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
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
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.
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
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
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 &
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." Its been a good while since reading the novel, but heres
the essence of "the catch": the novels 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, Im 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
websites 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 clients 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
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 todays
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 individuals 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 Im
aware of being sanctioned. And knowing how some readers thrive on pointing out
missteps, Im 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 Im several minds regarding this issue. Clearly, theres much web
content of a pornographic and violent nature that is inappropriate and
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
So too as a media/public performer and educator, Ive 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 dont recall
the specifics.) His antagonist (a native of Louisiana, I assume) immediately
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 Docs 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
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 hadnt sufficiently warmed up the audience, hadnt 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 others find it uncomfortable or
offensive. However, sometimes with reluctance, Ive 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. Its also a credo to help you
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
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
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
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 cant 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
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
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
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
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
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
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