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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

December 1999, No. 2, Sect. 1

Fight when you can 
Take flight when you must 
Flow like a dream 
In the Phoenix we trust!

Table of Contents

Just a brief holiday note of thanks for allowing me to share with you -- from the sublime to the ridiculous. To a graceful and playful holiday. And to good adventures in the New Millennium!

Announcements: AOL Chat Group and Q & A Links/Archives Q & A: "Trying to Get back In" and "He Said, 'Yes!' Now What?" Shrink Rap: The Cyber "Catch-22": Internet Rights and Responsibilities Readers' Submissions: Holiday Merger and Y2K, Nepotism and Comedic Genius Letters Main Essay I: Blasting into the New Millennium: Emancipation Procrastination Sect. 2 Main Essay II: Blasting into the New Millennium: Habit Transformation

News Flash: Alas, only for AOL members, stop by my online "Shrink Rap (TM) and Group Chat," Tuesdays, 9-10:45pm EST.  Chat with the Stress Doc: 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.

Announcements: 1) For all cyberspace travelers, there's the new Ask the Stress Doc Q & A -- Work Stress Digital City - Washington, DC - Ask the Stres... and Love and Relationships Digital City - Washington, DC - Relations . Also, check the Doc's Q & A Archives: Stress Doc's Q&A and Q&A: Love and Relationships .

Ask the Stress Doc Q & A: Love & Relationships AOL/Digital City--Washington, DC

1) Trying to Get Back In After You Split for Someone Else
2) He Said, "Yes. Now What Do I Do?"

Q. I went with this guy for months and I left him cause I started to like another guy. I regret it and I want to get back with him. He is still mad. Help...

A. I suspect you'll have to face the music; probably, more the static. Perhaps ask if the two of you could talk about what a bozo thing you did by bailing out. Let him know you are even willing to hear his anger. Don't come up with excuses why you left, especially if you're trying to reduce your ex's anger or even to not hurt his feelings. Perhaps let him know, if there's any truth, you learned a painful, maturing lesson. (He might enjoy knowing you were hurt as well.)

But most important, put aside your desire to get back with him. All this shows is that, again, you are just thinking of yourself first. Try to get current with the first guy, that is, by listening to him. Then determine if there is mutual interest in trying again. Btw, how did you end the relationship with the second guy? I couldn't resist.

Q. I really like this guy and I asked him out. He said yes. He just told my friend that he thinks I'm cool and that I will grow on him. I don't know what to do! What should I DO??

A. Don't grow on him. Give yourself time and space to get to know each other. Hey, remember the grass is always greener. Seriously, do you share common interests, hobbies, friends? Do you have somewhat similar senses of humor? (Not a requirement, but it helps.) Does conversation feel forced or can you talk pretty freely? Is the talk superficial or can you occasionally share real feelings? Can you risk gradually revealing more of your whole self -- strengths and vulnerabilities?

Finally, maybe ask him why he thinks you're "cool." Nothing like leading with strengths, especially if you like the same qualities in yourself. (And remember, you should be evaluating him as well.) Also, it's okay to acknowledge feeling a bit nervous at some point because you are excited; even a little scared. By admitting this you're saying you don't think of him as a casual friend. In other words, you don't always have to be cool. ;-)

And for all...Practice Safe Stress!

Shrink Rap: The Cyber "Catch-22": Internet Rights & Responsibilities

As a connoisseur of the absurdist and paradoxical sides of life, one must note the passing of the father of the contemporary cultural icon par excellence of paradoxical (and bureaucratic) entrapment – Joseph Heller and his classic, "Catch-22." It’s been a good while since reading the novel, but here’s the essence of "the catch": the novel’s protagonist, Yossarian, a WWII Air Force Pilot, wants to stop flying bombing missions as he fears for his life and the war is making him crazy. Yet, because he can rationally assess his vulnerability and mental instability he, ipso facto, cannot be crazy. Request denied. Keep flying soldier! (More recently, I’m sure the character of Corporal Klinger on the TV series "MASH" was inspired by Heller/Yossarian.)

While hardly of the creatively chaotic caliber of the Heller or television classics, for a brief while, recently, I experienced, if not a pure "22," at least a contradictory cyber catch. This past week "The Stress Doc" Website was bestowed an electronic award by HealthAtoZ.com for its, "superior content, ease of use, layout and overall appearance." As the name implies, AtoZ is a broad database of health-related information (including a medical spell checker). Then, a couple of days later came an interview by the publisher of Empowerment Magazine (www.Empoermag.com). The website’s mission is helping individuals create their own path and fulfilling their fullest potential. There will be a featured story about my evolution as an up and coming "netrepreneur."

Gentlemen, thank you both. However, the most startling news also provided a mark of distinction, but this time of a more notorious nature. A live client informed me that a relative (upon my client’s suggestion) had attempted to retrieve one of my writings. She got to "The Stress Doc" Home Page – www.stre ssdoc.com . Then, when trying to navigate the Psychohumor Essays link…ZAP! The WebNannies (or some watchdog equivalent) blocked further access. Oh my goodness. Have I transgressed some cyber standard of propriety? (Is this itself a contradiction in terms?) Is my site a danger to the moral welfare of today’s youth? Do the WebNannies need to get a life? What about the fact that my site has been singled out for it's health-supporting and life-fulfilling qualities? Okay, enough of the self-righteousness blather, Stress Doc.

Apparently, "WebNannies" is a software program that can be installed on an individual’s computer to block access usually to pornographic or sexually-explicit sites. Could the last newsletter highlighting bedroom escapades with Georgia, including an essay titled, "His Moans, Her Moans, Hormones," have been the catalytic culprit? (This is the first time I’m aware of being sanctioned. And knowing how some readers thrive on pointing out missteps, I’m assuming no previous censorship.)

Speaking with some America Online/Digital City Hosts, the Nannies can whip into repressive action if they discover even one taboo word. The Hosts explained how a few years ago AOL had a celebrated censorship episode. AOL was blocking messages or postings with that provocative "b"-word: "breast." It took the threat of a legal suit from members of an online Breast Cancer Support Group to help AOL be a little less Puritanical and more common sensical in its "hot button" reaction.

Virtual and Real Rights and Responsibilities

Now I’m several minds regarding this issue. Clearly, there’s much web content – of a pornographic and violent – nature that is inappropriate and potentially destructive…and not just for kids. For example, my recent series on workplace violence illustrated how racial tension in a federal agency department undergoing divisive reorganization was being acted out by some employees pulling up KKK websites. (This provocation was countered by playing tapes of Louis Farrakhan.)

Also, I recall a West Coast friend, an owner of a legal placement and document business, cautioning me well over a year ago to be more selective in the "Readers Submissions" section. She felt uncomfortable reading my newsletter in her workplace when it contained material that was bordering on the explicit (if not over the edge). And more conscious and careful selection of content ensued.

So too as a media/public performer and educator, I’ve occasionally crossed the propriety line and have swiftly experienced the sting of rebuke. The first time was spurred by a series of five minute inserts on stress and burnout for New Orleans Public Television. I relayed an encounter at a Tastee Donut shop while responding to a late-night munchies attack. Two men were arguing. One, finally, said something that was fairly preposterous. (Alas, I don’t recall the specifics.) His antagonist (a native of Louisiana, I assume) immediately countered: "Man…are you from Mississippi?" (Ah, who amongst us can completely resist the smirk or chuckle, that need to feel superior?)

Not surprisingly, this little story did not go over well with our viewers in Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. After receiving a number of angry calls, the Station Manager, in no uncertain terms, let me know that the Tastee exchange was history. (I was next if he had more complaints of a similar nature.) Of course, he was right. It was a cheap shot; no higher power humor or redeeming purpose here. PBS must be concerned about public support. To his credit, this manager kept the edited segment on the air.

Sex and Humor: Definitely On the Edge

And finally, the Stress Doc’s media "sense and sensibility" has been shaped by live audience feedback and an appreciation for cultural context. For example, in New Orleans, in the ‘80s, I often ended my workshops on the following playfully bawdy note: "Remember, laughter is the best tension reliever and sex is second. So if you're having funny sex you're probably in good shape." One time, when I closed a convention talk with that line, one of the program organizers quickly stood up and announced, "Next year we bring the 'Stress Doc' back to speak on 'Funny Sex.'"

But humor, especially the sexual variety, is subject to the Stress Doc's theory of cultural relativity: that which plays well in "The Big Easy," doesn't always go over in the land of political correctness. It wasn't till I moved to Washington, DC that I truly learned that with certain kinds of humor, timing and trust are everything. Let me illustrate.

I was speaking to about 100 association executives shortly after I had moved to DC. At this convention workshop, as part of my opening remarks, I was explaining how the transition had helped put in perspective my geographic journey and mid-life synthesis. In my mid-20s, I left those Brooklyn and Queens roots and went into creative exile in New Orleans. (My "American in Cajun Paris" years.) Did a bunch of interesting things as a "multimedia social worker" but, eventually, there were no more mountains to climb in the bayou. I started having this urge to move to the nation's capital. I didn't understand it till I got here in 1990. Then I realized if New York City and New Orleans had a baby it would look like Washington, DC. (Of course, I still can't vouch for its legitimacy.)

Being a bit obsessive, I saw other parallels among the three distinct and otherwise different towns, including the urban vitality of "The Four R's: Rivers, Races, Restaurants...and Roaches! (And believe me, you don't know what startle stress means till a three inch New Orleans flying sucker has dive-bombed your neck.)

With this group of serious-minded professionals, I should have left well enough alone. But no...once you start coming from the obsessive edge, it's hard to stop. So here's my mind teetering on the brink, about to go into free fall: Now what if we decided to play around with this notion of cities playing around. What if DC tried to get it on with NYC? Let's think symbolically and big...think monumental. Can't you just picture the Washington Monument hitting on the Statue of Liberty. And Ms. Liberty feistily replying, "Georgie, believe me...I've dealt with all kinds. And I especially like big men. You and I could probably rewrite all those Guinness Book records...But I believe in practicing safe sex. And where the hell will you find a big enough condom? Now don't tell me the Goodyear Blimp. Please, don't flatter yourself."

Because I hadn’t sufficiently warmed up the audience, hadn’t sufficiently bonded with them, my provocative repertoire was met with an angry stony silence. The Moral: Start slowly then carry on with a big shtick!

A Final Word on Freedom and Boundaries

In conclusion, from Nannies to "No Nos," I do believe in the First Amendment right of free speech, even when other’s find it uncomfortable or offensive. However, sometimes with reluctance, I’ve evolved to embrace the notion that right and responsibility coexist. My brand of psychohumor needs to err on the side of healing rather than hostility. In a way, having public forums for self-expression is a privilege of a mostly democratic society or, at least, one that allows for democratic enclaves. The power of this verity has been crystallized most poignantly by a new friendship with an émigré from post-Tiennamen Square Mainland China. And while cyber space gives new global meaning to the concept of freedom of expression and, hopefully, the Internet will help open up more repressive societies, (not just wallets for online shopping) I also respect the real and virtual concept of boundaries.

Conceptual, cultural and legal boundary issues between nations and organizations in cyberspace, e.g., trademark, domain name, preventing the homogenization, if not Americanization of the world's countries and cultures, etc. provide mind boggling conundrums, beyond the scope of this essay. But the family that wants to protect their child from what they perceive or those WebNannies perceive as provocative material, clearly has the right to exercise such a boundary. Just as I have the right to present words and create a picture of what it means to be whole and fully human. And for me, this includes a sensual and spiritual, "safe" and playful attitude toward sex as a vital part of the human condition.

So long live synergistic struggles between freedom and boundaries, rights and repsonsibilities, order and chaos. Here lies the vulnerable, ambiguous path for surmounting repression and that bureaucratic "Catch," for developing personal complexity and integrity. It’s also a credo to help you…Practice Safe Stress!

Reader's "Higher Power of Humor" Section

Holiday Merger From: Miss Pastel

Continuing the current trend of large-scale mergers and acquisitions, it was announced today at a press conference that Christmas and Hanukkah will merge. An industry source said that the deal had been in the works for about 1300 years. While details were not available at press time, it is believed that the overhead cost of having twelve days of Christmas and eight days of Hanukkah was becoming prohibitive for both sides. By combining forces, we're told, the world will be able to enjoy consistently high-quality service during the Fifteen Days of Chrismukah, as the new holiday is being called.

Massive layoffs are expected, with lords a-leaping and maids a-milking being the hardest hit. As part of the conditions of the agreement, the letters on the dreydl, currently in Hebrew, will be replaced by Latin, thus becoming unintelligible to a wider audience. Also, instead of translating to "A great miracle happened there," the message on the dreydl will be the more generic "Miraculous stuff happens." In exchange, it is believed that Jews will be allowed to use Santa Claus and his vast merchandising resources for buying and delivering their gifts.

One of the sticking points holding up the agreement for at least three hundred years was the question of whether Jewish children could leave milk and cookies for Santa even after having eaten meat for dinner. A breakthrough came last year, when Oreos were finally declared to be Kosher. All sides appeared happy about this.

A spokesman for Christmas, Inc., declined to say whether a takeover of Kwanzaa might not be in the works as well. He merely pointed out that, were it not for the independent existence of Kwanzaa, the merger between Christmas and Chanukah might indeed be seen as an unfair cornering of the holiday market. Fortunately for all concerned, he said, Kwanzaa will help to maintain the competitive balance. He then closed the press conference by leading all present in a rousing rendition of "Oy Vey, All Ye Faithful."

(Editor's Note: A reader responds to both the DEC '99, No. 1, Y2 article and the Work Stress Q & A re: workplace nepotism.)

From: Il Capo To: Stress Doc

I have the answer for the Y2K bug Mark. At least for me! I'll be in Italy, celebrating the new mellenium with my family and a new Italian love interest I met in July while there. If the proverbial _hit hits the fan, I guess I'll just be stuck in on the Italian Riviera for a while. living in a beach house, sitting around a fireplace keeping warm with this really attractive lady. ; )

From: Il Capo To: Stress Doc

Maybe more than just outrage over sisterly nepotism is at work. For in today's global, often cutthroat competition economy loyalty is a decidedly endangered species. So when individual favoritism and family patronage so glaringly surfaces...seeing red, if not blinding rage, is not so surprising. (Though perhaps management thought it was appeasing two birds with one placement.)

This is what affirmative action and feminism brought to the Navy. After tailhook, when the feminists got Clinton in office and he ordered the navy to cut its force by 46%, and yet ordered the representation of women doubled and minorities tripled in the officer corps, all in the name of "leveling the playing field," white males who worked their way up from blue collar working class neighborhoods in the mid-west (like me), with no mentors and no political pull, were the first to go. We were replaced by what is now a burgeoning Mr. and Mrs. network of officers couples. The good old boys' network is alive and well, augmented by a good old girls' network, a Mr. and Mrs. network of married officer couples, and a series of minority networks.

It used to be you had to be a member of "the club" in order to make flag rank. However, now, in today's "LEVEL PLAYING FIELD," if you aren't part of an informal buddy buddy network, you're out of a career. And so many people are busy trying to be part of a network, the "do more with less" philosophy is a joke. We're simply doing less quality with less.

 (Editors Note: In response to my bawdy and noisy exercise with Georgia in the DEC '99, No. 1 Newsletter, comes this exchange.)

From: AmazeZing To: Stress Doc

What a HOOT!!! LMAO!!! Mark, you're too much!

Gotta love ya, Linda

 Hi Linda,

Love your energy too. I didn't know if I was a little too risque for a "family" newsletter. ;-) But now that I realize it's really a diet and exercise newsletter (derriere busters), of course it makes perfect sense. ;-)

A holiday hug,

Subj: Re: What a way to "diet"!

Good Morning, Mark! What a way to wake a girl! !!ROTFL!! You, my dear, are a comedic genius!

On a more serious note... MOSES, I wonder how many of us could relate to your unraveling long distance relationship!? Geez! Your written word has a way of reaching deep within and rekindling the sadness while being comforted, in some small way, knowing that we're not alone in it.

Warm and fuzzies, Linda

Seek the Higher Power of Humor: May the Farce Be with You!


Blasting into the New Millennium >From Self-defeating Procrastination to Dynamic Habit Transformation

The New Millennium! What does it mean or portend for you? Upgrading job skills, a new or rejuvenated love life, reconnecting to a long suppressed passion to explore photography as a career, searching for a retirement community, if not spiritual homeland? As you sow resolution seeds into a New Year of the New Century, will hype or hope spring eternal? And alas, nothing can be fully realized without some action. But what, how, where, when and why to start? Well I can’t think of a better conceptual and applied, two-step launching pad than:

1) exploring the subject of procrastination and

2) realizing the profound connection between overcoming procrastination and transferring a negative habit into a nurturing and high performance sequence. So without further delay…

The Procrastination Puzzle: To Do, Not to Do or Deep Doodoo?

When it comes to procrastination, most of us are quick to acknowledge the problem and, of course, are slow to do something about it. I'll define procrastination as the sequence of events that ultimately enables or compels us to avoid thinking and feeling about a disagreeable task, making it easier to postpone taking necessary action. Why do we procrastinate? Reasons can range from the logical to the psycho-logical. Consider these ten disengaging stressors:

1) not having the necessary resources, tools and data; lacking the support, for example, from management, to do the job right; also, doubting the value and purpose of the task,

2) juggling too many projects; you no longer believe there can be life after deadlines; first comes exhaustion, next "brain strain," and, then, one just gives up,

3) grandiose expectations and rigid perfectionism, our own or others, along with anticipation of being harshly judged, can make it difficult to begin, sustain or complete a project,

4) impatience and impulsivity; as a recent slogan in Humor From the Edge proclaimed, "Hard work has a future payoff. Laziness pays off NOW!"; of course, there are many folks, not just Californians, for whom instant gratification takes way too long,

5) an underlying fear of failure; one is ashamed of being found out as incompetent, unworthy or an impostor; one tries to run from "The Intimate FOE: Fear Of Exposure,"

6) anger at having to do a problematic task, especially a task seen as an unfair demand, like having to get up in the morning,

7) you don't want to acknowledge publicly your uncertainty, vulnerability or anger and risk creating a shameful experience or conflict situation; that is, one doesn't want to be labeled as "slow" or "not a team player,"

8) to get even with someone, e.g., "Oh, I'm sorry. I guess this is the third time this week you asked for that report,"

9) to preserve an illusion that the issue is simply one of effort and attitude not aptitude or ability, and

10) fear of success, that is, if we are successful this time, what might people ask, expect or demand on the next project; a fear of being misused, overused or exposed often lurks in the shadow of success.

Breaking Out of the Procrastination Box

Can you relate to this couplet from one of my "Shrink Raps"?

Deadlines, deadlines all that aggravation Whew...You only have time for procrastination!

What's needed is an inspiring guide to break the chains of putting things off, mental paralysis, missing due dates, diversionary dusting, hiding out in the bathroom, along with CNN and remote control compulsion or Internet addiction. Fear, shame, rigid perfectionism and overt or covert temper tantrums have shackled you way too long. So forthwith..."The Sermon on the Mental Block." ("The Sermon from the Mental Ward" may come at any moment.) Believers...There can be life after deadlines! Here are "The Stress Doc's Six Guiding Principles and Strategies for EMANCIPATION PROCRASTINATION!

1. Honor the Basic Law of Safe Stress. Now just what is "Safe Stress?" Ah, it's one of those ephemeral concepts that will always elude precise definition. Sort of like love, chemistry, spiritual truth, the real Elvis, etc. (Hey, let's have a contest. Send in your own definition - 100 words or less - of what it means to "Practice Safe Stress." I'll post the most imaginative and insightful responses in my newsletter.) Still, this preamble should help clarify the concept: These days, we are often reminded to be careful in our sexual activity...but what about dealing with stress? Be honest, do you still engage in casual stress? In the relationship, are you always demanding to be on top ? Or, as a constant moaner and groaner, do you give others oral stress? Finally, when it comes to expressing anger, do you hold back or, even, withdraw using "conflictus interruptus?" Really now!

If these apply, it's time to start "Practicing Safe Stress!" And the Basic Law decrees: "Do know your limits and don't limit your 'no's!" Or another aphormation: "A firm 'no' a day keeps the ulcers away, and the hostilities, to o!"

2. Practice "N & N." Of course, just saying "no" is not always easy, nor is it sufficient. The key is to say "No" and to "Negotiate." And negotiation means when someone asks to pile more work on your plate, you don't immediately push the peas into the potatoes. And if you mush your mix with your main course to make room for string beans or, especially, for a piece of liver (who wants to do liver?)...If you keep adding to your load, you'll likely get indigestion, if not drop the plate.

Make sure the delegator or cook knows your work load. Don't pair big eyes with a small mouth. Renegotiate timelines. There can even be life after deadlines. For example, I've had undergrads and graduate students gang up on me to reschedule a midterm as they had too many back-to back exams. (They somehow knew I'd be the softhearted Prof.) So, build an alliance or network - add this "N" to "N and N" - when confronting an authority about changes in work scheduling. You don't have to be an isolated protester. Remember, there's strength in numbers. (And please, don't speak up with your mouth full!)

3. Push for Priorities. When adding to a tight workload, ask the person in charge what are his or her priority assignments. Explain that you are willing to put some work on the back burner for a high priority, time-sensitive project. Don't promise to complete the new work and perform your ongoing assignments without making some adjustments in your overall delivery schedule.

Some people always try to "do it all." These folks often are: a) reluctant to define their boundaries or set limits with authority figures, b) afraid of disappointing others, avoiders of conflict and/or excessively need to be liked, and c) over controlling perfectionists who either mistrust people's motives or fear being negatively judged and humiliated by others.

4. Confront HE MAN and SHE MAN Tendencies. I call the above personality types the HE MAN and the SHE MAN. The "H" stands for "Humiliation" and the "E" for "Emptiness." The "S" is for "Savior," the person who enables or rescues out of a denial of others' issues and to avoid confronting one's own anxieties and dysfunctions. Like the aggressively controlling "Type A" HE MAN, the SHE MAN allows his or her fears of humiliation and emptiness to obscure a basic principle of the ultimate procrastination state: "Burnout is less a sign of failure and more that we gave ourselves away." Of course, I don't discriminate. Both the HE MAN and the SHE MAN can be male or female.

5. Lubricate the Ebb and Flow. Always revving up at the eleventh hour is for adrenaline junkies. Doing your best and most creative work on a project or paper requires advanced research and preparation. You need time for thinking out of the box, getting stuck trying to form new or unusual relationships among your project elements, having time to sleep on the problem and to attack it again and again, and then, hopefully, the "aha!" - a novel or elegant solution or design.

If you are mentally dry or exhausted, put on the "stress brakes" and take a creative juice break: go for a bike ride or a jog in the woods. Take a nap or listen to Mozart. Read an old Calvin and Hobbes book. (Laughter doesn't just relieve stress; it also frees up creative energy.) Don't only muscle your way through an intellectual barrier. Take that "incubation vacation" to hatch a new perspective.

And if you can't get yourself in gear, or give yourself a rest, appoint a self-regulator. Select a "designated nagger." Per your instructions, this person will, on schedule, remind or cajole you to ebb and flow. With this arrangement, of course, you now lay the blame for any procrastination on the other's dereliction of duties. Pretty clever, eh?

6. Mother Knows Best. Learn to break up a big project into smaller, manageable pieces. If highly anxious, start working for five minutes on a complex assignment, then back away. It's amazing, but with this new small window, upon your return to the battlefield, you'll likely feel less intimidated by the overwhelming project dragon.

Of course, as a once big procrastinator, I had to learn the hard and humbling way. I was subjected to my mother preaching the words of the ancient Roman poet Horace: "To begin is to be half done. Dare to know - start!" (And you wonder why I'm such an expert on stress, performance and neurosis.)

Just remember...don't wait for your mother or that internalized mother, or father, voice to "hock" you (Yiddish for "drive you crazy")...emancipate yourself and, of course…Practice Safe Stress!

 (c) Mark Gorkin 1999 Shrink Rap Productions