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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

DEC 2003, Sec. 2

Main Essay:

Here's the Stress Doc Holiday Classic.  Best wishes for a joyful, healthful, peaceeful and graceful holiday season!

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 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!

Heads Up:

1.  GWSAE Article
Subj:   Would like to quote you
From:   Maryk425

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!

Kathy Simmons

"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 size pieces.
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 go 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 difference!)

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 shepherdstown, WV.

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.

Readers' Submissions:

Subj:  Wisdom

From: MDodick

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.
(George Burns)

Santa Claus has the right idea -- visit people only once a year.
(Victor Borge)

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
(Mark Twain)

What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce.
(Mark Twain)

My wife is a sex object -- every time I ask for sex, she objects.
(Les Dawson)

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.
(Groucho Marx)

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 breathe.
(Jimmy Durante)

The male is a domestic animal which, if treated with firmness and kindness, can be trained to do most things.
(Jilly Cooper)

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.
(Alex Levine)

Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
(Mark Twain)

My luck is so bad that if I bought a cemetery, people would stop dying.
(Ed Furgol)

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 position.
(Mark Twain)

Until I was thirteen, I thought my name was 'shut up.'
(Joe Namath)

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.
(Bob Hope)

I never drink water because of the disgusting things that fish do in it.
(W.C. Fields)

It takes only one drink to get me drunk. The trouble is, I can't remember if it's the thirteenth or the fourteenth.
(George Burns)

I'm such a good lover because I practice a lot on my own.
(Woody Allen)

Some guy hit my fender the other day, and I said unto him "Be fruitful and multiply." But not in those words . . . . . .
(Woody Allen)

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 estate.
(Woody Allen)

If you want to make GOD Laugh, tell him your future plans.
(Woody Allen)

Those are my principals, if you don't like them...... I have others."
(Groucho Marx)

The first half of your life is ruined by your parents.  The second half by your kids. (Loretta Young)

Subj:  Being Postally Correct
From:  MDodick

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

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2003
Shrink Rap Productions