card, turned white
and fainted.

On the card was written:  "Spaghetti, Spaghetti, Spaghetti.  Two with meatballs, one without."

Rules of Life
From:  Momb7

Sometimes we just need to remember what the Rules of Life really are....

1. Never give yourself a haircut after three margaritas.

2. You need only two tools. WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn't move and it should, use WD-40.  If it moves and shouldn't, use the tape.

3. The five most essential words for a healthy, vital relationship "I apologize" and "You are right."

4. Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.

5. When you make a mistake, make amends immediately. It's easier to eat crow
while it's still warm.

6. The only really good advice that your mother ever gave you was, "Go! You might meet somebody!"

7. If he/she says that you are too good for him/her-believe them.

8. Learn to pick your battles; ask yourself, 'Will this matter one year from now? How about one month? One week? One day?

9. Never pass up an opportunity to pee.

10. If you woke up breathing, congratulations! You have another chance!

11. Living well really is the best revenge. Being miserable because of a bad or former relationship just might mean that the other person was right about you.

12. Work is good, but it's not that important.

13. And finally... Be really nice to your friends and family. You never know when you are going to need them to empty your bedpan.


Heads Up:  Media and Speaking Activity

1) Woman's Day.  Look for my words of wisdom in an article on "Couple Conflict" in the April 15th edition of Woman's Day.

2) Mental Health Assn of Montgomery County.  Two half day Safe Stress programs sponsored by the Mental Health Assn of Montgomery County, MD, (in Rockville) on April 2nd, for corporate managers/supervisors (am) and for mental health/allied health professionals (pm).  For more info, call 301-424-0656.

3) From:  Tom Beckman


We've made the following Wall Street Journal article from March 11, 2003 available for free access:

Are You Stressed Out Yet?
No Wonder: Research Shows People Handle Anxiety Wrong; the Case Against the Spa

It's accessible via http://www.heartmath.com/wsj.html



Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a psychotherapist, an international speaker and syndicated writer, was recently interviewed on BBC radio.  The Doc is now a "Motivational Humorist" for The DC Improv Comedy Club as well as America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" ™ running his weekly "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on AOL/Digital City.  See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com (recently cited as a workplace resource in a National Public Radio feature on "Bad Bosses").  Mark is also an advisor to The Bright Side -- www.the-bright-side.org -- a multi-award-winning mental health resource.  Email for his monthly newsletter recently showcased on List-a-Day.com.  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 202-232-8662.

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2003
Shrink Rap Productions