The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™
MAR 2004, Sec. I
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Table of Contents
Shrink Rap: (a) From Transition to Transformation: Communing with "Chiros"
(b) When an Email Seems Like a Missile
Work Q & A: When Management Ignores Workplace Threats
Readers: Workplace Vocabulary Additions, Existential Sad but
Main Essay: Myth of the Phoenix and PsychJourney
Heads Up: SHRM-- Maryland Chapters, Natl Assn of Catering Execs
Offerings: Training Kit; R&R CD; Safe Stress & Anger E-Books; AOL
Shrink Rap (a):
Mastering the Process of Transition-Transformation
Communing with "Chiros"
I just got back from leading a half-day workshop for a dozen or
so chiropractors in San Antonio. The program focus was "Transitional Stress to
Transformational Performance." These mind-body doctors were working with a
company that helps professionals build a business, that is, the company will
help these chiropractors go from practice clinician to corporate CEO. And
clearly, anytime you make a major professional and personal paradigmatic-like
shift, the gaps between task complexity and your knowledge and skill as well as
your maturity and experience levels become painfully transparent. In dramatic
fashion, you are face-to-face with your "Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure." And
big surprise…there's plenty of STRESS!
This "raw beginner" feeling can be especially uncomfortable if not aversive for
people who have developed a solid niche of expertise and a successful identity.
Such individuals may no longer want to return or regress to previous levels of
"start up" vulnerability or anxiety. However, it is just this phenomenon that,
several years back, had me admiring Michael Jordan, and not for his prowess on
the court or in Haynes underwear. At the height of his basketball powers,
Jordan pursued his longstanding dream of becoming a professional baseball
player. Two catalytic events should be noted when examining his transition:
the recent tragic death of Michael's father and his reaching some level of
exhaustion, if not burnout, with basketball. Was the Stress Doc's Bjorn Bored
Syndrome (BBS) operating? Does constantly pushing yourself and others to be top
performers take a toll? How many times can you be the World Champion? When do
all the repetitive practicing, constant traveling and unrelenting scheduling
tarnish the glamour and even the gold? You know the BBS formula: When
Mastery times Monotony provides and index of Misery!
And while Jordan basically struck out in his major league aspirations, still, he
was not afraid to fail. In my mind, by risking his nigh invincible image, his "Airness"
had reached new inspirational heights, even greater than his legendary
high-flying and gravity-defying dunks.
And just to complete this digression, such dramatically disruptive life events
that enveloped Michael -- the death of a loved one or job/career burnout --
often are the real and psychic turbulence needed for shaking up one's
Dynamics of Transition-Transformation
Returning to my work with the "Chiros," there were four key learning components
to the "Transition-Transformation" program:
1) Change and Stress -- recognizing the loss and grief stages in letting
go of the familiar and grappling with an uncertain future; creatively managing
transitional stress through team sharing and purposeful and playful group
2) Anger and Conflict -- understanding the "Four Faces of Anger" (email
firstname.lastname@example.org for my popular and potent model) and gaining communication
skills for disarming interpersonal conflict
3) Public Presentation -- becoming a more compelling public speaker;
understanding the "Four 'P' Principles of Powerful Presentation (email for this
thought-provoking model) and practicing being a healing and motivational
4) Creativity and Risk -- Identifying and developing characteristics and
strategies for being a "creative risk-taker" (email for my series on "Creative
Risk-Taking"); for example, the Doc's risk-taking mantra: "The only thing more
dangerous than taking a big risk or taking no risk is taking a risk while
minimizing the precarious reality of the situation!"
As elaborated in this newsletter's Main Article (Section II) for major life
event transition to culminate in significant transformation you must often cycle
through highs and lows if not "deaths" and "rebirths." Hopefully, these doctors
gleaned some skills and strategies for helping them along their uncertain, if
not crisis-like ("danger" and "opportunity") paradigmatic path. (The response
to the program was "awesome." See a testimonial letter directly below. I
definitely will have to do more yelling in my programs!) Please email or call
202-232-8662 for more information on "Mastering the Process of
Transition-Transformation" and/or for all other Stress Doc programs to help you
and your company or organization…Practice Safe Stress!
March 3, 2004
To Whom It May Concern:
I recently had the pleasure to attend a conference in San Antonio where Mark
Gorkin, "The Stress Doc," was the key speaker. The topic was "Transitional to
Transformational Stress." I have heard hundreds of professional speakers over
the last twenty years. None have ever caught my attention like Mark. From his
yelling at us, to his rap music that he sang, he kept everyone's attention and
three hours went by like it was ten minutes.
Stress is a difficult topic. By nature, we are all very egocentric about
stress. Especially as owners and CEO's, we forget that everybody else has the
same levels of stress that we experience ourselves. Our employees have their
entire set of stress, which includes, many times, us. And our clients stress,
very often includes our company.
The exercises that Mark takes you through turn discussions about stress into a
fun, honest time to put everyone's stress on the table and open to discussion
The Stress Doc's seminars are NOT just for owners. The more people that you
know or employ, the better! Because once stress is tossed out on the table for
all to discuss, it can be resolved as a team. And many times, when you relieve
your employees' and spouses' stress, it is amazing how quickly your own stress
Since attending Mark's seminar last week, I have already started implementing
the exercises and techniques that I learned and am experiencing wonderful
results at work and at home.
Please do yourself a favor and attend a Mark Gorkin seminar. If you are an
employer have him to your office. If you cannot do either, obtain his new
book. Either way, change your life today!
Yours Very Truly,
Steven C. Williams
Chief Executive Officer
Shrink Rap (b):
When an Email Seems Like a Missile
What was that aforementioned "dangerously" prescient line: "Taking a risk while
minimizing the precarious reality of the situation"? I've come to appreciate
that as you become more visible, both in the real world and in cyberspace, you
don't just connect with other wonderful life and space explorers. You also
come-face-to-face with folks who believe that you are encroaching upon their
territory, territory they supposedly have pioneered or must self-righteously
protect. Let me illustrate.
My level of excitement on returning from San Antonio was boosted when I saw an
email from my co-book publisher, 1stBooks Library. The final galley changes to
Practice Safe Stress were ready for my inspection. My baby's due date
was rapidly approaching. But then, sandwiched among the many pleading emails,
was one that startled me: Could someone have "Practice Safe Stress" as an email
address? The answer: Yes! And this individual did not just have an email
Someone had told my emailer of my Practice Safe Stress ebook. Now I was
being informed that in 2000 he had published Practice Safe Stress (HaHa
Association). And that it was selling nicely. And he had the copyright. And
his final query: "Is there a way we can avoid confusion and/or conflict?"
My interpretation: "There isn't room for two Practice Safe Stress
books." Gulp! And my anxiety level was rapidly rising. A call to my former
copyright lawyer (no longer in private practice) initially wasn't reassuring.
He speculated that if this individual had trademark rights, then my usage might
I called an artist friend who casually said, "Hey make some small change in the
title. It's not such a big deal!"
My instant gut reaction: "Nooooooooooo!"
"Practice Safe Stress" was my original creation. It is my signature tag line.
It is my most requested speaking program. It is almost as integral to my
psychohumorist ™ persona as Stress Doc ™. (A couple of years ago I had been
reported to my professional association by a fellow social worker about the
ethicality of my professional moniker -- Stress Doc. Having the national
trademark -- for educational and motivational speaking purposes -- eventually
defused the challenge. Then a couple of years later I received some threatening
emails from professionals who, after reading my interview with The Washington
Post, were aghast that I had shared stress assessments and my stress relief
recommendations for Bush and Gore during the post-election stalemate. There are
people out there lying in wait.) Believe me…I needed help right now in
Practicing Safe Stress!
Stress Relief Ahead
After an angst-filled night of sleep (with emasculating dream themes), I reached
two voices of reason:
1) a supervisor at 1stBooks informed me that a book title cannot be exclusively
2) a second copyright attorney reassured me that my book position and media
persona were secure with my history of documented usage of Practice Safe Stress
terminology. (I had attempted to trademark Safe Stress in 1998 or so. Another
individual (not the inquiring author) had beaten me by a year. But our lawyers
reached an informal settlement. Since I had coined, if not sired, the phrase at
least ten years earlier and had used it continuously in the public domain, I
retained "common law" rights to Practice Safe Stress, while the other
party kept the trademark. (As for being the "aha" inventor: The time is around
1986, just as AIDS is penetrating national consciousness. In a conversation
with a nervous Legal Administrator about leading a stress retreat for thirty
trial attorneys, it suddenly dawned on me that she wanted to make sure these
verbal swordsmen didn't kill each other off. I told her: "You want a workshop
workshop on…Safe Stress!")
Legally and psychologically fortified, I sent the "come lately" author the
following note, abiding by the lawyer's advice to be civil:
I appreciate your note and attempt at clarification. For the record, I have been
using the terms Safe Stress, Practice Safe Stress, Practicing Safe Stress since
1988. I self-published a book titled From Stress Brakes and Shrink Rap to
Safe Stress and Cool Moon Cats: The Wit and Wisdom of the Stress Doc in
1994. (And have sold it since then.) I have commercial record of this usage in
program fliers, published article titles in national magazines ("The Art of
Practicing Safe Stress," Paradigm Magazine, Winter 1999), 1992 Library of
Congress copyright of The Song of Safe Stress, in magazine interviews ("His tag
line is 'Practice Safe Stress,'" Family Therapy Networker, Jan/Feb 1998), and
dozens of testimonial letters from clients form the early '90s onward. My use
of the term both in articles, announcing my Practice Safe Stress
speaking/workshop programs, and as a signature tag line was first archived in my
May 1998 Stress Doc Newsletter. I continue to use the tagline in my
newsletters, which have gone out to about thousand or so readers across the
globe for the past six years. The usage has been continuous to the present.
My book also has a distinct subtitle: Healing and Laughing in the Face of
Stress, Burnout & Depression. And as I'm sure you are aware, book titles
cannot be copyrighted. Having seen some web literature about your work, the
content of our books I suspect are quite distinct. I'm not aware of any
confusion. I hope we can coexist.
And it worked. Within an hour, an email and call from the Safe Stress author
saying I'm sure we can coexist. (He brings a musical and educational
perspective. I'm not worried about duplication of content. Of course, I also
sing...but my Shrink Rap will never be mistaken for music.)
The moral: Sometimes we need to reach out for support to be reminded of our
own strengths and validity and, of course to…Practice Safe Stress!
Work Stress Q & A:
[Ed. Note: This Q & A was originally written for and appeared in
When Management Ignores Workplace Threats
Q. As a new employee with HR duties incorporated into my finance duties, I
am uncertain on how to address a long known situation that has not been
handled. An employee of 20 years has a history of being belligerent. In one
instance last week, he stated to myself and another member of the management
team "he did not want to have to get into someone's face in a minute." What
disturbed me is after he stormed out of the office, the other team member's
response was "we are hoping he retires within 4-8 months." I have worked for
the company for a few months and feel uncomfortable working in the office where
someone can make threats and a member of the management team is hoping to ride
out the time until the employee's retirement. What is the best way in bringing
my concerns of working with an established individual who has a history of and
continues to demonstrate veiled threats, especially, when other managers brush
it off and say that is how he is?
A. As a new person on the block, a cautious problem-solving approach is
understandable. Yet this employee's behavior is palpably threatening and
contributes to a hostile work environment. His "storming out" behavior and the
manager's "hopeful" comment evoke memories of my years in New Orleans when we
often hoped "to ride out" a hurricane. Even if the wind strength was a
seemingly manageable Category I, invariably there was considerable secondary
damage from flooding. Clearly, this guy leaves stress, tension and morale
issues in his wake. The obvious question: in light of well-publicized workplace
violence issues, why is such belligerent behavior being tolerated? Why is there
such organizational passivity? Here are some initial diagnostic steps:
1. Scope Out the Environment. Find out where this individual fits in
the organizational structure. Does he have critical expertise or experience or
does he make a special contribution so that allowances (dysfunctional though
they may be) are made? Is he the President's brother-in-law? Are key
decision-makers motivated by unspoken fear? If possible, ask other colleagues
for any inside information.
2. Past Futility. Has management tried addressing this bully's behavior
in the past? (It's hard to imagine there isn't a hostile track record.) If so,
were monitoring and/or disciplinary steps half-heartedly administered then
dropped? Is this why people are being so accommodating?
3. Speak to the Boss. Question this individual's boss or direct report
for his or her take on this aggressive employee, as well as the boss' view of
the company's harassment and discipline policy and procedure. Is the boss an
enabler? Does the boss also deny the potential for violence? Or does the boss
feel his or her hands are tied from above? And if you feel any of the above
explorations may be harmful for you, then also consider the recommendations
Let's assume organizational inertia, if not denial, has set in; that the "local"
authorities and colleagues are resigned to waiting the storm out. Then my
intervention steps are:
1. Document the Aggressive Behavior. You need a record of factual
examples, spoken words, and nonverbal gestures; any threatening or hostile
actions should be documented.
2. Seek Outside Help. Enlist outside support from personnel who are not
in everyday contact with this antagonistic employee, for example, a Safety
Officer or an Employee Assistance Program counselor (if such a service exists).
Most likely these professionals will not be resigned or inured to such
hostilities; they will be equally as concerned. These professionals need to
speak to the boss of this belligerent individual. Your presence would not be
3. The Meeting and Aftermath. This boss must explain the breakdown in
supervision, and he must commit to providing firm and competent supervision
(assuming he is capable). The employee needs to be confronted about his pattern
of threatening behavior; there should also be a strong recommendation for anger
management. And the employee needs to be put on a formal Performance
Improvement Plan that the boss will monitor, initially on a weekly basis.
4. Intervention with the Boss. I would also have this boss report to
someone in upper management or, even, have him or her receive some management
coaching from an outside consultant. This boss must be held accountable
regarding his supervisory responsibilities.
If this boss proves intractable, then these intervention personnel must approach
the highest levels of management. The executive or executive team must
understand the ongoing climate of harassment that is being tolerated, as well as
the potential for violence. (And of course, this potential does not only reside
in the bully. In Columbine-like fashion, violent reactions can also come from
those feeling victimized.) Sometimes mentioning possible legal ramifications
gets a decision-maker's attention.
5. Need for Structural Intervention. In addition to making sure there
is an effective supervisor for this aggressor (and, in fact, a new supervisor
may need to be brought in), the structural nature of the dysfunction needs to be
addressed. Upper management needs to task HR, Safety, and other relevant
parties to generate and/or publicize a formal Harassment/Violence Prevention
policy. Systems-wide training on these issues is critical, first for managers
and supervisors (who clearly need it) and then for all employees.
On a hopeful note, consider this example. Though it took decades, even Bobby
Knight, the former basketball coach at Indiana, whose celebrated success on the
basketball court was only matched by his infamous temper and bullying behavior,
was dismissed for his pattern of unacceptable behavior. (And while he found a
new job, alas, as recent events have shown, Knight's explosive baggage travels
However, if despite all these steps the company instituted no positive and
sustainable action plan, I would be updating the resume. Without significant
change, this environment will continue to be toxic. Even if this bully doesn't
directly burn you, there's always the fallout and burnout from second hand
smoke. You deserve better. Just remember…Practice Safe Stress!
Subj: Essential Additions for the Workplace Vocabulary
BLAMESTORMING: Sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed
or a project failed, and who was responsible.
SEAGULLING: A manager who makes a lot of noise, craps on everything, and then
ASSMOSIS: The process by which some people seem to absorb success and
advancement by kissing up to the boss rather than
SALMON DAY: The experience of spending the entire day swimming upstream only to
get screwed and die in the end.
CUBE FARM: Complex of tight office workspaces.
PRAIRIE DOGGING: When someone yells or drops something loudly in a Cube farm,
and people's heads pop up over the
walls to see what's going on.
MOUSE POTATO: The on-line, wired generation's answer to the couch potato.
SITCOMs: Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage. What yuppies turn
into when they have children and one of them stops working to stay home with the
STRESS PUPPY: A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out and whiney.
SWIPEOUT: An ATM or credit card that has been rendered useless because the
magnetic strip is worn away from extensive
XEROX SUBSIDY: Euphemism for swiping free photocopies from one's workplace.
IRRITAINMENT: Entertainment and media spectacles that are annoying but you find
yourself unable to stop watching them.
The J-Lo and Ben wedding (or not) was a prime example.
PERCUSSIVE MAINTENANCE: The fine art of whacking the crap out of an electronic
device to get it to work again.
ADMINISPHERE: The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank
and file. Decisions that fall from the
adminisphere are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems
they were designed to solve.
404: Someone who's clueless. From the World Wide Web error message "404 Not
Found," meaning that the requested document could not be located.
GENERICA: Features of the American landscape that are exactly the same no matter
where one is, such as fast food joints,
strip malls, and subdivisions.
OHNOSECOND: That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you've
just made a BIG mistake.
WOOF'S: Well-Off Older Folks.
CROP DUSTING: Surreptitiously farting while passing through a Cube Farm.
Subj: Existential Sad but Truisms
1. If you're too open-minded, your brains will fall out.
2. Don't worry about what people think; they don't do it very often.
3. Going to a church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a
garage makes you a car.
4. It isn't the jeans that make your butt look fat.
5. Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.
6. My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance.
7. Not one shred of evidence supports the notion that life is serious.
8. It is easier to get forgiveness than permission.
9. For every action, there is an equal and opposite government program.
10. If you look like your passport picture, you probably need the trip.
11. Bills travel through the mail at twice the speed of checks.
12. A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel good.
13. Eat well, stay fit, die anyway. (Just remember how lucky you were to get
a free trip around the sun.)
14. Men are from earth. Women are from earth. Deal with it.
15. No man has ever been shot while doing the dishes.
16. A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.
17. Middle age is when broadness of the mind and narrowness of the waist change
18. Opportunities always look bigger going than coming.
19. Junk is something you've kept for years and throw away three weeks before
you need it.
20. There is always one more imbecile than you counted on.
21. Experience is a wonderful thing. It enables you to recognize a mistake when
you make it again.
22. By the time you can make the ends meet, they move the ends.
23. Thou shall not weigh more than thy refrigerator.
24. Someone who thinks logically provides a nice contrast to the real world.
25. If you must choose between two evils, choose the one that you've never tried
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 2004
Shrink Rap Productions