The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
May 1999, No. 2
News Flash: Alas, only for AOL members, stop by my online "Shrink Rap and Group
Chat," Tuesdays, 9-10:30pm EST: Washington LIVE CHAT . It's a
dynamic, lively, at times witty and always warm, thoughtful and supportive problem-solving
group. We raise questions and share our ideas, hopes and experiences with each other.
Special Announcement: For all cyberspace travelers, there's the new Ask the Stress Doc
Q & A -- Love
and Relationships Digital City - Washington, DC - Love ...Check it out.
Special Announcement: Dear Readers: I need some assistance. Would like to increase the
participation in my new Ask the Stress Doc Q & A. Would you
submit work-related stress questions to the links below and/or share the links with others
who might want to participate? A sample Q & A follows the links. Thanks so much.
For all cyberspace travelers, there's the new Ask the Stress Doc Work Stress Q
& A Digital City - Washington, DC - Ask the Stressdoc is now featured
on a variety of 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
Also, check the Doc's Work Stress Q & A archive: Stress Doc's
Q&A Ask the Stress Doc Q & A/Digital City--Washington
Q: I haven't found any info to help a couple owning and working together in a high
stress (pharmacy) business. I have all the financial, clerical, purchasing non-rx
supplies, sales of wholesale accounts in photo processing, problems to deal with and he
works with the community, patients and Rx management. He is also better with managing
employees. He has 20 yrs experience in the field and I came on when we bought the store
and the last of our kids was in school. I had no training and no past work experience to
help me. We are past the four year mark but our health and marriage are on shaky ground.
Oh, we have four kids one in her first year of college. I have all the stress related
symptoms, migraines, high blood pressure, and weight gain that I haven't been able to
lose. I eat right and exercise and haven't killed my husband yet but any suggestions would
A: Suggestions for what??? I'll assume you don't want me to provide a referral for
putting out a contract on your husband. Sometimes we need to learn that we've accomplished
our mission and it's time to move on to another adventure. (No, not necessarily a new
marriage.) Sounds like you took a risk, threw yourself into a new business without prior
business experience or training and helped your baby (hopefully, not just your hubby's
baby) that is, the store, survive it's most challenging phase -- the startup! But perhaps
it's time to either: a) find a therapist or coach who does family business counseling or
coaching or b) seriously consider letting go of your involvement with the store for the
sake of your health, if not for your marriage. This doesn't mean your contribution wasn't
invaluable. Just that now, perhaps, a non-family employee would be better for ongoing
maintenance. It's not easy dealing with authority and autonomy, power and control issues
in a marriage. And when working together, these gremlins are lurking, if not being played
out, day and night.
I'm also aware your nest is emptying out. I hope this dynamic will not have you
clinging to the "security" of the store. How about pursuing a job or your own
business or get training, schooling, etc., in a field that you would really enjoy. Maybe
something you've fantasized about but dismissed because the time was never right; you were
launching others. Hey, you helped your husband grow his dream. Now, it's your turn
to...Practice Safe Stress!
Shrink Rap: According to Freud, the mature individual is able to work and love in a
productive and fulfilling manner. Well, I don't know if I've fully reached this
psychological summit, especially regards the latter, but at least in cyberspace I'll be
grappling with both on a regular basis. AOL/Digital City--Washington has asked me to
expand our Ask the Stress Doc Work Stress Q & A. Now appearing on five Web Portals
will also be a Love & Relationships Q & A. Boy, if anything could drive me back
into therapy...this may do it. A cyberpal reminded me of my concept of
"Romantasy." No doubt I'm still wrestling with this one. Is that one true love
more fantasy than romantic reality? And to what extent does underlying depression,
adrenaline addiction, testosterone lust and other chemical, if not chemistry cravings,
along with egoal-driven narcissism tilt the scales from intimacy friendly to commitment
phobic? Just some mundane issues to ponder.
An Award-winning Relaxation Tape
And if I get stressed in the self-scrutinizing process, there's relief. A reader sent
me a wonderful relaxation tape. Susie Mantell, with a truly soothing and sensuous voice,
accompanied by serene background music, has produced a Publisher's Weekly award winning
audio, Your Present: A Half Hour of Peace. She will help you detach from the psychic hurly
burly; you just might find your peaceful and pure center. You can order the tape by
calling toll free: 1-888-32-BOOKS. Her website:www.relaxintuit.com
Which reminds me, I received an award this past week from LadyIsREAL@aol.com. Those on
AOL should be able to link to it: The
Stress Doc @ Online Psych . Thanks again MissL. And email her for her lively e-zine.
As for the work issue, today's main article explores the importance of upper management
knowing how to support psychologically employees dealing with significant organizational
change. this article builds on a classic satirical piece: "Strategies for Managing
Downsizing and Reorganizing." In fact, I just received an email from a reader who
almost missed the intent despite my warning: "This article may be hazardous to the
ironically-impaired." But, as he said in the subject line: "Almost
Ironically-Impaired": Thanks for the laughs provided by your 7 Highly Effective
Strategies For Reorganizing and Downsizing. I have been entrenched so deeply in the
pressures of my job that it took almost a full minute to realize that this was a joke.
When I did my wife caught me in an all out belly laugh. It felt great!! Since I have been
taking my blood pressure lately, due to some extra stress at work, I realized that the
laughing brought the pressure down better than any breathing exercise or visualization.
I have recently been promoted to a position of Deputy City Manager for a growing City
in south Florida. Previously I was a department head in the community services department.
After reading the smoke signals of burnout I realized I was heading for trouble. This was
another great document that was very helpful.
So thanks in advance for your Work Stress and Love & Relationship questions. Enjoy!
Main Article: >From Down and Outraged to Grieving and Growing Up -- Some examples of
group grief as a vehicle for creative organizational change
A Parable on understanding the place and space for love
With two instructive vignettes, the Stress Doc illustrates how management, out of touch
with the psychological realities of loss and change, can exacerbate the stress of a macro
or micro restructuring. And the Doc also reveals the rejuvenating powers of open and
creative group grieving.
>From Down and Outraged to Grieving and Growing Up: A Creative Paradigm for Managing
Organizational Change Part I
An email from the Director of Corporate Communications of a major financial institution
appears on my screen. Oh, oh
Have I missed a credit card payment? No, nothing so
mundane. The email contains a list of questions to help me organize my thoughts for an
upcoming phone interview: how can a company use humor to help a workforce cope with a
broad reorganization? Not surprisingly, stress levels escalate in proportion to the
"rightsizing" and downsizing. (Can anyone say "frightsizing"?) In
anticipation of the interview, I email my popular, "Cutting Edge Strategies for
Downsizing and Reorganizing: The Stress Doc's 'Top Ten' Tips for Tip Top Management."
It's a wicked satire on how top management can mismanage a restructuring. (The article
almost got the emailer in trouble. She was laughing so hard when reading, a colleague
stopped inside her office to make sure everything was okay.) In our phone conversation,
Miss DCC immediately highlighted the first commandment: the management dictum that
employees should be thankful that they still have a job -- "Keep Employees Grateful
Clearly, this "they should be thankful" attitude reveals a critical lack of
understanding regarding the powerful impact of reorganizational loss and change
just for the "losers" but for the "survivors" as well. Examples of
such change include: a) encouraging employees to take an early out, b) transferring to a
new and often less desirable geographic location, c) losing valued colleagues and friends
(of, course, for some, it's good riddance), d) gradually shutting down a plant while
maintaining productivity levels or e) readying employees for profound operational changes,
e.g., Information Technology engineers needing to move beyond their labs and work stations
in order to develop a more personal market and sales relationship with customers.
Genuinely connecting to the psychological state of the individual and the corporate
community is vital for buy in with the change process and for keeping transitional
turbulence to non-dysfunctional levels. A systematic training program that helps people
acknowledge and constructively express uncertainty and anxieties, even a sense of rage and
betrayal is critical. Individuals, departments and organizations often need support and
guidance to let go collectively of the old and familiar, to embrace the new and
unsettling, yet potentially exciting and growth-producing.
Here are two examples of institutional change -- one a macro level, the other on a
micro level. Both scenarios reveal at best psychologically naive change strategies, at
worst, significantly dysfunctional ones. And both also illustrate how a shift in relating
to human needs and emotions transformed employees' morale and engagement with transition
and new learning.
Down and Outraged: Outplacement Postal Style
In the early '90s, the US Postal Service put "Carvin Marvin" Runyon at the
helm. As Postmaster General, Runyon was determined to reduce the number of employees at
the USPS, to save money and improve the bottom line. Officially it was called a
restructuring, not a RIF: Reduction In Force. A hotshot outplacement team from New York
City was stationed at Headquarters in Washington, DC. Their mission was to motivate the
postal troops to update resumes and look for positions outside the Postal Service or to
transfer to less geographically desirable, understaffed postal facilities.
Those individuals who did not accept the early buyout (many having a supervisory grade
and above) were assigned to a Transition Center. Jean Paul Sartre's existentially
nightmarish play, "No Exit," could have been staged here: Individuals assigned
to this center no longer had a job but they were still being paid their regular salary.
And you are mistaken if this sounds like Paradise Island. Well, these folks did feel
isolated from the rest of the organization. And gradually, other postal employees would
have less and less to do with them
as if their ambiguous status was catching. My
description of the Transition Center as a Leper Colony was not a big metaphoric stretch.
So, into this trauma and chaos come this crack team of outplacement specialists --
corporate cheerleaders with their inspirational pyrotechniques and razzle-dazzle. Get
these postal grunts "gung ho!" Big surprise
After two months of their best
shot most employees are not getting with the program, that is, they aren't following the
agenda of the hired mouths. This motivational troupe has violated the fundamental
therapeutic intervention principle: "Start where the client is."
Someone in the Employee Assistance Program finally confronted the obvious: there was a
need for a workshop program that addressed the various psychological grief issues -- the
fear, abandonment, rage, etc. -- being actively and passively played out. In other words,
a clinical-educational intervention was needed if motivational-reorganizational goals were
to be productively met. At this point, the EAP asked me to run stress and change workshops
at Postal Headquarters and at other facilities in the Mid-Atlantic Region. I'll never
forget the poignant lament of an employee displaced from her management fast track:
"I once had a career path. Then this boulder fell from the sky and crushed it!"
Feelings of betrayal, abandonment, profound mistrust
these issues often linger both
for those who have been severed from the company and for the "lucky" survivors.
Not surprisingly, most participants responded to the grief workshops thusly: "Why
didn't we have this program a couple of months ago (before or instead of the superficial
dog and pony show)?" The group training as collective grief process established that
the postal employees could grapple with reorganizational issues and emotions. They could
aggressively and constructively express feelings as well as creatively adapt to an
imposed, radically changed environment. Passive resistance was gradually replaced by
acceptance and moving ahead, both within and beyond the system. Some folks began to think
outside the (mail) box. One fellow used this period of uncertainty to seriously pursue his
own seafood business, an idea that had been hovering for years. He wasn't quite ready to
bail out of the USPS completely; he just knew he had to diversify. Others, deciding they
could no longer count on Uncle Sam for financial security, went back to school or training
class. In these unpredictable and volatile times, confronting adversity and channeling
grief enables the achievement of a mutually reinforcing, Mobius Strip mantra of wisdom:
"One must begin to separate; one must be separate to begin."
Imposed vs. Inspired Change
The following vignette is more micro level change compared to the postal restructuring.
Still, it provides food for thought regarding the connections between group grief,
creative problem solving and accepting operational change. In the late '80s, the Federal
Judicial System began to computer automate their record keeping. One Federal Courthouse
found staff reluctant to replace a traditional data gathering system, in particular a
familiar form. Each time folks would run out of the new form, they would revert to the old
procedure. Memos were sent, procedures reaffirmed, yet message sent was not message
received. Grumbling was getting louder. It didn't take much investigation to discover a
key culprit: the folks impacted daily by this procedural change were out of the change
loop. No one had asked for their input. These employees had been presented with a
"form, if not a fate accompli"
and had to get on board yesterday. Even when
change is not sudden, unexpected or imposed, management often overlooks a powerful truth:
management personnel often have more time to grapple with and grieve (whether it's labeled
as such) the evolving change process. Front-line employees, often the last to know (rumors
aside, which usually fuel anxiety more than providing emotional catharsis and
understanding), have not had a chance to emotionally make sense of the changing reality
nor the reality of change. So when management complains about folks "fighting
innovation, being fearful, lazy
resisting change," let's not jump to
conclusions. First one must see if the letting go and embracing change process is truly an
inter-organizational dance with actual partners.
Getting back to our narrative, I shared my hypothesis with the court administrators:
the "resistance" had less to do with the goodness of form fit and more to do
with the participatory process (or lack thereof). I saw the passive-aggressive behavior as
a response to three transitional disruptions: 1) loss of the familiar and concomitant
sense of loss of control regarding future change, 2) more specifically, possible threats
to self-esteem along with doubts about future job mastery and job security in light of
uncertain roles and responsibilities, and 3) loss of a belief, an ideal, a sense of
fairness, that is, not being included in a change process that has direct bearing on your
operational reality. Under these conditions one can understand that there frequently is a
sense of being infantalized; you seem more a pawn, less a professional.
Now I was ready to present my intervention strategy. I told management, "While you
missed opportunities for participatory problem-solving on the front end, we can make it up
on the back side" (and not just by an organizational CYA). My recommendation:
"Let's have a forms funeral!" And we did. People read eulogies lampooning the
new procedure (and the decision-making process) while extolling the virtues of the old
system. Management was sanctioning imaginative group grieving, including the opportunity
for constructive, if not creative, expression of anger. This open climate enabled people
to vent and to take charge of letting go. This facilitated working through some
frustrations and fears; resistance was channeled into ritual then transformed into
readiness for future problem solving. Employees began to engage increasingly and
consistently with the new procedure. Management began systematically teaming with
employees. Our symbolic act and creative community theater of the poignantly absurd had
strengthened both group cohesion and learning curves. We affirmed the paradoxical,
penetrating insight of the great 20th c. artist, Pablo Picasso: Every act of creation is
first of all an act of destruction. (Or, at least, it officially begins with a burial.)
And the midwife is genuine emotional engagement for those involved. Thoughts of burial and
birth evoke fitting closing words penned years ago:
For the phoenix to rise from the ashes One must know the pain To transform the fire to
And the next segment will explore on a conceptual and anecdotal level the intimate
connection between the grief and creativity processes. Why might the former set the stage
for the latter? Until then, of course
Practice Safe Stress!
The Stress Doc Ezine The Higher Power of Humor Section...
The second section will consist primarily of material -- humor and otherwise -- that
filters down from cyberspace. Today, appropriately enough, we have a parable on making
time for love. Alas, I don't recall who sent it to me. Enjoy!
A Time For Love
Once upon a time, there was an island where all the feelings lived: Richness,
Happiness, Sadness, Knowledge, and all the others including Love. One day, it was
announced to the feelings that the island would sink, so all prepared their boats and left
the island. Love was the only one who stayed behind. You see, Love wanted to wait until
the last possible moment before leaving.
The Island was almost sunk, and Love decided to ask for help. Richness was passing by
Love in a grand boat. Love said, "Richness, can you take me with you?" Richness
answered, "No, I can't. There is a lot of gold and silver in my boat. There is no
place here for you."
Love decided to ask Vanity who was also passing by in a beautiful vessel, "Vanity,
please help me!" "I can't help you Love. You are all wet and might damage my
boat," Vanity answered.
Sadness was close by so Love asked for help, "Sadness, let me go with you."
"Oh...Love, I am so sad that I need to be by myself!"
Happiness passed by Love too; Happiness did not hear the cry for help for Happiness was
so happy and self-absorbed.
Suddenly, there was a voice. "Come, Love, I will take you." It was an elder.
Love felt so blessed and overjoyed that Love forgot to ask the elder's name. When they
arrived at dry land, the elder went on its way. Love, realizing how much it owed the
elder, asked Knowledge, "Who helped me?" "It was Time," Knowledge
"Time?" asked Love. "But why did Time help me?"
Knowledge smiled with deep Wisdom and answered, "Because only Time is capable of
understanding how great Love is."
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