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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 -

  1. Netscape Netcenter  
  2. Compuserve
  3. Digital City
  4. MCI
  5. AOL.COM Washington, DC - Home

All five portal links can be shared with and are operational for both users of AOL and the Internet.

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 be appreciated.

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

Reader's Submissions:

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 and Humble."

Clearly, this "they should be thankful" attitude reveals a critical lack of understanding regarding the powerful impact of reorganizational loss and change…not 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 burning desire!

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 answered.

"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 Doc.

** The Stress Doc's Work Stress Q&A  -- Ask the Stress Doc  is now featured on five Portals to the Web, including

  1. Netscape Netcenter  
  2. Compuserve
  3. Digital City
  4. MCI
  5. AOL.COM Washington, DC - Home

All five portal links can be shared with and are operational for both users of AOL and the Internet.

** For his free newsletter, Notes from the Online Psychohumorist ™ or for info on the Stress Doc's Online Coaching program, email Stress Doc@aol.com