The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
DEC 2003, Sec. 2
Here's the Stress Doc
Holiday Classic. Best wishes for a joyful, healthful, peaceeful and graceful
Safe Stress for the
Holidays: The 4 "F"s of Holiday 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
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
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
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
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:
Waves of sadness
Raging river of fear
Till I disappear
Into the depths of primal pain
Then again...no pain, no gain.
Is it chemistry or confession?
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.
It's electrifried obsession
High flying depression
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?
Even inner child rejection
Hallelujah for creative expression!
(c) Mark Gorkin 1994
Shrink Rap Productions
Just remember, for the holidays and beyond...Practice Safe Stress!
1. GWSAE Article
Subj: Would like to quote you
Dear Mr. Gorkin:
I am a freelance writer currently on assignment with Executive Update
magazine (www.gwsae.org) I am writing an article on bad habits. I noticed a
great list of top ten ways to conquer bad habits from one of your previous
articles. I'd like to use a (very) condensed version of this for a sidebar,
with your permission.
Thank you very much!
"Top Ten" Habit Transformers
1. Choose a "Target Habit." What behavior pattern is causing you significant
pain? (You don't have to start with the most vexing concern.)
2. Partialize and Assess the Problem. After choosing the Target Habit,
select realistic problem parameters. Break a big problem into manageable bite
3. Establish a Challenging and Achievable Goal and Time Frame. One key to
letting go of an undesirable habit is having somewhere new or something new to
4. Anticipate Grieving. Both before you start and/or during your
habit-changing program don't be surprised if you experience a poignant, if not
profound, sense of loss.
5. Consult with a Coach or Counselor. A habit breaking coach will help you
identify the strengths and vulnerabilities that you bring to the change effort.
6. Take the Plunge. The objective of planning for negative habit breaking
and healthy remaking is not to have everything perfectly figured out before
taking the plunge. Jump in.
7. Seek Ongoing Support. Pairing up with a habit breaking buddy can make the
highs and lows of habit breaking and change less overwhelming and more
tolerable. Check in on a regular basis; even an email buddy is good.
8. Do It By the Numbers. Two numerical principles will help sustain hope
and the change effort:
a) The 21-Day Principle. Most habits take at least 21 days to form (and
to unlearn). Depending on how complex the habit transformation being attempted,
you may need more than one 21-day change process.
b) The 80:20 Principle. Eighty percent of your results are usually
produced by twenty percent of your activities.
9. Establish a Beachhead. Don't get sky-high over quick victories or too
deflated with some setbacks. It's (human) nature's way to ebb and flow...and to
get knocked down.
10. Pursue the Path. Learning is neither finite nor absolute, especially if
the transformation attempted touches your mind-body-spirit. Breaking, making
and mastering a deep-seated, intricate behavior-learning chain is a lifetime
process. And often the early steps are awkward ones, full of swaying, stumbling
and falling. Remember "falling" is not "failing"…There's an "l" of a
2. EAPA Conference. Led a 3-hour program on "How to Become a Great
Presenter" at the Employee Assistance Professionals Association Annuial in New
Orleans on Oct 22, 2003. And despite eating all that wonderful food, I
definitely walked the talk!
3. Program Support
Center/Health & Human Services.
Two one-day stress, teambuilding and humor programs on Dec. 2 & 4 in
4. Carr Maloney. DC Law Firm. Dec 10 program to help attorneys not
bring aggressive and adversarial attitude and behavior into the law firm and
into their homes.
The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending and
having the two as close together as possible.
Santa Claus has the right idea -- visit people only once a year.
Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce.
My wife is a sex object -- every time I ask for sex, she objects.
By all means marry: If you get a good wife, you'll become happy; if you get a
bad one, you'll become a philosopher.
I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.
Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good.
Luckily, this is not difficult. (Charlotte Whitton)
My wife has a slight impediment in her speech -- every now and then she stops to
The male is a domestic animal which, if treated with firmness and kindness, can
be trained to do most things.
I never hated a man enough to give his diamonds back.
(Zsa Zsa Gabor)
Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups:
Alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fat.
Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing.
It was here first.
My luck is so bad that if I bought a cemetery, people would stop dying.
Money can't buy you happiness, but it does bring you a more pleasant form of
misery. (Spike Milligan)
I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the
Until I was thirteen, I thought my name was 'shut up.'
I'm very pleased to be here. Let's face it, at my age I'm very pleased to be
anywhere. (George Burns)
Youth would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life.
(Herbert Henry Asquith)
The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your
age. (Lucille Ball)
I don't feel old - I don't feel anything until noon. Then it's time for my nap.
I never drink water because of the disgusting things that fish do in it.
It takes only one drink to get me drunk. The trouble is, I can't remember if
it's the thirteenth or the fourteenth.
I'm such a good lover because I practice a lot on my own.
Some guy hit my fender the other day, and I said unto him "Be fruitful and
multiply." But not in those words . . . . . .
If only God would give me some sign...a clear sign! Like making a large deposit
in my name at a Swiss bank.
(Selections from the Allen Notebooks, New Yorker)
Another good thing about being poor is that when you are seventy your children
will not have you declared legally insane in order to gain control of your
If you want to make GOD Laugh, tell him your future plans.
Those are my principals, if you don't like them...... I have others."
The first half of your life is ruined by your parents. The second half by your
kids. (Loretta Young)
Subj: Being Postally Correct
A woman goes to the post office to buy stamps for her Christmas cards. She says
to the clerk, ''May I have 50 Christmas stamps?''The clerk says, ''What
denomination?'' The woman says,"God help us. Has it come to this?" Give me six
Catholic, 12 Presbyterian, 10 Lutheran, and 22 Anglican."
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, an international/Celebrity Cruise
Lines speaker, training consultant, psychotherapist, syndicated writer, and
upcoming author of Practice Safe Stress: Healing and Laughing in the Face of
Stress, Burnout & Depression. Mark, recently interviewed by BBC Radio, has
a multi-award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" --
www.stressdoc.com -- cited as workplace resource in a National Public Radio
feature. As AOL's "Online Psychohumorist," ™Mark runs his weekly Shrink Rap and
Group Chat. Email for his monthly newsletter recently showcased on List-a-Day.com.For
more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs, email email@example.com
or call 202-232-8662.
(c) Mark Gorkin 2003
Shrink Rap Productions