The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
March 1999, No. 2
Shrink Rap: Life is getting too real. Once again I've had to rearrange my publishing
schedule because of out-of-town work-travel commitments. The western trip was immediately
followed by a local "Practicing Safe Stress" workshop fourteen hours after
landing in DC. So while a bit fatigued, fortunately, there was a sublimely silly, almost
magically restorative moment during this program with nurses and social workers of a major
suburban Maryland hospital.
Having just finished a somewhat serious dissertation on "The Four Stages of
Burnout," I was about to lighten the atmosphere. I started pulling a "Blues
Brothers" hat, black sunglasses and a black tambourine from my black bag of tricks.
People were nervously laughing; what was this Stress Doc character up to? I started
explaining my pioneering efforts in the field of psychologically humorous rap music --
"Shrink Rap" Productions, of course...which elicited a collective groan. (My
immediate counter: "We'll see who has the last groan!") But then, down the
corridor, the President of the Hospital with his Board of Directors is spotted touring the
facilities. You can tell these big wigs are staring somewhat incredulously. Naturally, I
invite them to come on down. The staff seems a bit apprehensive. I calmly restate my
shrink rapper role and then issue a perfunctory warning: "Buckle up your strait
jackets...It's the Stress Doc's Stress Rap." And once over the initial shock of
seeing me in action, the audience is eating it and laughing it up, especially the
President and his coterie. Upon finishing, with applause dying down (of course, my reply:
"I can tell when an audience is applauding out of relief" ;-) the President
jumps in. He turns to the department supervisor who brought me in and says, "Serina,
are we actually paying for this training?" And then he and the group burst out
laughing. Mr. Pres also acknowledged that my rap lyrics definitely captured his life in
the administrative fast lane.
Our session also had some real productive problem-solving activity regarding disarming
power struggles with (the mostly male and often foreign-born) doctors and with a near
abusive female administrator. More on the disarmament process in an upcoming edition.
Finally, my work-travel schedule doesn't warrant much sympathy, especially when it's
Boulder, CO. Sheer rock faces, spruce laden mountains, a patchwork of earth brown, deep
forest green and snowy white attracting my jogger's gaze in the caressing spring-like air.
And a babbling creek running with me, as soothing on the ears as on the eyes.
Still, with a hectic schedule in mind, fittingly, I just finished writing an offline
article that I personally need to study: "More Tips for Small Business Owners on
Practicing Safe Stress." The skills and strategies aren't just for entrepreneurs;
this message is for anyone who needs help gaining effective control of an overload
And the second, contributing piece reveals a more intimate strategy for coping with an
"on the edge" existence: a new house "mate."
To good adventures.
Dear Readers. By popular demand, here is your gumbo of the sublime, the spicy and the
ridiculous: a tasty mix of my writings along with humor jokes, lists and other sparkling
entities that have descended from cyberspace.
News Flash: Alas, only for AOL members, stop by my online "Shrink Rap and Group
Chat," Tuesdays, 9-10:30pm EST: <A
HREF="aol://4344:2993.chat.31195386.586807274">Washington LIVE CHAT</A>
. 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
However, for all cyberspace travelers, there's the new Stress Doc Work Stress Q & A
-- AOL.COM Washington, DC -
The Stress Doc's Work Stress Q&A -- Ask the Stress Doc
is now featured on five Portals to the Web, including
- Netscape Netcenter
- Digital City
- AOL.COM Washington, DC - Home
All five portal links can be shared with and are operational for both users of AOL and
For more articles on a variety of psychology topics, try these links: www.stressdoc.com
or <A HREF="www.stressdoc.com">STRESSDOC HOMEPAGE</A> and on AOL,
Keyword: Stress Doc or <A HREF="aol://4344:972.doc.1264535.556723207"> The
Stress Doc @ Online Psych</A> . And here's an AOL link with series of articles on
burnout, downsizing, layoffs and career transition, <A
HREF="aol://4344:972.docwork.1255066.562088752">The Stress Doc Interview @
Online Psych</A> .
If you know others who would like to receive "The Stress Doc Newsletter,"
please pass their names along. (AOL subscription link <A
HREF="aol://1391:43-61027">form driven mail</A> .) And, if you wish not
to receive the newsletter, just email me with, "unsubscribe."
The Stress Doc builds upon a previous series -- "Building Natural SPEED" --
for small business owners. His new skills and strategies will help the entrepreneur or any
achievement-oriented individual juggle high demands, high performance and emotional
endurance. So collaborate, differentiate and selectively experiment!
More Tips for Small Business Owners on "Practicing Safe Stress" Three Keys
for Mastering Multiple Demands and the Entrepreneurial Catch-22
The most challenging task for a small business owner may well be juggling multiple
business responsibilities. The only thing more dangerous is too few workload balls. Over a
prolonged period, insufficient clients, contracts or sales and you're grappling with
survival. As a small business owner contemplating a retreat back into the corporate
sector, implied: "It's the revenue stream, stupid." Clearly, for folks in the
small business trenches, when demands and deliverables exceed resources or reinforcements
feeling out of control, exhaustion, dropped balls and a damaged reputation are likely
consequences. The latter scenario can easily morph into that "Multiple &
Simultaneous Demand Situation" Monster. You are: a) responsible for an increasing
number of people and projects, b) frantically managing an ever expanding base of data,
markets and procedures and c) feel like a slave to deadlines or tied up by thieves of
time. If you are not careful, this Multiple & Simultaneous (or M & S) Demand
Situation can turn around and become an "S & M" experience: you end up a
"Servant" to too many "Masters."
Or, at the least, you are struggling with the "Entrepreneurial Catch-22":
when business growth exceeds operational mechanisms or resources for adequately responding
to changing venues and technologies, demands and responsibilities. But you can't not grow;
survival is on the line. Yet each step of expansionary opportunity brings two seemingly
regressive steps of adversity and exhaustion. And somehow, if you calculate and subdue
this approach-avoidance tempest (or is it temptress?) there's still the perennial
existential-temporal dilemma: can there be life after deadlines? (And honestly, aren't you
getting a bit old for all that late night high performance stuff?)
So how do you break out of this paradoxical, seemingly self-defeating cycle? How can
you grow with the multifaceted flow? By expanding and evolving while also establishing
viable boundaries. And you start with this bottom-line strategy, "The Stress Doc's
Basic Law of Safe Stress": Do know your limits and don't limit your "No"s!
Let me draw upon my netrepreneurial experience these past few years to illustrate three
key concepts for managing the cyberspace-real time continuum. More important, here's to
surviving and thriving at the small business battlefront!
1. Delegate and Collaborate. My first major cyber collaboration involved the birthing,
feeding and caring of an ever-expanding monster - a soon-to-be award-winning website. With
technophobic tendencies, there was no question about my working with a webmaven.
Initially, I would occasionally visit and mostly be awed by John's construction efforts.
It wasn't until column writing for a humor newsletter and Online Psych (AOL's major mental
health forum) started generating steady email questions and requests that I realized web
design and maintenance required genuine collaboration, not complete delegation. From
catchy and instructional copy to format and graphics, bringing the perspective of a novice
or "dummie" was vital. I often challenged John's assumptions as to what would be
obvious or user friendly to site visitors. The critical concept: even when delegating to
an expert, don't minimize the value of your/the lay consumer viewpoint.
Next, for promoting my site in both the online and offline worlds, I hired an internet
PR/marketing consultant for a specific and time-limited project. I could have done much of
this PR work, but it would have detracted from my primary mission: seeing therapy clients,
organizational training, consulting and speaking along with generating a self-syndicated
Stress Doc column. And would I have been as successful as Mary? Within six months of
conception, our fledgling site was featured as an USA Today Online "Hot Site"
Website! So while productive delegation and collaboration is an initial investment in
money, time and energy, ultimately, it's a an effective and efficient commitment to
diversification and business expansion.
Let me close with "The Delegator's Prayer":
Grant me the serenity to delegate when I can't The courage to collaborate when I can
And the wisdom to know to motivate when I should And to aggravate when I must!
(Of course, this is my spin on "The Serenity Prayer":
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change The courage to change the
things I can And the wisdom to know where to hide the bodies. ;-)
2. Urgent vs. Important. Two recent developments have made this distinctive issue
critical. First, a consultant project requiring travel to the western US was just
finalized. Then, in the same week, the online world erupted. My "Ask the Stress
Doc" work stress column developed in collaboration with AOL/Digital City - Washington
was featured in five Metro-DC regional web portals - from Netscape's Netcenter to AOL.COM:
Washington. Email started jumping off the screen. The self-proclaimed title, "The
Virtual Dear Abby of AOL," was no longer a merry moniker.
These two dramatic additions threw my modus- and cyberoperandi into turmoil. I've
prided myself on answering almost all email personally. Very quickly I had to make a
paradigm shift. Now, in response to a heartfelt note, I might send a brief personal
message; the bulk of my emailings was resource links and/or an article that hopefully
approximated the reader's concerns and expectations. While this operational shift may seem
obvious, it still raised some misgivings. I was sacrificing intimacy for efficiency and
hoping that quality service and customer satisfaction would prevail. (The next step is
finding some other "Dear Doc" ghosts or clones.)
Of course, face-to-face interaction only intensifies the need for setting priorities
and focusing energies. For example, customers and employees will frequently insist their
projects are vital, their needs are urgent. Remember, urgent gets done now; important gets
prioritized! For a priority system to work, key business players and partners often must
overcome turf and ego instincts: "My task is most important," "No mine is
even more critical." The small business milieu can quickly take on the manner,
intensity, and conflicting loyalties of a family. And sometimes (before things get too
urgent) you need an outside consultant to help you and your staff: a) handle
"family" dysfunction and/or b) envision goals, establish consensus and become a
dynamic, "whole is greater than the sum of parts" team. (My motto - "Have
Stress? Will Travel: A Smart Mouth for Hire!")
3. Experiment and Select a Performance Curve. The third group of principals for
juggling multiple responsibilities relates to valuing experimentation and to
distinguishing what's staple and what's supplemental for business operations. One key is
developing "selective perfection." For example, into my original online and
offline psychohumor essays I pour time, passion, obsession and humor. I'm shooting for at
least an "A." (You know who's the true Type A Personality: the person who won't
settle for being anything less than a Type A+.) For workshops, interviewing the client,
some rehearsal and relaxed attention is usually sufficient to produce a top-notch job.
Years of experience and previous trial and error learning curves provide the high
performance foundation. Lastly, my twice weekly "Ask the Stress Doc" Q & A
calls for professionalism, problem-solving clarity and brevity, not my most imaginative
effort. B+ is good enough
Selective perfection in action!
And finally, there's that related corollary to experimentation and discrimination, one
that helps generate a robust growth curve: the capacity to both gently tolerate and
critically analyze (and sometimes agonize over) past errors, current shortcomings and
anticipated vulnerabilities. Having the strength to demand and take in "bad
news" is as vital as generating and sharing positive ideas and energy. So, strive
high and embrace failure. You'll rarely lose and will surely learn!
In summary, when a small business owner: 1) consistently and effectively delegates and
collaborates, 2) owns the distinction between urgent and important and 3) selects the path
of experimentation, feedback and learning curves, he or she is expanding the small
business repertoire -- from survival juggling to high performance flowing. So go with the
flow and, of course
Practice Safe Stress!
The Stress Doc Ezine The Higher Power of Humor Section...
The second section will consist primarily of humor material that filters down from
cyberspace. And here's a playfully poignanat story from a friend and media colleague on
the importance of reaching out for, and the unexpected nature of, true love.
Chelseaıs Rescue Tails of a Dogter and Her Mommy
By Gayle Kirschenbaum, email@example.com
A little dogıs future looked bleak And a single womanıs life was empty Until fate
brought them together. * * * * *
³Iım sorry I never bit him. He deserved it. I had plenty of chances but I was so
scared what heıd do to me. There were other wow wows in the house, much bigger than me,
but he never touched them. I would just look at him and heıd kick me so hard Iıd go
flying down the stairs. Then heıd lift me up and throw me in the cage, which was in the
wet, cold, stinky basement. I was all by myself in the dark fearing what would happen
That was my dogter Chelsea, a twelve pound Shih Tzu, speaking about her life before I
adopted her. Pretty traumatic! My own life you might say was pretty empty. I was busy
working but coming from New York City completely isolated living in Los Angeles. I spent
most of my free time doing everything alone. I was eager to love and nurture but had no
one toward whom to turn these feelings. Chelsea interrupts, ³Okay, so then we met and we
lived together and she became my Mommy and she got all better.² ³Something like that.
And Chelsea got all better too! Right sweetheart?³ ³Ruff, ruff! Mommy and me wuv each
other. We do everything together.² We even wrote a book together called Chelseaıs
Rescue: Tails of a Dogter and Her Mommy. So how did it all come about?
I never expected it. I never expected to wake up and suddenly be one of them. Those
people who rush to show you a picture of their dog. Those people who think their dog is a
person. It was all an accident. One day I was a free floating spirit traveling around the
world and the next day I was a single parent of a twelve pound Shih Tzu. Me? How could I
own a dog? Iım never home long enough even to take care of a houseplant. And fleas! I
could be a mile a way and theyıll start salivating in anticipation of a juicy meal: me.
Iıve gone blocks out of my way just to make sure I donıt end up looking like I have
chicken pox. And you know all those responsibilities they talk about . . . such as who
will take care of the dog when you are away? Who will walk the dog when you are working?
And what about all the additional expenses you will incur: food, grooming and medical
bills? Somehow everything works out in the end and then you wonder why you didnıt do it
earlier. So here it goes . . . my life with my dogter . . . from singlehood to motherhood.
Ruff, ruff! Hey, wait a minute! This is my story too! From deprivation to smotherhood.
From prison to princesshood. Ready, here it comes. My Life as a dogter with my single
mogther. Okay, honey, Iıll take it from here. My Life as a Single Parent with my Dogter,
Chelsea. Forty came and went. I was still single and childless. Being a New Yorker, I was
still struggling with life in Los Angeles, the city of illusions. My career as a
television producer was going well, but my personal life had several voids such as a lack
close friends of either gender and a deep intimate relationship with a man. My maternal
hormones were raging but other than a young Hispanic girl, who I became my little sister,
there was no one else to turn these nurturing feelings toward. August 1996 my life
unexpectedly changed forever. I was in Florida visiting my brother and his family. They
just had a baby. This was my brotherıs third child and his house was filled with
children, dogs, reptiles and chaos. The last canine kid to arrive was a black and white
Shih Tzu, named Chelsea. But my brother had it out for her kind of like he did for me when
we were growing up. She struggled to survive in this world and her only defense was
marking the carpet. This set my brother into a rage and she was often yelled at, hit and
thrown into the slammer, the crate he kept in the basement. Many a cold, dark nights went
by with Chelsea locked behind bars, crying herself to sleep. My brother announced if I
didnıt take her, heıd killed her. Kill her?! No, he wouldnıt do that, well, maybe
something similar to that, perhaps just make her life miserable or donate her to a medical
research experiment. How could I not rescue this little dog? As much as I wanted to there
was no way I could own a dog with my lifestyle, traveling all the time. That evening I
went to sleep and brought Chelsea into my room. There was something so sweet about her and
her personality besides her adorable looks, her large dark eyes which stare into you,
kinda through you and her gentle and smart spirit. Her aura was radiating but definitely
she was in a lot of pain. It might sound a bit odd to say this referring to a four-legged
canine, but our souls connected. And Chelsea is no young soul. An hour later Chelsea
whimpered, in an attempt to get out of the room. Perhaps she was thirsty or just wanted to
get back to familiar surroundings. Before I knew it, my brother threw into the slammer
again. I went to sleep that night, tossing and turning, thinking how much Iıd love to
take her with me and wondering how I could manage. My track record for caring for living
plants was not very good. If I was able to kill my green leaf friends in sunny Southern
California because of my lack of attention, what would I do to a dog which required much
more? Forget to feed her and find her dead from malnutrition or leave her in my car where
sheıd die of heat exhaustion? I just didnıt know what horrible deed I was capable of
doing. The following morning I woke and found myself asking my sister-in-law several
questions. What does Chelsea eat? How often do you feed her? When do you walk her? How do
you handle fleas? She answered all my questions. And within an hour I was out the door
with her cage or as itıs referred to, crate, her dog food, treats, bones, toys, towel and
the princess herself, Chelsea. She was probably wondering what was going on? Where was
this complete stranger taking her? To her death, to a pound, to a vacation in the sun? Oy,
I tried to comfort her but fear was emanating out of all her pores. She knew this was a
one way ticket out of the only home she knew but I wouldnıt say loved. Everything that
was familiar to her was now gone. I was staring at her trying to figure out what I could
do to comfort her. It was not an easy feeling for both of us. There we were in my rental
car on our way to Southern Florida to visit my folks. Mom had already completely
disapproved of my having a dog. She is even more practical then me and reconfirmed how
impossible it would be for me to care for an animal with my lifestyle. To make things
worse, mom informed me ³the dog³ was not allowed in the house, only the garage. ³The
garage?! It was 120 degrees in the garage! There was no way, she could stay in the
garage.² I protested. Momıs bark sometimes is louder than her bite and by the time
Chelsea and I arrived to their home, Chelsea was invited in BUT she was not allowed to run
around freely when we werenıt there. Chelsea was thrown into the SLAMMER, oops, crate
when she was left alone. My heart went out to see her in there. I know this is what the
trainers recommend to do but Chelsea was already a year and half old. Wasnıt it time to
throw this prison away? I immediately fell in love with Chelsea. But she took longer to
fall in love with me. Everything was new and strange for her. Iıd walk her for hours and
she wouldnıt go to the bathroom. I suppose she was constipated from all this change and
turmoil. She walked with her thick busy tail hanging between her legs, sweeping the
ground. Two women, unkindly commented, that she would make a great floor mop. I quickly
sent them a dirty look. Chelsea and I had several adjustments to make in life but none
which were too difficult. After just a few months, we were co-dependent and could barely
be apart. The bag I carried Chelsea home in on the plane, a Sherpa bag, became our best
friend. Thanks to Chelseaıs mellow personality, she gets to go almost everywhere I go and
most people donıt even know she is there. Sheıs traveled extensively by plane, train and
automobile. Sheıs enjoyed fine dining at the Four Seasons, been to the theater, opera,
movies, sporting events, ski resorts, French class, computer courses, parties, hikes and
swam in lakes, frolicked in streams, and washed and changed for an evening of fine dining.
How does she get to do all this? The places where she is not suppose to be, she quietly
slips into her favorite Sherpa bag, I zip it up, lift her on my shoulder and off we go
together to enjoy the events which follow, together. Chelsea has a great view through the
mesh screen on the bag. And is much happier to be with me than home alone. And Iım much
happier to have her with me than think about her being home alone. Needless to say, we
have gotten into some mischievous situations which have left us all laughing. Iım no
longer the same person I was before I got Chelsea. She has brought so many new people into
my life and has filled me with love and joy. And I understand by those who knew her before
me that she too is no longer the dog she use to be, snappy and barking all the time.
Sometimes Chelsea tries to make light of the affect Iıve had on her. Threatened by
eviction because of Chelsea, I decided to buy a place and relocate to a better
neighborhood. Afterall, I wanted to move where there was a better school district. And my
honoroll student won the blue ribbon in her obedience class. My little princess proudly
walks the streets of Santa Monica, knowing that heads are bopping to get a better look and
strangers will dote and give her pleasurable back and tummy rubs. She is constantly
recognized. I have taken the back seat but I donıt care. Iım the proud mother. People
often say, ³Are you the woman with that cute little black and white dog?² I glow and nod
³yes³. After so many funny adventures, Chelsea and I felt compelled to share our
profound story and wrote a book together. Fifty/fifty, we are partners in this endeavor.
It wasnıt easy getting her to give me an equal share but I reminded her, more than once,
that I still pay all the bills. Remember, if you find yourself in the same situation as I
did three years ago, go for it. Everything works itself out and then youıll wonder why
you didnıt get that pup you wanted years before.
Seek the higher power of humor...May the Farce Be with You!
And, of course...Practice Safe Stress!
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, the Stress Doc, a psychotherapist and nationally recognized
speaker, trainer, consultant and author, is also known as AOL's and the internet's
"Online Psychohumorist" . Check out his USA Today Online "Hot
Site" website - www.stressdoc.com and his page on
AOL/Online Psych, Keyword: Stress Doc
** Join the Doc's "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on
AOL/Digital City, Tuesdays, 9-10:30pm EDT (AOL Members Only) -- Dig City Promo - Stress
** The Stress Doc's Work Stress Q&A -- Ask the Stress Doc
is now featured on five Portals to the Web, including
- Netscape Netcenter
- Digital City
- AOL.COM Washington, DC - Home
All five portal links can be shared with and are operational for both users of AOL and
** For his free newsletter, Notes from the Online Psychohumorist or for info on
the Stress Doc's Online Coaching program, email Stress