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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

OCT 2000, No. 1, Sect. 1

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:      USA Today; Institutes of Secretaries, Zaire; Woman's Day, Arizona                                  Republic and NJHRPlanning Group, Health & Human Services

Shrink Rap:   Meds, Moods and Manhood

Main Essay:   A Model for Creating Work-Life and Life Work Balance

Readers:         Smarter than You Thought and No Fooling a Jewish Mother

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) Once again last to know.  Was quoted in the Oct. 22nd USA Today Newspaper/Money Section on layoffs around the holidays.

 b) How about this letter from Zaire, Africa (formerly known as the Congo)?

 I assist in the running of an Association for Secretaries, PA's and Office Professionals called the Institute of Secretaries. I was browsing through the selfgrowth website, and I came across your article entitled "The Four Faces of Anger", and I found it interesting and thought provoking, and I am sure that our members would also benefit from your knowledge.

With this in mind, I was wondering whether you would be so kind as to grant us permission to share your article with our members in our monthly Newsletter. We would naturally acknowledge you as the source of the article.

 I look forward to hearing from you soon.

 Best regards

Brenda Huggett
Admin and Office Manager
Institute of Secretaries instituteofsecretaries@yebo.co.za www.instituteofsecretaries.org

 c) Readers:  Now another reason to fear that ominously taxing day -- April 15th:

 I interviewed you several months ago for a story on couple conflict for Woman's Day magazine.  Just wanted to give you an update; the article is scheduled for the April 15, 2003 issue.

 Best,

 Kris Wetherbee

 d) Interviewed by Dale Buss, writer for The Wall Street Journal on the stress of being unemployed during the holidays; should come out around Thanksgiving.

 e) Interviewed by Janie Magruder for the Arizona Republic; holiday stress article; comes out Dec. 2nd

 2. Recent/Upcoming Live Programs

 a) The NEW JERSEY HUMAN RESOURCE PLANNING GROUP invites you to a unique learning opportunity:

 Thursday, November 7, 2002

Featured speaker: Mark Gorkin
internationally recognized speaker, trainer, OD consultant and syndicated writer
Location: Somerset Hills Hotel

 8:00 AM - 8:45 AM             networking/continental breakfast         

8:45 AM - 12:00 PM             program        

12:00 PM             luncheon         

 "PRACTICING SAFE STRESS -

Managing Stress/Change and Teaming Creatively through Humor"

 Click here: Current (For full text/graphics promo on www.njhrpg.org)

 b) several Practice Safe Stress programs for support staff of Smith Reed (Intl law Firm) offices in DC and Falls Church and Lessburg, VA

c) Stress Management Program for Total Learning Solutions with Health and Human Services employees

Shrink Rap:

 A surprising and somewhat touchy development in the early stages of a new intimate relationship has the Stress Doc playfully yet seriously thinking about the connection between biochemistry and a formerly predictable behavioral identity.  (Or as he once titled a standup monologue:  "His Moans, Her Moans, Hormones.")

 

Meds, Moods and Manhood

or Learning to Laugh and Let Go When There Is No Flow

Readers of the Stress Doc Newsletter are well aware of my personal trials with clinical depression and mood medication.  To briefly recap, eight years ago a combination of stress-inducing factors began rushing together:  a) mind-body exhaustion after a tremendously challenging (and rewarding) one year, half-time stint as a Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service at a 6,000 person Processing and Distribution Plant.  The biggest stress was an inability to adjust to the once/week, 9:30pm-5:30am "graveyard shift."  (How I led intense management-supervisor meetings at 3am I'll never know.), b) the unexpected termination of my position with the influx of new top management despite pleas from unions, the supervisor committee and the Safety Officer.  Cycling between relief and a sense of loss triggered a labile mood as well as angst for my financial state and c) the sudden fatal heart attack on a racquetball court of a beloved uncle, a father figure in my youth.

 I stopped fighting my therapist's standing recommendation to explore medication for my long-standing (and long denied) clinical depression.  Finally overcoming fear and shame (my father had been hospitalized for a manic-depressive-like condition in his late 20s) I began the trial and was soon on the Prozac Bandwagon.  I realized that, for me, despite years of therapy and steady exercise nothing had been able to interrupt the brain neurotransmitter serotonin's prolonged work slowdown like the Prozac (with support from mind-body therapy).  Medication hit the right chemical button. (Email for the complete depression series.)

 However, five years later, I finally admitted Prozac was not the be all and end all.  Despite having been on a subclinical dosage (10mgs) throughout, I was feeling too drowsy or "druggish" (a neologistic mix of drugged and sluggish) too often.  Then, from a client, I heard of a new generation SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) called Effexor.  This medication not only targeted serotonin but stimulated norepinephrine, influential on levels of energy and alertness.

 Shortly after my new meds trial, feeling hopeful of my switch, I penned a playful and impassioned verse to a once revolutionary ally.  As the psychiatrist, Dr. Ernst Kris, once noted:  "What was once feared and is now mastered is laughed at" (or based on personal proclivity, may be turned into an irreverent lyric.  (See "Conclusion.")  Once again, my response to a subclinical (37.5mgs) trial of Effexor was successful.  Under medical supervision, I simply replaced one pill with the other; felt less stuporous and had no changeover withdrawal effects.  And I've been an Effexor enthusiast…until recently.

 Hard Wired vs. Soft & Worried

 Perhaps those of us who spend much time in virtual reality, in a writer's cave and on stage forget that, "Life Happens."  And this time it was not a traumatic job situation or a tragic loss but a delightful and exciting development:  a brief exchange through match.com has moved into the early stages of getting to know face-to-face, in intimate fashion (including in the biblical sense; I never said I wasn't a tad impulsive) a woman with whom there is potential for genuine closeness.   Let's say it has "Four 'C'-ing" possibilities:  Comfort and Communication, Creativity and Chemistry.)

 And while we may have moved a bit quickly from rubbing feet and toes on the living room couch to her bed (a spacious king, with lavender flannel sheets, nice touch) I had little doubt that after three years of "real" abstinence (as opposed to an intense but long-distance electronic romance) a long lost piece of paradise was about to be regained.

Okay, to be honest, there was likely a little static, subconscious or otherwise.  Over the past year, I'd been occasionally wondering whether the Effexor was inhibiting my libido or whether I should approach my brother, a Pfizer research analyst, about scoring some of their most uplifting product.  (Hey, it's given Bob Dole a whole new career!)

 But then again, not having been put to the test for about three years, I wanted to believe my previous track record would prevail.  With Prozac, the only sexual functioning side effect was a somewhat delayed orgasm.  (Not surprisingly, there weren't too many complaints from the ladies. ;-)  Considering that some form of erectile dysfunction or impotence is not so uncommon when on these mood meds, you can understand, at the time, my cry of bravado:  "Stronger than Prozac!"

 But back to my brave new reality.  No, one more free association.  Actually, the present situation was analogous to a past challenge:  being put on IV Demarol one half hour before undergoing the knife.  Old cutthroat surgery was needed to determine whether a tumor in my right thyroid was benign or malignant.  And mentally I was scared big-time.  But after a few minutes on the drug, I no longer could feel the physiological arousal associated with profound fear or primal anxiety.  And in the face of this unprecedented, contradictory absurdity I began to laugh.

 Now, fifteen years later, the inverse yet similar response.  While my mind and sensation of touch were definitely wanting to rock and roll with this tender, sensuous and voluptuous Miss C, my primary player was MIA.  Fortunately, we both could laugh (maybe me a little more nervously) at this surprising turn (off) of events.  However, while in check, it wasn't mate.  For us believers in "The Joy of Sex," clearly, there's more than one way to elicit a dreamy smile and purrs of silk from a moonlit cat.

 Alas, it wasn't all sweet dreams.  Upon awakening, a semi dark cloudy dream fragment hovered above me, just out of reach.  Some stud-like guy was involved; big surprise, I felt less adequate by comparison.  (Mark, sometimes you are just so transparent.)  And when the mind and heart were willing but the flesh was still noticeably weak, even in the morning (and I'm definitely a morning man)…it was time to face a "hard truth."  (Thank you for that clever edit Miss C.)  It was also time to think out of the current biochemical box. 

 So next week I'll be exploring options with a psychiatrist:

a) a new antidepressant,

b) an additional drug to counter side effects or

c) maybe slowly tapering off my medication and going SSRI free for awhile.  Most important is that the last option not be ego-driven.  I have no qualms in terms of self-worth, macho factor, shame, etc., when it comes to taking antidepressant meds.  With my genetic history (disorders on both sides of the family - "diagnostically deviant and proud of it") and prolonged childhood stress, biochemical imbalance and deficiency and subsequent mood disorder are hardly surprising.

 

Poetic Conclusion

 I'm a bit antsy about letting go of the Effexor.  It's been a battle-tested support, as was the Prozac before it.  But it's time once again to shake up the mind-body and psychosocial puzzle.  Exploring a new relationship, possibly exploring new meds…actually, in my fertile mind there may be a connection.  A perfect segue to that aforementioned ode.  Hopefully, words to encourage us to laugh at our human flaws and foibles and to help us…Practice Safe Stress!

(Ed’s Note.  Alas, Miss C. decided to flee the scene, but I’m not discouraged:  “Hype Springs Eternal!”)

 The Alchemy of Miss P

 It was chemistry at first sight
More precisely, first bite
Between you and me.

How you muted the pain
Redesigning my brain
It's a mystery.

 Such a shape sleek and slender
Can one befriend her
Without surrender
Emotionally?

 If I trust you my Muse
To seduce those old blues
Will I still refuse
The valley and shadows of intimacy?

 My eyes close and we're close
But where is your heart pulse?
Poof...Are you that real ghost
Of dependency?

 Yet, dearest Miss P
When tears couldn't stop
With fear over the top
When I felt like a flop
About ready to drop...

 You then rescued me
From that lonely black hole
You unearthed my true soul
Now is there self-control
Or more fantasy?

 No, you mirror my eye
Look, sweet tears when I do cry
As you ground my sky high
At least let us fly high
Through poetry.

 When rage couldn't stop
With fear over the top
When I felt like a flop
About ready to drop.

 Oh my dearest Miss P
Despite all of the flack
From my manic attack
On your white or black track...Still

If I should wander
Angst-ridden and ponder
Just don't let us crack...up
Oh please take me back...up.

 With your magical sauce
Is it you and me, boss?
My crown and my cross
Is there no going back?

 Once making a pact
With that alchemical genie
A lily so dreamy
Will you ever wean me
Miss Lady Prozac?

 (c) Mark Gorkin 2002

Shrink Rap Productions ™

 

The Six Forces of Balance:

A Model for Creating Work-Life and Life Work Balance

 While preparing for my live presentation on “Work-Life Balance” sponsored by the AOL Fitness Center, a semantic gnawing could not be ignored.  Alas, going to my trusty Webster’s and Roget’s only increased the conceptual static:  What does “balance” mean?  What’s the purpose of balance?  Are there different types of balance, especially within the context of my Practice Safe Stress training seminars?

 That “balance” has desirable connotations jumps off the page when examining Roget’s selections for:

a) unbalanced – eccentric, unjust, ill-balanced and insane and

b) imbalanced – distortion and inequality.

 And “balanced” itself yields:  composed, symmetric, harmonious, just, uniform, poised, stable, neutralizing, sensible and sane.  Stable, sensible and sane, eh.  I’m constantly teetering on the semantic, if not, psychological and social, financial and career path edges.  And as for biochemical balance, thank goodness for Prozac and its chemical cousins.

 Actually, culling through Webster’s, one discovers several definitions that shed light on the multifaceted phenomenon of balance:

1.  Stability, as an upright body, produced by even distribution of weight,

2.  Equipoise between contrasting or opposing elements that neutralize or offset one another,

3.  Artistic Balance or aesthetically pleasing integration of elements, that is, proportion or harmonious contrast of elements,

4.  Physical Equilibrium, for example, of a gymnast, ballet dancer or skier, that is, the restoration of balance after a motion or series of motions that upsets normal weight distribution and positioning,

5.  Control of Emotional Bias and maintenance of the power of sober judgment, especially under stress; also, common sense or sanity,

6.  Balance of Power or weight that one side, faction or element has in excess of another or others; for example, the balance of evidence lay on the side of the defendant.  Currently, governmental checks and balances are supposedly playing out in our Iraqi war plans and negotiations; some would say there’s a definite imbalance between the President and Congress and

7.  Nutritional and Biochemical Levels, that is, the relation in physiology between the intake (or manufacture) of a particular nutrient (or hormone) and its excretion (or lack of production); positive when the nutrient/chemical is greater than the bodily metabolic requirement and negative when dietary/chemical inadequacy and excessive withdrawal of bodily reserves is present.

 Scrutinizing this list with the aid of Webster’s, especially with a free associative, metaphoric mindset, two broad dimensions – “Balance Process” and “Locus of Balance” – along with dimensional distinctions emerge:

 

A.  Balance Process

 1. Proportion – the relation of one part to another or to the whole with respect to magnitude, quantity or degree; harmonious relation of parts to each other or to the whole,

 2. Equilibrium – a steadiness or efficiency that results from the equalization or exact adjustment of opposing forces; having physiologically active elements mutually counteractive and

 3. Tension – dynamic as opposed to static pressure; inner unrest, striving or imbalance; precarious equilibrium of opposites; applied to a mental condition, it implies an inner balanced vital opposition of moral or intellectual forces, powers or qualities; a state of latent hostility or opposition between individuals or groups.

 For sake of conceptual differentiation, I will link “Proportion” with “Mind,” “Equilibrium” with “Body” and “Dynamic Tension” with “Behavior.”  Though clearly, all are intimately interrelated.

 

B.  Locus of Balance

 1. Internal-Self – relates to achieving balance within the person and the person’s mind-body state during and after shifting weight, having one’s conceptual expectations or point of view modified or shaken, along with changes in energy input/output and environmental demands.

 2. External-Social – relates to the state of balance and pressures in the outer world, reflecting expression of psychic state, level of day-to-day organization and power struggles among family, work and other social roles and responsibilities.

 These two balance dimensions – process and locus – yield a 2x3 matrix:

 “The Six Forces of Balance”

                                                          Balance Locus

 

Balance Process              Internal-Self              External-Social

 

Proportion

(Mind)

 

Psychological

 

Harmony

Equilibrium

(Body)

 

Physiological

 

Stability

Dynamic Tension

(Behavior)

 

Physical

 

Competition

 

 

Six Forces of Balance

 Now let’s define and illustrate these six types of balance:

 1.  Psychological (Proportion & Internal-Self).  For me, psychological balance goes beyond the more common yet vital association of emotional objectivity, especially under stress.  Such balance also subsumes “the condition of poise between widely divergent impulses that produces a strange serenity.”  More precisely, this uncommon notion of psychic balance integrates seemingly contradictory components such as relaxation and heightened attention or confident humility, such pairings often present in creative states of being and doing.  Another seemingly oppositional pairing involves the analytic, judging left-brained and the holistic, emotional perceiving right-brained. (Optimal balance, of course, yields a “bihemispheric peace of minds”).  This state approaches pioneering psychoanalyst, Carl Jung’s, notion of “individuation” including the integration of opposites within the psyche – introversion and extraversion, thinking and feeling, overt (persona) and subterranean mindscape (shadow) and the masculine and feminine aspects of our human nature, whether acknowledged or denied.

 While Jung is associated with the unconscious and the mystical, the intrinsic need for psychological balance is also revealed in our species’ dependence on humor for practical survival.  Consider the words of the pioneering film genius, Charlie Chaplin:  The paradoxical thing about making comedy is that it is precisely the tragic 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.

 

The Dance of Work, Love and Life

 Finally, psychological balance is often dependent on the goodness of fit between your work and home life energy and your role resources and relationship supports.  But there’s also the need (often overlooked or denied until boredom or burnout sets in) for having “life work” arenas in which to express one’s sense of “purpose and passion” along with one’s “power and patience.”  This four “P” personality quartet needs both a “work-life” (day-to-day management) and “life work” (long-term goals, dreams and vision, or, at least, vital new learning curves); it needs the chance for short- and long-term creative self-expression to achieve the elusive, paradoxical, “Yin-Yang” concept of “dynamic balance.”

 Here’s a dramatic imbalance to balance, “work-life” and “life work” scenario, a sustained battle between dysfunctional tension and creative resolution.  I recently stayed at a secluded B & B in the heart of Arkansas’s Ozark Mountains owned and run by a married couple.  The innkeepers had both been Tampa-St. Petersburg bus drivers increasingly harried by big city battlefronts, stifling organizational bureaucracy and work burnout.  They had discovered Jasper, AR as a vacation escape.  When it became increasingly gut wrenching to return home, the couple embarked on a dream:  they bought inexpensive mountain property.  With patience and persistence, the pair created their own “field of dreams”:  “If you build it, they will come!”  And six anxiously determined years later, they completely uprooted, moved into and opened their Enchanted Hideaway.  Still, balance is ever evolving:  currently the wife works part-time driving a van while her husband is full-time innkeeper.  They even moved the man’s mother up; she’s been a big help both with financial startup support and helping run the inn.  (For more info, www.enchantedhideaway.net or email:  enchant@jasper.yournet.com.)

 And it is a true hideaway.  Set way off the main road, the lovely interior decoration is only surpassed by the top of the mountain views off the backyard verandah:  a rolling mountain panorama partially veiled by a phalanx of 100 foot erect oak trees whose softly fluttering leaves in the mountain breeze, along with the caressing of one’s senses by an early Fall sun, hypnotically induce that “strange serenity.”

 2.  Harmony (Proportion & External-Social).  Harmonic balance often has an aesthetic context with the pleasing or proportionate integration of parts to each other and to the whole as in a successful work of art.  Of course, pleasing doesn’t necessarily mean pleasant.  As artistic giant, Pablo Picasso, noted:  Every act of creation is also an act of destruction.  (How’s that for dynamic balance?)  Creative expression often involves defying the habitual or making sense of and integrating conflict or seeming contradiction, whether in your head and heart or between yourself and the environment.

 Actually, sometimes the precursor to innovative action involves bridging past and present, such as recovering past hobbies or buried passions and allowing them current expression.  A brief example:  After appearing on a gospel radio show in the early ‘90s (don’t ask), I showed the host a jazzy lyric, “The Burnout Boogie,” penned years earlier while living in N’Awlins.  (Email for the lyrics.)   To shorten this story, the host sent my lyric to a rap group in LA.  They seemed interested; alas, the LA Riots broke out and my work likely became “The Burnt Up Boogie.”  Then I wrote a theme song for my host; this time for a black beauty contest called “The Electrifying Lady.”  Close, but no celebrity.

 One morning in that twilight state before awakening, a role call of questions:  “Mark you’ve been a university professor, a psychotherapist…what are you doing trying to write rap lyrics?”  And then the “Aha!” hit me.  Of course…you’re into “Shrink Rap” ™.  While still having a “third person” element, suddenly my poetic past and public performing present, my serious therapist role and playful persona had achieved a new harmonic balance.  This same paradoxical spirit was reinforced years later by my self-designed title as AOL’s “Online Psychohumorist” ™.   (And, of course, the reader can decide where the emphasis on this invented concept belongs.)

 Let me get back to conceptual clarification.  Consider these three kinds of “balance as harmony”:

 a. Creative Expression.  For me, this “External-Social” mode reflects a need and desire to represent or project our talents and inner psychic state in the outer world, that is, to bridge and balance our mindscape and landscape.  The Florida couple, of course, provides a literal example of turning such a longstanding dream into a working reality.

 Alas, when it comes to balancing and transcending our emotional sturm und drang through innovative enterprise too often our social institutions drop the imaginative ball.  Families, schools and workplaces still don’t consistently realize how important creative expression is to psychological health, to exercising one’s skills and gifts, to generating a feeling of confidence as well as a sense of competence and achievement, to fulfilling or actualizing one’s rich potential.

 b) Team Synergy.  Harmony as a dynamic relationship among parts and a vital balance between parts and the whole clearly is not limited to the rendering of an artist, poet or dancer.  What of a high performing orchestra?  Clearly, this is an example of leadership, division of labor and the vital importance of group communication and coordination, that is, teamwork in action.  Sometimes there’s a solo, sometimes the sound is sweetly or serenely melodious as the strings or woodwinds stand out.  Other times, the bold and booming brass and percussion dominate.  Still, a successful quartet, concerto or symphony ultimately yields that vital harmonic integration of parts and whole.  The obvious question:  how to achieve this synergistic phenomenon in everyday systems such as the family and classroom or in workplace departments, divisions and, even, the organization as a whole?

 c) Work-Life Balance and Life Work Balance.  As illustrated, in today’s 24/7 constantly upgrading and downsizing world, the ideal is achieving optimal balance both between work and home (“Work-Life”) and blending day-to-day reality and the pursuit of passion or a dream (“Life Work”).  This balance helps fulfill a higher sense of self or a richer sense of communal involvement, that is, yields a role-identity more meaningful than the mundane.  Of course, one can’t simply wave a magic wand and creatively integrate both these short- and long-term, psychological and social arenas.  As mentioned before it usually takes purpose and passion, patience and perseverance.

 Here’s another example:  A former client, a government attorney, single, around 50 who, for a number of years, has been grappling with moderate clinical depression.  In response to career malaise was the growing realization that he’s played things too safe for too long.  Needing more meaning in life, he shifted to half-time work.  L. began investing greater time in photography, a hobby of intermittent interest.  He learned how to build a website and started posting his photographs.  This new visibility generated some professional interest in his work.

 Now balancing legal work, photographic pursuits and confronting his depression-loneliness and insufficient social/romantic life created a gnawing tension.  With respect to his legal work, L. was suffering from what I’ve called, “The Bjorn Bored Syndrome”:  When Mastery times Monotony provides an index of Misery!  Yet, he was afraid to let go of his part-time source of income and structure.  Until an intense, overload work phase created final straw anxiety and panic.  L. wound up in the hospital for ten days after a month of increasingly mysterious and serious gastro-intestinal symptoms.  (He now has a manageable Krohn’s-like condition; likely a genetic and/or latent ailment waiting to be triggered by “Physiological Imbalance” and prolonged stress.)  Within three months of his hospitalization, L. decided to leave work; three months later he was living off his savings and investments.  Currently, L. sees his transition as a sabbatical of undetermined length.

 Despite some last minute tribulations, he’s been slowly but surely adapting to a new internal-external, life-work balance:  his photography, including a recent volunteer assignment with The Smithsonian for their Folk-Life Festival on the Mall, web endeavors and carefully evolving a relationship with a woman (after being mostly reclusive for several years) all reflect an improving psychic and harmonic balance.

 For me the message is clear:  recognizing imbalance and generating vital balance in work life and life work assumptions and activities requires attention and adaptation throughout the life cycle.

 3.  Physiological (Equilibrium & Internal-Self).  Let’s broadly focus on two types of physiological balance:

 a) Nutritional.  With obesity dramatically on the rise, there’s definitely an epidemic of imbalanced bathroom scales.  While most of us can talk about a “balanced diet,” alas too many neglect the walk:  no more than 30% of calories from fats, careful intake of salts, simple sugars and simple carbohydrates (cookies and fries, for example), five-a-day servings of fruits and vegetables, having more servings of fish with healthy omega fatty acids than red meat, not skipping breakfast, limit intake of caffeine and alcohol (in general, no more than two glasses of wine for men, one glass for women), grazing throughout the day instead of three big meals to stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce cravings.  (Cravings often reflect both a psychological and biochemical imbalance, unless it’s a chocolate craving, of course.  See, I’m not a Spartan.)

 But seriously, how often have we heard how dysfunctional eating patterns try to fill an anxious or lonely heart or to compensate for a rundown or runaway hormonal system?  Which leads to…

 b) Biochemical.  When prolonged or chronic stress and acute stress join forces, along with genetic vulnerability, there should be a flashing red warning sign:  “Imbalance Ahead!”  First, imbalance can occur when you start habituating to that Type A, 24/7 adrenaline-pumping pace.  Slowing down feels like there’s deadening emptiness, a profound void.  Some researchers have suggested that you literally become addicted to your own adrenaline; when your mind-body attempts to rest and recover you can experience this quiescent mode as a withdrawal state.  For example, after a night’s sleep, early morning agitation may be an example of withdrawal symptoms.  (This in addition to caffeine cravings.)

 Other research suggests that risk-taking for some indicates physiological imbalance.  For example, a significant percentage of individuals engaging in regular gambling (the sample was from Las Vegas casinos, I believe) seemed to be under aroused or bored in their day-to-day functioning.  Gambling was needed for the physiological excitement and for escaping actual depression or a malaise-like state.

 

Stress Doc Trial

 Second, as we’ve seen, negative stress can impair, not just hormonal levels, but the functional balance of a variety of organ systems.  Here’s a personal illustration.  In the Fall ’94, I experienced a conjunction of chronic and acute stress.  A year on the front lines as a Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service was definitely taking a mind-body toll.  Especially disorienting was one/day week working the graveyard shift – 10pm-6am – and then returning to the plant five hours later.  I never adapted to this disruption.  My biorhythm was definitely out of whack.  I developed high blood pressure, later confirmed as basic hypertension.  Exercise and diet no longer produced normal readings.  Something had snapped.

 Then, around this same period, a favorite uncle died suddenly of cardiac arrest on a racquetball court.  Dave, in his early ‘60s, played in national tournaments.  This youthful, warm yet competitively intense guy had a moderate heart attack ten years earlier, but was cleared to resume his athletic pursuits.  (Alas, heart attacks are an extended family tradition.)  Now the mind snapped.

 While battling (undiagnosed) moderate clinical agitated depression for decades (more and less successfully) – with therapy, exercise, creative pursuits, etc. – I hit the wall.  Now my biochemical soup felt more like a muddy, murky quicksand pool into which I was inexorably sinking.  Those mood stabilizing serotonin neurotransmitters, half-hearted workers for me at best, had now gone on strike.  A radical intervention was needed.  I would finally confront fully the ghost of my father’s depression-breakdown-brief hospitalization in his mid-20s and subsequent extended outpatient shock treatment.  Working though my shame, finally admitting the profound consequences of my lifelong clinical (not just psychological or situational) depression, I jumped on the Prozac bandwagon.

 For me, there’s no doubt that Prozac began to repair the biochemical imbalance within, leading to greater mood stability without numbing my natural psychological sensitivity.  Talk about a vital balance for a therapist, writer and performing psychohumorist ™.

 Actually, I’m also convinced my need and passion for performing on stage has had much to do with endorphin and adrenaline production.  Not unlike those gambling risk-takers.  (And how many individuals with drinking problems are really trying to self-medicate?)  By continuing to take medication, a subclinical dose of Effexor (which stimulates both serotonin – enhancing calm and reducing agitation – and norepinephrine – enhancing energy and alertness) I’m not having to use risk-taking behavior (like speaking in front of hundreds) to self medicate…or, at least, not as often. ;-)

 4. Stability (Equilibrium & External-Social).  For those who are physiological “hot reactors,” having sympathetic nervous systems that quickly kick into intense vigilance or survival mode, or for “cyclothymics” with frequent mood swinging if not bipolar cycling, achieving “good enough’ balance requires constant adaptation.  Function or dysfunction can turn on one’s choice of compensatory coping.  Yet “balance,” in Roget’s also connotes “uniform” and “routine” – static balance in contrast to dynamic balance.

 Static often has an aversive connotation.  However, I prefer to use it in a relatively non-changing, stable sense.  I suspect many can relate to having a daily or weekend routine that helps bring time- and energy-saving predictability or some semblance of order to the familiar confusion or operational chaos.  For me, after knocking out emails on the home computer, it’s out of the cave morning writing at my neighborhood teahouse.  Unless I have a morning workshop, then it’s my oatmeal, wheat germ, wheat bran, soy and rice milk, bananas and blueberries power breakfast in contrast to a forkful of salmon and Orange NuVim (health drink) at home and Jasmine Pearl Green Tea and ruggaleh (an Eastern European nut and fruity pastry, similar to baklava without the honey) at Teaism.

 So routines can increase that sense of, if not illusion of, control.  (I’m a big believer in balancing reality with imagination and some calculated risk-taking.  I try to walk that fine line between vision and hallucination.)  In addition, especially in a hyperspaced out world, having some routine or ritual that allows for licking wounds, chilling out, soulful reflection, that is, time and place for pondering one’s emotions and essence after struggling at the burnout battlefront, hardly seems a luxury.

 I smile thinking about the meditative room employees of a federal government agency commandeered for post-lunch quiet communing.  It was called, appropriately enough,  “Club Fed.”   And this rest and recovery state, not only helps with adrenaline habituation and mind-body rejuvenation but provides opportunity for an “incubation vacation,” that is, for hatching new possibilities and perspective.  Problem-solving tension, then letting go and mentally meandering, seems to free up subterranean insights and soaring images.  Hopefully, stability and fertility are creative complements:  the relative calm before the next productive brainstorm.

 5.  Physical (Dynamic Tension & Internal-Self).  The immediate images for physical balance are the gymnast or ice skater in action.  This balance is not a fixed distribution of weight or steady equalization of opposing forces, but an ever moving, ever-changing dynamic process involving a series of mind-body, sensorial and muscular coordination affected by swinging and swaying.  (Need an example of the critical importance of physical balance?   Just talk to a stroke victim or, perhaps, reflect on the last time you or someone you know definitely had too much to drink.)

 And, invariably, when involved in such a dynamic process requiring precision movement, timing and grace under fire, along with a host of other performance pressures (judges’ scorings, competitors, ego needs, fear of failure or success) one can readily be knocked off balance.  Just ask some employees at the Washington Navy Yard who are currently being time studied and micromanaged to justify their job if they don’t feel stressed and out of mind-body-behavior balance.  Alas, such prolonged scrutiny not only can wear you down, it can also have individuals questioning their self worth.  (And some think management is using this so-called “evaluation process” as a tactic to pressure folks to take early out.)

 Of course, there are plenty of times when losing your balance, getting off course, blowing an exam, forgetting your lines, dropping the ball are all par for the course.  I hesitate to recall all the times as a speaker I’ve fumbled a punch line or as a workshop leader missed or mishandled an important piece of group interaction.  For me, the most important element of balance often occurs only after the imbalance and a fall or so-called failure.  Now critical is the capacity for springing off the mat or the ice, jumping back into the routine or the saddle, making corrections on the fly, not being self-distractingly preoccupied with imperfection or feelings of humiliation.  Whether a fast or deliberate study, you must retreat and return, you must lick and also learn from those mind-body wounds.  In these “T ‘n T” (Transition ‘n Trauma) times, we all must develop the capacity for “resilience.”

 

R ‘n B:  Resilience and Balance

 Roget’s has six dynamic categories for “Resilience”:  light-hearted, recuperative, changeable, recoiling, pliant and elastic.  And Webster’s has several definitions illuminating the mind-body connection:

1) returning to a previous position, shape or condition,

2) moving swiftly back,

3) capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture and

4) a tendency to regain strength or high spirits after weakness or depression; buoyant. 

 These days, with traumatic occurrences seemingly omnipresent, we all need to be more dynamically balanced and doggedly resilient.  While resilience goes beyond athletics, the field can be widely instructive.  The balance of an athlete is often associated with excellent mind-body conditioning and extended practice (along with good genes) resulting in an individual possessing uncommon strength, endurance and flexibility.  This same mind-body triumvirate may be as essential for a deadline-driven web master, competitive chess master or for a public performer trying to blend or balance both on the edge and down to earth performance.

As a speaker, I want to keep the audience off balance, by mixing dynamic presentation and group exercises or quickly shifting from the serious to the humorous.  A dramatic example occurred recently in a one-year anniversary, 9/11 program with a DC law firm.  The firm had experienced some tragic loss related to the World Trade Center.  After reviewing the grief stages, a sea of eyes is riveted upon me; a poignant and pregnant silence looms.  And suddenly, acknowledging the heavy air in the room, I break up the tension by shifting into performance mode.  Taking out my Blues Brothers Hat, black sunglasses and black tambourine I startle the group with a pioneering “Shrink Rap” ™ number.  Once past the initial shock, people started laughing (or, at least, laughing at me.)  By the end, all were applauding enthusiastically.  One might speculate that the audience was seeking psychic balance, confirming Mr. Chaplin’s aforementioned wise observation about the intimate link between comedy and tragedy.

 6.  Competition (Dynamic Tension & External-Social).  Surely there’s a natural segue from a vital tension and balance based on mind-body strength, flexibility and endurance to competition in the social arena based on “the balance of power.”  If the memory black hole hasn’t swallowed all prior civics lessons, you may recall how our constitutional government is based on a system of “checks and balances” among the Presidency, the Congress and the Supreme Court.  (Though these days, some may accuse Congress of being Bush-whacked!  And in many organizations it’s the department that writes the checks that holds power, that is, has the most resources and greatest freedom to dictate and maneuver.)

 Clearly, imbalance in power distribution or resource allocation can significantly influence the degree of functionality and ethicality of a corporation, non-profit or government agency.  For example, a lack of independent board of directors in many companies allowed many CEOS to become loose cannons contributing to the destructive corporate scandals.  Or when one department can trump other departments in terms of resources and timelines because it’s work automatically must be “the highest priority,” morale-busting resentment and self-defeating territoriality and insulating silos may result.

 Conversely, in well-balanced families there must be time and space for love and loyalty and for honest conflict and individuality, for closeness and healthy boundaries, for being both part of a whole and being apart from the whole.  For me, vital competition does not pit achievement over affiliation; it blends the two.  Ultimately, one party’s or team’s efforts may spur the other individual or group to greater awareness, expression or performance, to a greater depth of self-integrity and breadth of communal identity.

 Again returning to the realm of sports, the best football teams usually get excellent play from offense, defense and special teams, i.e., for the latter, the field goal unit, punting, returning and covering kicks, etc.  For example, while the 2001 World Champion Baltimore Ravens had a superlative defense and a very strong running game and special teams, they only had a serviceable quarterback.  Still their quarterback was a quiet steady leader who made few mistakes, like throwing costly interceptions.  So working parts, while not always equal, can still yield a highly functional whole if there’s overall balance.

 So the psychosocial balance of forces, whether in a Fortune 100 Company, a football team or a family system is critical for survival, growth and mission success.  And as we in the US are increasingly experiencing in this New Millennium Age of Terror, the balance between security and freedom (such as new airport security procedures) must be adaptable in an increasingly volatile environment.  Vulnerable individuals or social systems must learn to better achieve multifaceted balance in an increasingly unstable, fast-paced, always on the edge world.

 Ideal vs. Real and Ideal as Real

 Finally, we’ve defined and illustrated each of the six boxes of “Vital Balance”:  1) Psychological, 2) Physiological, 3) Physical, 4) Harmony, 5) Stability and 6) Competition.  Ideally, a person is able to grapple with and negotiate some degree of comprehension and competency with each of these six balance states.

 Now for reality?  What to do if you’re out of sync in one or more of the boxes?  Well, depending on the source of the imbalance and its intensity or chronicity, at least for the short-term, compensate by focusing energy and activity in a naturally complementary box:

1) for short-term stress or feeling out of control at work or at the home front, bolster the box with regular exercise or seek some counseling/coaching if you and a partner or colleague are locked in competitive power struggles,

2) for long-term, seemingly irreversible feelings of sadness, helplessness or depression, in addition to some psychotherapy or grief counseling don’t rule out an evaluation for mood medication with a psychiatrist.  As discussed, prolonged stress can seriously impair biochemical balance (including increasing blood pressure levels).  By targeting cardiovascular or neurotransmitter dysfunction, that is, reequilibrating “Physiological Balance,” drug therapy may be vital for effective and efficient intervention, both for acute and chronic conditions, and

3) are you caught in the throes of a mid-life or mid-career crisis?  Are you feeling, “Is this all there is?”  Perhaps it’s time for discovering or recovering a former hobby or creative fantasy for which you have real passion and flair.  Maybe it’s time to transform the hobby into a more regular or full time-pursuit.  Consider this recent letter from a reader:

 Hello Mark,

 I am sure you do not remember me, for you emailed me what must be at least 4 yrs. ago.  Then I was looking for sense of & a direction in a life that had seemed to lose all connections, I guess is how you would put it.  LOL  I was then an unemployed CPA who walked no ran from any job that in the slightest reminded me of my past job.  The only thing that interests me was being around my hobby BMDs & the show ring.  You emailed me back and told me I was suffering from some form of PTSD and I should try to find a part time job, etc.  I remember thinking, Right!  Boy oh Boy were you ever 400% correct.  I want to thank you Mark for helping then with advice that has changed my life & soul forever.  I went on to buy another show dog & handled her through a show career one only dreams of having, from there I met professionals just like myself....burnt out, wondering how they had spent so much of their life working for something that had them ending up where they were at.  LOL  I realized I was not alone & the feelings were real & ok. 

From there I grew so much as a person, made new friends all over North America, found a part-time flexible job w/a major university which included a full benefits package and took on new challenges in my community!   Life still has its up and downs but now it is much more rewarding and a lot more fun.  Of course all of this would not have been possible if it weren't for my loving spouse who supported and trusted my judgment 100%. 

 Well, I see I have rattled on like a short novel which was not my intent so I will end this email. Just want to say thanks Mark, for helping another human out but most of all for being so good at what you do.

 Hope life is as equally giving and rewarding for you.  From your web site it certainly does appear you have grown by leaps and bounds.

 Wishing the very best to you.

 Regards,
Grid

 

Stretching intuitive, emotionally deep or spiritual muscles, giving expression to one’s essence, allowing more freedom for one’s outrageous imagination while cultivating a community of kindred and synergistic spirits is the Heart and Soul of “Harmony Balance.”  Exploring uncommon balance is surely a way to also…Practice Safe Stress!

 

Reader's Submissions:

 Subject: Smarter than You Thought
From:  Myra Dodick

 You'll feel smarter after you read these quotes:

 Question: If you could live forever, would you and why?

Answer: "I would not live forever, because we should not live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever."

--Miss Alabama in the 1994 Miss USA contest.

 "Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can't help but cry. I mean I'd love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff."

--Mariah Carey

 "Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life."

--Brooke Shields, during an interview to become spokesperson for federal anti-smoking campaign.

 

"I've never had major knee surgery on any other part of my body."

--Winston Bennett, University of Kentucky basketball forward.

 

"Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country,"

--Mayor Marion Barry, Washington, DC.

 

"I'm not going to have some reporters pawing through our papers. We are the president."

--Hillary Clinton commenting on the release of subpoenaed documents.

 

"That lowdown scoundrel deserves to be kicked to death by a jackass, and I'm just the one to do it."

--A congressional candidate in Texas.

 

"I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them.  There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves."

--John Wayne

 

"Half this game is ninety percent mental."

--Philadelphia Phillies manager, Danny Ozark

 

"It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."

--Al Gore, Vice President

 

"I love California. I practically grew up in Phoenix."

--Dan Quayle

 

" It's no exaggeration to say that the undecideds could go one way or another."

--George Bush, US President

 

"We've got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need?"

--Lee Iacocca

 

"I was provided with additional input that was radically different from the truth. I assisted in furthering that version."

--Colonel Oliver North, from his Iran-Contra testimony.

 

"The word "genius" isn't applicable in football. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein."

--Joe Theisman, NFL football quarterback & sports analyst.

 

"We don't necessarily discriminate. We simply exclude certain types of people."

--Colonel Gerald Wellman, ROTC Instructor.

 

"If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure."

--Bill Clinton, President

 

"We are ready for an unforeseen event that may or may not occur."

--Al Gore, VP

 

"Traditionally, most of Australia's imports come from overseas."

--Keppel Enderbery

 

"Your food stamps will be stopped effective March 1992 because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances."

--Department of Social Services, Greenville, South Carolina

 

"If somebody has a bad heart, they can plug this jack in at night as they go to bed and it will monitor their heart throughout the night.  And the next morning, when they wake up dead, there'll be a record."

--Mark S. Fowler, FCC Chairman

 

Subject:  There's No Fooling or Pleasing a Jewish Mother

From:  Myra Dodick

 A young Jewish man excitedly tells his mother he's fallen in love and that he is going to get married. "Just for fun, Ma," he says, "I'm going to bring over three women and you try and guess which one I'm going to marry."

 The mother agrees.

 The next day, he brings three beautiful women into the house and sits them down on the couch and they chat for a while. The young man then says, "Okay, Ma, guess which one I'm going to marry."

 She immediately replies, "The one on the right."

"That's amazing, Ma! You're right. How did you know?

The Jewish mother replies, "I don't like her."

 Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, an international speaker and syndicated writer, is America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" ™ The Doc runs 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).  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 2002

Shrink Rap ™ Productions