The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™
APR 2010, No. I, 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 I: Busy Women's (Mini) Retreat and Supporting Soon to BE
Testimonials: Ft. Meade, MD/Army Community Service and Blue Mtn. Retreat
Readers' Submissions: Pointed Exchanges/Pithy Observations,
Pun-in-Cheek, And then the Fight Started...
Main Essay: "Letting Go" -- From "Frightsizing" to "Transforming Fear of
Exposure into the Fun of Embarrassment": Parts I & II
Offerings: Books, CDs, Training/Marketing Kit: Email firstname.lastname@example.org
or go to www.stressdoc.com for more info.
1. Shrink Rap.
a) Busy Women's (Mini) Retreat Update and
b) “Letting Go” of RIF-ed Off Rage: Survival Stages and Strategies for
Soon-to-Be Terminated Employees (as well as for HR Departments); essay on how to
meaningfully and productively engage angry and fearful employees who know or
basically know they will soon be cut from the payroll; this essay should be of
interest both to employees and Human Resources personnel.
3. Main Essay:
a) Part I: Career Disruption Stress or Surviving "The Jack Benny Dilemma":
When It Really Is "Your Money or Your Life"; three meanings/manifestations of
the concept of "letting go" and a powerful poignant story about my father's
experience with "frightsizing"...and ultimately surviving;
b) Part II: "Letting Go" and Transforming Your Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure;
a new exploratory and expansive concept of "letting go" is positied along with a
group exercise that begins to bring the concept to life.
This is a yin-yang "Shrink Rap" for women who are too busy and for folks who
fear not having any work to do:
a) an update on the Busy Women's (Mini) Retreat; calls and emails are
coming in for the two days-one night event (Thurs 3pm -- flexible arrival
time, formal program begins at 7pm -- to Fri 3pm) on June 10 & 11, 2010 at the
Blue Mountain Retreat Center, Harper's Ferry, WV (1.5 hours from the Washington
Beltway); very reasonably priced at $100; this includes healthy meals, variety
of group/emotional sharing, yoga, meditation, walks by the river, and
facilitation with the Stress Doc; and, of course, the relaxed, rustic and
rejuvenating surroundings, the confluence of rivers at Blue Mountain; our first
retreat was magical; email me for the retreat schedule, testimonial and more
For more information about program schedule or to make a reservation, call the
owner, Beth Ehrhardt, 240-422-9207, or email email@example.com, or email me,
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 301-875-2567.
here: Blue Mountain Retreat - Home
b) an essay on how to meaningfully and productively engage angry and fearful
employees who know or basically know they will soon be cut from the payroll;
this essay should be of interest both to employees and Human Resources
“Letting Go” of RIF-ed Off Rage: Survival Stages and Strategies for
Soon-to-Be Terminated Employees (as well as for HR Departments)
One way I know that the economy is still in trouble is by speaking topic
requests: a) recently I wrote about an after-dinner presentation on “Letting
Go” for a career transition support group; to be tactful, many folks were “in
between” jobs and b) this past week I led a program on managing stress for
county government employees who, due to budget cuts, have either been notified
of a specific future termination date or know that being “let go” is a distinct
possibility. Not surprisingly, many in the former group were angry, while those
in the latter group felt they were twisting in the wind of uncertainty. The
workshop reminded me of my first experience as a RIF (Reduction in Force)
trainer with the US Postal Service. I’ll never forget a female Management
Trainee’s poignant lament: “I once had a career path then this boulder fell
from the sky and crushed it!” (To be fair, the county is providing a variety
of transition support/coaching services to help these individuals land on their
My role is not quite akin to George Clooney’s “bearer of bad news” character in
the movie, “Up in the Air”; I’m not announcing the “pink slip.” My goal is to
help people express their anger, fear, feelings of abandonment, etc., in a
constructive manner so that their overt or smoldering rage or wounded confidence
doesn’t keep them in a helpless and victimized, “who gives a d_ _n” or stuck in
a forever blaming “Big Management” place. I want to share some grief dynamics
and active problem-solving ideas. I especially want to orchestrate supportive
and challenging small group exercises that free up energy, foster some peer
sharing and intimacy, reaffirm a sense of personal effectiveness and generate
more problem solving focus, synergy and optimism.
Actually, the content, structure and format of the 90 minute workshop helped
induce a process that captured a number of the parallels between unfolding
phases of grief and the four stages of group formation/team development –
Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. (The group stages are based on Dr.
Bruce Tuckman’s classic model. The grief stage titles below are from my
article, “Good Grief: Is It Mourning or Depression.” Email
email@example.com for the article.) Let me illustrate the grief responses
as well as the group exercises and group process with “Letting Go” of RIF-ed
Off Rage: Survival Stages and Strategies for Soon-to-Be Terminated Employees
(and for HR Departments):
A. Fear and Panic or Numb and Shame or "Oh God, What Do I Do Now?" – Stress
Identification Exercise – Forming Stage:
Most of the participants had been notified a few months ago of their unhappy
fate. People were no longer in "It Can’t Happen Here!" shock, but some felt
confused or fearful, even numb (or "Oh God, What Do I Do Now?"). One way of
creating positive focus and initial movement is getting people to use their
basic cognitive skills in a simple identification and sharing exchange through a
“Three ‘B’ Transition Stress Barometer” Exercise: “How does your Brain, Body
and Behavior let you know when you are under more stress during these
changing and challenging times?”
There were so many stress experts, and so many examples of “3 B” stress, I felt
I was preaching to the choir. But we also generated some laughs. At minimum,
social psychology research has shown that misery doesn’t just like company; it
actually prefers miserable company. As for the group laughs, for example, I
asked, “How many folks are eating more to numb that anxious feeling in their
gut?” Not surprisingly, many hands shot up. When I then asked, “Does anyone
lose their appetite and eat less when feeling stressed,” only a few hands
cautiously fluttered. Of course my immediate reply: “And we hate those people,
don’t we!” And another crowd pleaser: “Anybody dealing with TMJ? We know what
that jaw tension really stands for: ‘Too Many Jerks!’”
But this lightheartedness was not longed lived. Once I chose to touch upon that
sensitive, hot button, i.e., the emotional issues surrounding grief, the group
Pandora’s Box was open, especially regarding feelings of anger and abandonment.
(However, there’s method to the madness of facing your inner demons : the last
fury out of the Pandora’s box was “Hope.”)
B. Rage and/or Helplessness or "How Dare They!" or "Oh No, How Could They!" –
Grief Stages/Six “F”s for Managing Loss and Change Conceptual Tool – Storming
This emotionally charged stage began with my “Six ‘F’s for Dealing with Loss and
Change.” The “Six ‘F’s” are psychosocial emotions, issues and tasks that
challenge an individual to grapple with: a) the loss of the familiar,
including a loss of self-identity b) an uncertain future, including a
loss of security or predictability, c) a loss of face, or feeling
devalued and discarded, d) regaining focus, especially focused
aggression, by courageously embracing and reflecting upon vulnerable emotions to
temper and harness feelings of rage , e.g., “I don’t like all this, but somehow
I’m going to make the best of this situation,” e) getting good feedback
by developing a “TLC” relationship: someone who can provide “Tender Loving
Criticism” and “Tough Loving Care,” and f) having faith that if you do
your “headwork, heartwork and homework” you will develop the cognitive-emotional
muscles to withstand this transitional tempest; you just may realize the
opportunity in seemingly dangerous change and conflict. (Email firstname.lastname@example.org
for an elaboration of “The Six ‘F’s.”)
Initially, reactions ranged from a female participant’s, “I’m waiting to hit
bottom to figure out what I’ll do” to a male attendee’s angry accusation,
“You’re stirring up my rage all over again.” He went on to explain, that he had
begun to “let go.” He realized this RIF situation was “a battle he couldn’t
win.” This fellow opened the “storm” door: people more freely vented their
anger at “not getting buyouts” or that employee salaries could have been cut
across the board (and especially by “trimming the fat at the top”).
C. Focused Anger and Letting Go or "Turning a Lemon into Lemonade" – “You Can’t
Make Me” Exercise – Norming Stage
For this workshop, being able to express feelings of anger and fear, rejection
and abandonment, while discovering that the leaders in the room were supportive
of this honest sharing was the primary group norm. And as indicated above, we
also established my willingness to be confronted without getting defensive. In
fact, I didn’t apologize for stirring up enraged feelings. I reframed the angry
accuser’s pronouncement as hard earned wisdom; he was helping others realize
that by engaging with aggressive energy they too might progress in the letting
go and active problem solving process.
The other vital norm involved participants engaging in group exercises that
allowed for venting but also challenged people to move beyond hurt, depression
and rage. The goal was to help folks realize that they had some control (and
ultimately some responsibility) for how they reacted (defensively) or responded
(productively) to their challenging situation. And in judo like fashion, I
provided an exercise that went with people’s emotional charge and ultimately
helped transform their energy flow. (Basically, I would be illustrating one of
the previously cited “F’s – “Re-Focusing Aggression.”) Very briefly,
people pair off and square off for a power struggle. After choosing the role of
Person A or B, each participant is asked to think of one person in his or her
life who is or has been a “pain in your butt.” (Of course, I empathize with
their dilemma: how can you limit it to just one!) Then, Person “A” says, “You
can’t make me”; Person “B”s rejoinder: “Oh yes, I can!” The only instructions
are, “You can’t get out of your chair, however, you can be aggressive or passive
aggressive” (for example, whiny or “whatever”). I also affirm that “the goal is
not to crush your opponent; you just don’t want to be pushed around.” And
finally, after a couple of “You can’t make me”/”Oh yes, I can!” exchanges, then
the pairs are told to, “Say what you really would like to say” to the person in
your head as personified by your role play antagonist.
Not surprisingly, once the bell rings, the room erupts with aggressive energy,
animated exchanges (verbal and nonverbal) and lots of laughter. And while I
frequently use this exercise to provide tools and techniques for disarming power
struggles and rebuilding trust, today I simply focus on the palpable energy
increase and the obvious eruptions of laughter. When we can safely express and
refocus our aggression, especially when we can sense some absurdity in the
situation, and don’t take the conflict so personally, we uplift a mood and
rejuvenate our focus through purpose-passion-play.
We have weathered and have begun to transform the hurt and anger of the storming
and norming stages. Now we are ready to move from interpersonal dynamics to
stress release and group development by: a) further refocusing the aggressive
energy and b) engaging in group sharing-brainstorming-laughter and task
performance, as well as team and community building.
D. Exploration and New Identity or "Freedom’s Just another Word…" and "Now You
Are Ready to 'Just Do It!’" (even if scared) – “3-D: Team
Discussion-Drawing-Diversity” Exercise – Performing Stage
The final exercise divides participants into groups of four (selected for
demographic and role diversity) and basically engages all the stress, change and
anger concerns noted above in a straightforward question: “What are the causes
of everyday stress and conflict as you go through this challenging transition?”
(The stress can be work and home related.) However, there is an unexpected
twist. After the ten minutes of discussion, the clusters have ten minutes to
come up with a group picture that pulls together and transforms the individual
stress and conflict issues into a visual metaphor or story. Colored markers and
flipchart paper are distributed following the discussion segment. (This
exercise along with other popular Stress Doc team building tools and “how to”
delivery instructions are available for purchase. For more info, including a
sample team drawing design, email email@example.com.) I further
challenged the groups to earn “extra credit” by trying to capture some bridges
to a more positive future.
And the “3-D” did not let me down; this exercise invariably captivates and
compels any and all audiences, both small and large in number. (The exercise has
been successful with as many as 350 people.) The room is abuzz with intense
discussion and, increasingly, with bursts of laughter. Both in the discussion
and the designs, people are definitely capturing the “rage” in “out-rage-ous!”
(Not surprisingly, one group decided on a second sheet of a paper after their
first attempt basically was an oversized “proverbial finger.”) Also, the
foursomes are definitely working as a team; some folks get into the verbal
discussion, others take to the drawing. And even people who were initially
hesitant about drawing out their stress are drawn into the exercise by the
animated group sharing and dynamics. Everyone has a chance to participate; no
one person could capture the final group product. Because of the free flowing
discussion and jazz riff interaction, the whole is definitely greater than the
sum of the parts and partners! All appreciate the focus, imagination and sense
of empathy- team camaraderie generated in a concentrated period of time.
The exercise closes with a gallery walk (eyeing their colleagues’ creations) and
then each group does a “show and tell.” And despite the anger and anxiety,
several of the drawings take up the positive “bridge” challenge. For example,
one group picture includes two doors – one closed the other open. The closed
door conveys sadness and finality, maybe even a sense of being “locked out.”
Walking through the open door can be scary; what’s behind the door, will I be up
to the task? However, the open door reflects possibility maybe even some
excitement at starting anew.
A second “bridge” design was a simple and clear symbol of unity, strength and
stability: stick figures with arms interlocked. The message: We will make
it through by relying on and supporting one another.
We ended the “3-D” experience by discussing, “What made the exercise useful and
enjoyable?” Answers included, stress relief, discovering you’re not alone,
learning more about their colleagues, shared laughter, working as a team, being
creative, emotional release, etc. Our analysis closed with group
acknowledgement that it was fun to do a “show and tell” with the drawings.
(Hey, most of us have that inner six year old, just waiting to exclaim, “Look
mom, look what I did today.”) And all agreed we had strengthened a sense of
camaraderie and community.
Finally, I clinched the need for some light-hearted absurdity during times of
adversity by performing one of my “Shrink Raps.” But based on the nonverbal eye
contact and nodding heads, it was my closing words that seemed most resonant:
“Turn to the energy and intelligence, the honesty and empathy in this room!”
Obviously, this ninety minute workshop was not intended to send a Bobby McFerrin
message: “Don’t worry, be happy!” However, by creating a learning atmosphere
and group process whereby emotionally charged energy could be freely expressed
and shared people discovered that aggression and angst can be channeled into
passionately playful performance. And upon leaving the session people seemed to
walk with a more purposeful and even a bit more hopeful step. (Or some realized
needing to take their stress more seriously, e.g., one person asking about
individual coaching.) Based on feedback as folks were leaving, the anger seemed
better focused; some still may not feel the County had been fair, but most were
not simply victims. Many appeared more ready to knock on, if not knock down,
some of those double-edged doors. Through “letting go” concepts, interactive
exercises and team building dynamics, the participants and our process had
evolved; we had transformed rage into the “out-rage-ous!” While this program
was only a small step in the grief work journey, by sharing emotions and
connecting grief and group processes, employees generated their own “hands on,”
professional-personal support, exploration and evolution. These tools and
action steps definitely help individuals, teams, divisions and entire
organizations more positively survive these challenging economic times and also
help one and all…Practice Safe Stress!
MD/Army Community Service
Stress Management /Keynote Presenter for Child Abuse Awareness Month
On behalf of Army Community Service at Fort Meade, I would like to extend my
sincere appreciation for your valuable presentation on stress management. You
reached out to our staff with your comedy message in a way that will be
everlasting for the Fort Meade community.
Your humor and sincerity certainly touched us in ways that I could not have
achieved in my briefings. I was told by many of the folks who attended this
presentation that it exceeded their expectations and they absolutely enjoyed the
rap performance that closed out the show.
Once again, thank you for your appearance and the encouragement that you gave
while here at Fort Meade. I highly recommend you for other military
installations and look forward to working with you again in the future.
Celena Flowers, LCSW, ACSW
Family Advocacy Program Manager
at Blue Mountain Retreat Center/Harper's Ferry, WV
March 14, 2010
Testimonial for Mark Gorkin
Thank you so much for giving such a meaningful presentation at the Busy Women's
Retreat here at Blue Mountain on March 5th and 6th. The subject matter,
"Transforming Stress, Conflict and Change into Passion Power" was itself a very
powerful theme, and you were able to so skillfully present and guide the group!
This subject brought a lot of heavy emotions from the women to the surface.
Your ability to help the women work through their issues, and even more
importantly, your ability to give them tools with which to transform their
stress was truly amazing.
The participants in the retreat told me personally that they were very impressed
with the way that you managed the group and that they took away many things that
they can use in their everyday life. Your presentation helped them to evaluate
their stressors differently, to see the positive in every stress, conflict
and/or change. Moreover, you helped them to realize they are not alone, and you
were so skilled at allowing and encouraging others to give feedback within the
I am just so impressed with your organization, your presentation and your
professionalism. I will certainly hire you again, and the women in this first
group all said they look forward to working with you again at a future
Thank you for your time, effort, intelligence and caring. You are truly a
gifted workshop leader!!
Beth Ehrhardt, Owner
Blue Mountain Retreat Center
Knoxville, MD 21758
The exchange between Churchill & Lady Astor:
She said, "If you were my husband I'd give you poison."
He said, "If you were my wife, I'd drink it."
A member of Parliament to Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or
of some unspeakable disease."
"That depends, Sir," said Disraeli, "whether I embrace your policies or your
"He had delusions of adequacy." - Walter Kerr
"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." - Winston
"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great
pleasure." Clarence Darrow
"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the
dictionary." - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).
"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it." -
"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."
- Mark Twain
"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.." - Oscar Wilde
"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a
friend.... if you have one." - George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill
"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second.... if there is one." -
Winston Churchill, in response.
"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here." - Stephen
"He is a self-made man and worships his creator." - John Bright
"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial." - Irvin
"He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others." - Samuel
"He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up." - Paul Keating
"In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily." - Charles,
"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him." - Forrest Tucker
"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?" -
"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork." - Mae West
"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.." - Oscar
"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than
illumination." - Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
"He has Van Gogh's ear for music." - Billy Wilder
"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it." - Groucho Marx
Ken Ingram, to send us some humor. There are three kinds of people in this
world: those who thinks puns are the lowest form of humor... and those who think
puns are the lowest form of humor (the building blocks for playing with language
and situations). Here is some of the pun-in-cheek humor from Ken:
The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired
his size from too much pi.
I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an
She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.
A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class, because it was a weapon
of math destruction.
No matter how much you push the envelope, it will still be stationery.
Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.
A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said, "Keep off the grass."
A backward poet writes inverse.
Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.
Subj: And then the Fight Started
My wife sat down on the settee next to me as I was flipping channels. She asked,
'What's on TV?'
I said, 'Dust.'
And then the fight started...
My wife and I were watching "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" while we were in
bed. I turned to her and said, "Do you want to have sex?"
"No," she answered.
I then said, "Is that your final answer?"
She didn't even look at me this time, simply saying, "Yes."
So I said, "Then I'd like to phone a friend."
And then the fight started....
Saturday morning I got up early, quietly dressed, made my lunch, and slipped
quietly into the garage. I hooked up the boat up to the van, and proceeded to
back out into a torrential downpour. The wind was blowing 50 mph, so I pulled
back into the garage, turned on the radio, and discovered that the weather would
be bad all day.
I went back into the house, quietly undressed, and slipped back into bed. I
cuddled up to my wife's back, now with a different anticipation, and whispered,
"The weather out there is terrible."
My loving wife of 5 years replied, "Can you believe my stupid husband is out
fishing in that?"
And that's how the fight started...
I rear-ended a car this morning. So, there we were alongside the road and slowly
the other driver got out of his car. You know how sometimes you just get soooo
stressed and little things just seem funny? Yeah, well I couldn't believe it....
He was a DWARF!!! He stormed over to my car, looked up at me, and shouted, "I AM
So, I looked down at him and said, "Well, then which one are you?"
And then the fight started.....
My wife was hinting about what she wanted for our upcoming anniversary. She
said, 'I want something shiny that goes from 0 to 150 in about 3 seconds.'
I bought her a bathroom scale.
And then the fight started...
When I got home last night, my wife demanded that I take her some place
expensive... so, I took her to a petrol station.
And then the fight started...
After retiring, I went to the Social Security office to apply for Social
Security. The woman behind the counter asked me for my driver's License to
verify my age. I looked in my pockets and realized I had left my wallet at home.
I told the woman that I was very sorry, but I would have to go home and come
The woman said, 'Unbutton your shirt'. So I opened my shirt revealing my curly
silver hair. She said, 'That silver hair on your chest is proof enough for me'
and she processed my Social Security application.
When I got home, I excitedly told my wife about my experience at the Social
She said, 'You should have dropped your pants. You might have gotten disability,
And then the fight started...
My wife and I were sitting at a table at my school reunion, and I kept staring
at a drunken lady swigging her drink as she sat alone at a nearby table.
My wife asked, 'Do you know her?'
'Yes,' I sighed, 'She's my old girlfriend. I understand she took to drinking
right after we split up those many years ago, and I hear she hasn't been sober
'My God!' says my wife, 'who would think a person could go on celebrating that
And then the fight started...
I took my wife to a restaurant. The waiter, for some reason took my order first.
"I'll have the steak, medium rare, please."
He said, "Aren't you worried about the mad cow?""
Nah, she can order for herself."
And then the fight started...
A woman was standing nude, looking in the bedroom mirror. She was not happy with
what she saw and said to her husband, "I feel horrible; I look old, fat and
ugly. I really need you to pay me a compliment.'
The husband replied, 'Your eyesight's damn near perfect.'
And then the fight started.....
Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social
Worker, is a one-of-a-kind "Motivational Humorist & Team Communication
Catalyst." The "Doc" is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker known for his
interactive, inspiring and FUN speaking and workshop programs. The
"Stress Doc" is also a team building and organizational development consultant
for a variety of govt. agencies, corporations and non-profits. And he is AOL's
"Online Psychohumorist" ™. Mark is an Adjunct Professor at Northern VA (NOVA)
Community College and currently he is leading "Stress, Team Building and Humor"
programs for the 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry Divisions and Brigades, at Ft.
Hood, Texas and Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. A former Stress and Conflict Consultant
for the US Postal Service, the Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe
Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger. See his award-winning, USA
Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com -- called a "workplace
resource" by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc's
"Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 301-875-2567.
(c) Mark Gorkin 2010
Shrink Rap™ Productions