The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
August 2000, No. 1, Sect. 2
1. Media Exposure: a) Stress Doc Goes Cosmo, Again. In the Sep 2000,
Cosmopolitan Magazine catch Holly Pevzner's spicy article, "Fast Fixes for
a Crummy Day," pages 187-188. Yours truly contributes quotes to four
strategic boxes: "Go to the Mental Movies," "Set a Dwell
Deadline," "Buy it Off" (I didn't use the "b"-word) and
"Toy with Your Feelings." And the last of the fifteen sections,
"Doodle Away Your Icky Day," is based on a popular Practice Safe
Stress workshop exercise.
b) In the Aug 2000, The Mirror: A Magazine for State Farm Independent
Contractor Agents, on p. 9, there's a picture of the Doc Shrink Rapping to the
crowd, accompanied by commentary about the June 22nd Keynote Lunch program:
"We were treated to a dynamic presentation by 'The Stress Doc,' Mark Gorkin.
Mark's was an encore performance from his appearance at NASFA's 1997 convention
in Nashville and hadn't lost one bit of its wonderfully entertaining punch as he
talked about techniques for managing stress in our everyday business and
personal lives. This is undoubtedly a message we can stand to hear yet
2. Chat Groups: a) Stop by my AOL/Digital City "Shrink Rap (TM) and
Group Chat," Tuesdays, 9:30-11pm EDT (members only at aol://2719:3-4759-DC%20Support%20Chat"
. 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.
b) The Stress Doc Teams with AOL/Online Psych. The Stress Doc leads his
lively, monthly mutually supportive one hour "Practice Safe Stress"
chat the first Thursday of the month, 10-11pm EDT: (AOL members ony at "aol://4344:972.chatmain.1267092.521492389".
While journeying from Gulfstream waters to Appalachian Mountains, the Stress
Doc discovers the necessity and art of involuntary R & R. Learning to fully
relax -- from engaging a semantical and psychological perspective to expansively
and humbly being with nature -- reveals the simplicity and complexity of
Back to "Reality" and "Relaxation"
R & R for Healing Body and Brain Strain
The gently rolling, blue-green aquamarine waters are beckoning. Not
surprising considering the attempt to induce a comatose state by having
positioned a beach towel and my limp form in direct line with the blinding,
sweltering rays of the West Coast Florida August sun. Beads of sweat are
trickling down my forehead while the rest of me is being wrapped and mummified
in an unmerciful heat and humidity index. Within ten minutes, I concede. What
happened to the narcissistic, early 20s worshipper who, for hours on end, would
prayerfully commune with (okay, lazily luxuriate in the splendor of) the sun
god. And, of course, this idyllic, day long meditation was only interrupted by
nubile visions and shy flirtations, devouring those oil soaked yet crisp
boardwalk fries along with body surfing in the crashing waves of the Atlantic
Ocean off Long Island.
Alas, the quest for 20s sensory overload has "matured" into the
search for sensual-serenity mode some decades later. Pushing my sweaty, gritty
body off the towel I trudge toward the shoreline conscious of the beach entrance
sign: beware stinging jellyfish. So the proverbial toe takes the plunge
a warm bath; the most expansive, soothing natural body of water ever
encountered. And the gradient of the ocean floor inclines so slightly that
wading out fifty yards only gets me waist deep.
Floating effortlessly on my back, the St Petersburg-Gulf waters gently
lapping my ear lobes and chin, I associate to the relaxation-visualization
exercise employed in my Practice Safe Stress programs. (The visualization
setting was originally inspired by a late-70s trip to the beaches of Destin on
the Florida Panhandle.) I had recently used the exercise with a group of YMCA
professionals after a 30-something male PR head announced that hes never been
able to meditate: "I cant stop my thoughts from racing." So I had
the group assume a relaxed position, closing their eyes, placing hands in their
laps and taking several deep breaths. We then completed a top of the head to the
tips of the toes progressive relaxation, for example, steps included having a
partner place a warm compress over your eyes to soak up the tension and
imagining this partner giving a brief neck and shoulder massage. Eventually, the
participants visualize entering the Gulf lying on a rubber mattress. The
shimmering, sparkling gently rising and falling Gulf waters have you,
"Softly rolling up and down
Up and down
Up and down. Rocking oh so
restfully and peacefully, You have found a wonderful haven for escape, for
rejuvenation; for getting in touch with your inner essence." And then you
SHARK!!. No, Im kidding. Sometimes my mischievous self is
Back to reality. After ten minutes of blissful floating on my back, bobbing
up an down, being spun around enough
momentary disorientation ensues upon
standing upright. No doubt, under the influence of the kaleidoscopic Gulf,
mind-body dancing the wave-light fantastic, Ive been transported to an
altered state. Finally, another ten minutes on the sparsely populated white
sandy beach completes the relaxation through mind visualization and body
And while I have definitely shed my Type A Washington, DC skin for the
present, truth be told theres still a quiet gnawing within. In five hours its
show time: a Practicing Safe Stress after dinner keynote program for 120 CFOs
and Comptrollers at a telecommunications and energy conference. So off to the
hotels Health Club for the paradoxical peace and relaxation through active
exertion. A half hour on the Nautilus equipment (on a beginners low weight
setting), ten minutes on the treadmill and then the glow the aerobic,
biochemically induced natural endorphin "runners calm" begins
enveloping the mind-body system.
This afternoon has seen receptive and active paths to relaxation. And
especially with active exercise, theres the added benefit of feeling
virtuous. Perhaps most important, the vigorous workout and endorphin aftermath
helps channel a state of "relaxed attention," an holistic integration
conducive to peak performance.
Mastery, Miss-tery and Majesty
And later that evening, my peaceful and purposeful efforts are doubly
rewarded by an enthusiastic audience response. And the next mind-body sequence:
How to enjoy and come down off the performers high? Well, tonight provides
two uncommon opportunities man-made and "au natural." The first is
discovering a piano bar. Actually, the bar is on one side of a large hotel
foyer, the piano man and piano in the middle. On the far side is yours truly,
ensconced in a comfy couch, sipping a Chablis Cassis. Heartwarming pop and soft
rock strands waft my way, including an obvious request Billy Joels
"Piano Man." Mr. PM also indulges my second request: anything by
Claude Debussy. Though not "classically trained," his rendition of
"Claire de Lune" makes short shrift of the notion that sensuality and
serenity require rays of sun and shimmering water for magical harmony. (I also
encourage a discovery of Debussy's blissful, "Maid with Flaxen Hair.")
And then my couch corner attracts a crowd. Actually, a clan, including a
mid-40s, somewhat overweight yet still voluptuous Las Vegas hostess with a punk
rock blonde cut who has flown in to help celebrate her mothers 50th high
school reunion. An animated non-stop talker (only slightly more loquacious with
alcohol) upon discovering my psychotherapy background this Las Vegas live wire
bombards me with her metaphysical speculations. Alas, she gave up on her
Catholic upbringing and now shes proselytizing her new faith (while lighting
one cigarette after another). While this faithful flirtation has some edginess,
Im starting to come down. Sorry, will have to hold the "life after
death" debate in abeyance. Wanting to savor this triumphal, biochemical and
musical confluence I tactfully excuse myself. With the post-workshop adrenaline
flow mixing with the iridescent ivories, the alcohol and a little
Im definitely enjoying a mellow buzz.
Heading back to my room, which is a few blocks from the main building, Im
ready to call it a day
but mother nature has other plans. White lightning is
rhythmically streaking across the night sky. Hints of thunder rumble in the
distance. And Im headed for the beach for my inaugural black heat lightning
over gulf waters light show. Theres a beached sailboat with a canvas cover
just right for lying down, hands behind my head and letting the primal fireworks
do their mesmerizing magic. With the seemingly endless expanse of horizon its
a three ring circuit. Alternating bursts of lightning appear in my direct line
of vision (lets call this due North) and also in the Northwest and Northeast
skies. Some of the electric streaks appear to directly strike the Gulf Waters.
Theres enough cloud cover so that with little effort one can envision Zeus
atop Olympus jolting post triumphal Earthlings back into a state of humility.
("Dont get too big on yourself, boy!" Now where did that voice come
Okay, enough of the psychic stuff, Stress Doc, get back to the visuals
flashes burst off that heavenly black canvas behind a large puffy formation.
Suddenly, aglow in the night sky, is the dull gray cloud mass now transformed
into an electric gold-white hot neon charcoal luminescence. And now, in truly
metaphysical and spiritual space beyond words, Im genuinely ready to
contemplate the big picture. And Im even more ready than I know.
Stress Doc Heal Thyself
The timing is especially apt for me to reflect upon "Relaxation -
Meditation," one of the six boxes of my States of Arousal - Activation
Matrix that has been featured in the past three newsletters. Maybe it was just
time to shut down as much of the DC world does in mid-August. The passion for
writing my essays was decidedly feeling more ebb than flow. Even the Tea House,
the usual setting for dipping into the primal wellspring, appeared to have a
warning sign posted over my favorite table: "Writers Well Dry Until
How often have I commiserated with readers grappling with a case of the
"brain strain" or with one of the stages of burnout? (Naturally, one
of the "wise guy" members of our AOL/Digital City Tuesday night
"Shrink Rap and Group Chat" reminded me of "The Four Stages"
upon sharing my malaise.) Yes, when passion ebbs, nurture comes before nature
and compassion must overflow.
Of course, this axiom is grasped belatedly. Whats my first step to
build on the Tampa startup, to begin a Nautilus regimen at the local Y. Push
those weights, pump up the endorphins; rebuild that fire. Gradual, Mark. Begin
with low weights, only thirty minutes; resist being impatient or macho. Youve
hurt yourself before with this equipment. And for the first week my body feels
good, though my mind still seems in a fog.
So at the 11th hour I decide to get out of town and head for the hills;
actually, for the mountains surrounding Asheville, NC. Why Asheville? First, Ive
been devouring Thomas Wolfe, a native son who, in the late1920s and 1930s,
penned such opuses as Look Homeward Angel, Of Time and the River and You Cant
Go Home Again. Ive also recently consumed his letters and three biographies
as well as a lengthy essay, The Writing of a Novel. Its the centennial of his
birth; this trip is part pilgrimage. There are many points of connection with
Wolfe: a) his lush, expansive prose-poetry style of writing, b) a need to uproot
and travel for extended periods, c) his quest to plumb the depths of the human
spirit, d) an incredible capacity for focused work along with cycles of
exhaustion and depression, e) a ravenous appetite for life and food and an
addictive propensity for alcohol when needing to numb his pain (fortunately we
part company on the alcohol) and f) extensive writing in his autobiographical
novels about his sometimes mad, often maddeningly lovable, intensely
individualistic and dizzyingly dysfunctional family. A near manic-depressive
nature (my diagnosis), and an obsessive temperament compel pursuing his genius
and talent wherever, including breaking many rules of conventional novel
writing. Okay, so Im a Tom Wolfe wannabe. (But Im in good company. See
Prince of Tides author, Pat Conroys introductory paean to Wolfe in the new
edition of, Of Time and the River.)
And the other reason for my itinerary is hiking the lushly forested trails in
the Great Smokey or Blue Ridge Mountains. (The main pic on my home page
www.stressdoc.com the one with me and my New Orleans brim, is set in the
Smokyes.) Again, relaxation through active recreation and a natural-spiritual
connection with the big picture is the script for rejuvenation.
The Best Laid Plans of Mountain Men
The mile hike along the rocky, fairly inclined Deep Gap Trail in the mid-day
sun is moderately strenuous and yields a just reward. Perched on a massive
boulder, the view of the Appalachian ranges in the Pisgah National Forest is
wondrous: wave after wave of hazy blue ridges breaking onto the green forested
valley. A cool caressing "sea" breeze provides the only disturbance to
the waves of silence. (I try to momentarily ignore the reality that the haze has
more to do with man-made pollution than natural mountain "smoke.")
However, driving home its clear the back muscles are starting to tighten
up. And by the time I return to the B&B, Im out of it enough to improvise
upon Henry Higgins: "The pain of strain drains body and the brain."
Ive definitely got it severe lower back strain And suddenly I suspect
that not nature but Nautilus is the culprit. That mid-life mania to get in
shape. (And even this insight is shortsighted. More shortly.) At least I realize
my motivation was less physical fitness and more an unconscious ploy to quell
the mind malaise before it became a burnout blaze. So poetic, if not
psychosomatic, justice: a misguided intervention for brain strain morphs into a
case of back strain.
And now my body is compelling a rethinking of vacation strategy along with my
diagnostic assessment. I start the Advil drill and the pain eventually becomes
more tolerable, the movements a bit less restricted. Standing and, especially,
sitting in place for more than a few minutes tightens and cramps the muscles.
Duh! Im doing prolonged sitting under intense, obsessively focused mind-body
conditions at the computer practically every day.
So hiking is put on hold and recuperating along with short periods of hanging
out at Malaprops, a wonderful bookstore/coffeehouse in downtown Asheville, takes
on greater importance. (And Malaprops seems interested in a book signing and
performance art program early next year. Will keep you posted.) Now the quest
for a small pillow to place between my lower back and the back of a coffeehouse
or restaurant chair or a car seat. And I spy the perfect pillow one with a
picture of "The Scream" by the Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch. (The
creators are "Two Unemployed Philosophers.") And even more wonderful,
when you put pressure on this therapeutic object a plaintive, angst-ridden wail
curdles around you. (Im getting some great looks in public places. Upon my
return to DC, Im even using the pillow for feedback purposes with my therapy
clients. When they declare something that is patently absurd or self-defeating I
give a hard backward push. As a therapist, I can finally reveal my true feelings
without saying a word. ;-)
And gradually, a four-day routine emerges: a) a pre-breakfast bath to loosen
the back muscles; but as important, the soothingly, blank mind state induced by
soaking in hot water. (Next time I bring bath oil.), b) a sinful breakfast
composed of some combination of fresh orange juice, fresh fruit cup (ever have
yummy, golden orange raspberries?), apple crepe-pancakes with real maple syrup,
quiche-like creations, biscuits, grits, (I pass on the ham and sausage), c) a
post-breakfast nap; the extra sleep seems to coax the silent fatigue carried
from DC out of my system, d) reading the Wolfe biographies, as mentioned
earlier, becomes a catalyst for examining some key values, priorities and goals,
e) a late afternoon 15 minute car ride for" tea and" at Malaprops;
some writing, then strolling aimlessly among the art and antique shops, f)
dinner at the Mellow Mushroom; definitely recommend the karma pizza: toppings
include spinach, sundried tomatoes, onions and feta cheese along with a thick
chewy crust; (consider adding the spicy jerk chicken), g) on Saturday nights,
Shindig on the Green; lying on a blanket, taking in the toe-tapping and, also,
sweetly mournful Appalachian Mountain music sounds. And lets not forget the
wonderful cloggers in native costumery for the men, western shirts, jeans
and fast-moving/fast-talking cowboy boots whose taps make the dance floor
"sing"; frilly red tops and red and white print skirts that playfully
and sensually fan out as the ladies do their jigs and spins, h) back to the
B&B (The Owls Nest Inn in West Asheville) by 8pm to ponder two cool
evening mountain sunsets from a hilltop vantage point. The kaleidoscopic cloud
show framed within the v-like vista of two side-by-side sloping mountain ridges,
imperceptibly yet inevitably mixes, with a wistful sadness, peach-fuschia with
darker and darker grays and finally i) a couple more hours of lying in bed and
reflecting. (Okay, also a half hour answering email; so I cant totally let
go.) So while somewhat disappointed at foregoing hiking in the mountains -- the
exertion followed by the big picture serenity process still, Ive quietly
designed an uncommon state for this basically Type A New Yorker. Under the
dictates of mind-body injury, the mental maze-haze lifts replaced by a psychic
window for looking into the soul of relaxation.
Ah! According to the first definition of Websters Third New
International: the act or fact of relaxing or being relaxed. Now lets
consider Rogets International Thesuarus for the synonyms to the word
"relax" for further illumination of body/brain strain and
rehabilitation and rejuvenation: a. compose oneself - yes, I had to calm myself,
make some mental adjustments and pull together a vacation recovery plan b.
relieve - Advil & Aleve were the first line of muscle relaxant and pain
relief; though I knew this was not a good long-term strategy c. release -
letting go of my preconceived plans and active intentions, grieving the loss of
freedom and control was critical; as was grudgingly accepting the patient role
d. be at ease - no longer having Type A (for "Adventurer")
expectations, I slowly evolved into a gentler pace and rhythm; I wasnt
wimping out, I was just being "laid back" e. have pity - okay, I
allowed myself some whining and groaning, but then loosened my typical
achievement human doing vs. human being standards. As I once observed:
"Theres a real difference between feeling sorry for yourself and feeling
your sorrow. When youre feeling sorry for yourself you are blaming others.
When you are feeling your sorrow you are revealing the courage of facing your
pain." And believe me, even with anti-inflammatory medication, I was one
with my pain! f. slow - no doubt about it I was reverting to a Southern pace; of
course, those heavy country breakfasts definitely induced morning torpor g. not
stand on ceremony - accepting my patient image was critical; at a restaurant,
requesting a pillow for my back was open acknowledgment of my current impairment
and dependency needs; why deprive myself of an enjoyable dinner h. entertain -
to be open to new prospects and possibilities; also, lo and behold relaxing
could be fun i. amuse oneself - reading in bed, soaking in a bath, listening to
the myriad of bird cries from the surrounding mountain forests while watching a
blue heron streak across the sky were all ways of peacefully stimulating myself
j. loosen - easing expectations and standards, allowing myself to be a slacker
was vital part of untightening the back muscles; (of course, a wise guy senior
client of mine associated "relax" and "loosen" with
"ex-lax") k. pause - yes, stopping for self-inventory, using this time
to ponder both the immediate recovery and the larger issues: 1) what factors
contributed to the breakdown? and 2) and how can this mind-body strain be not
just a danger but also an opportunity for modifying purposes, priorities and
practices? l. allow for - recognizing the realities of my condition while
accepting new performance (actually, non-performance) standards enabled the
discovery of a novel personal space-time-pace continuum m. soften - it took
awhile, but letting myself be less intense, less hard-edged, more flowing than
controlling; allowing for more mental meandering without a sharp focus, engaging
the world with more intuitive eyes and heart than analytic mind and reason n.
yield - one final letting go opened up new opportunities and resources. I had to
change bed & breakfasts for the last two nights (no rooms at the inn). A bit
perturbed, I slept on the recommendation of my hosts. The Hawk and Ivy was
farther out, north of Asheville, which meant more driving to get around. This
didnt sound too back friendly. Talking to the new proprietor, when my back
came up, she mentioned having a great masseuse on call. Make my day! With great
fortune, this B&B had once been a holistic healing center. I was ready to
accept placing my rehab in anothers hands.
And if two hands are good
why not four. No, not a "menage a
massage," but I also accepted the proprietors recommendation of a
wonderful Chiropractor a half mile down the road. Dr. Frederick Kennedys
calming, sound and knowledgeable approach helped me relax into two back and neck
adjustments, the Rice Krispies maneuver: I was "snapped, cracked and
popped!" And Ill be damned if the back didnt feel better -- freer
movement and reduced pain.
He shared some stretching exercises, which I'm now doing religiously. The new
concept being to feel some good pain from the stretch then relaxing and letting
go, softening the stretch and your general body tension. The Chirodoc also
recommended a Yoga class to better integrate mind-body consciousness.
Of course, with my vacation mindset waning, I recommended we team up to offer
mind-body stress relief workshops. As noted by the Secretary of Labor,
musculoskeletal problems are the biggest source of medical conditions in todays
workplace. And the Stress Doc is living proof.
Fortunately, his message was followed by a blissful ninety-minute massage,
though some of that "deep tissue" work "hurt good." The
masseuses soft Southern drawl complemented her firm sure hands.
Our semantic framework reveals that an ability to relax fully involves
adjustments in the physical, psychological, performance, social support and
spiritual realms. Bringing life to the synonyms illuminates how critical
relaxation is for realizing both optimal mind-body health and for preserving our
sanity along with discovering some serenity.
While not out of the back woods, perhaps the uncluttered, slow and soft
gazing mountain vision has helped me begin to distinguish the forest from the
and to plant new seeds. I truly have a newfound appreciation for the
simplicity and complexity of relaxation. Next time, Ill elaborate on the
wonders of relaxation in, "The Top Ten Benefits of "R & R"
Being Receptive and Reflective on an Incubation Vacation." And, of
course, one gift of relaxation is allowing us to
Practice Safe Stress!
Reader's "Higher Power of Humor" Section
By: Ann Richards (former Democratic Governor of Texas) From: Momb7
(Eds. Note: I'm usually not too political, but this was too
How To Be A Good Republican:
1. You have to believe that the nation's current 8-year prosperity was due to
the work of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, but yesterday's gasoline prices are
all Clinton's fault.
2. You have to believe that those privileged from birth achieve success all
on their own.
3. You have to be against all government programs, but expect Social Security
checks on time.
4. You have to believe that someone like Michelle Pfeiffer can really walk
into an inner city classroom and accomplish miracles.
5. AIDS victims deserve their disease, but smokers with lung cancer and
overweight individuals with heart disease don't deserve theirs.
6. You have to appreciate the power rush that comes with sporting a gun.
7. You have to believe...everything Rush Limbaugh says.
8. You have to believe that the agricultural, restaurant, housing and hotel
industries can survive without immigrant labor.
9. You have to believe God hates homosexuality, but loves the death penalty.
10. You have to believe society is color-blind and growing up black in
America doesn't diminish your opportunities, but you still won't vote for Alan
11. You have to believe that pollution is OK as long as it makes a profit.
12. You have to believe in prayer in schools, as long as you don't pray to
Allah or Buddha.
13. You have to believe Newt Gingrich and Henry Hyde were really faithful
14. You have to believe speaking a few Spanish phrases makes you instantly
popular in the barrio.
15. You have to believe that only your own teenagers are still virgins.
16. You have to be against government interference in business, until your
oil company, corporation or Savings and Loan is about to go broke and you beg
for a government bail out.
17. You love Jesus and Jesus loves you and, by the way, Jesus shares your
hatred for AIDS victims, homosexuals, and President Clinton.
18. You have to believe government has nothing to do with providing police
protection, national defense, and building roads.
19. You have to believe a poor, minority student with a disciplinary history
and failing grades will be admitted into an elite private school with a $1,000
20. You only wanted Elian Gonzalez to stay in order to peeve the President.
Seek the Higher Power of Humor: May the Farce Be with You!
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc," is the Internet's
and America Online's "Online Psychohumorist". An experienced
psychotherapist, "The Doc" is a nationally recognized speaker, and
training and OD consultant specializing in Stress, Anger Management,
Reorganizational Change, Team Building and HUMOR! An expert advisor for
www.AdviceZone.com and iVillage/allHealth, his writings are syndicated by
iSyndicate.com and also appear in a wide variety of online and offline forums
and publications, including AOL/Online Psych and Business Know How, Mental
Health Net, 4Therapy.com, HRHub.com, SelfhelpMagazine.com, Financial Services
Journal Online, OpportunityWorld and Counseling Today. Recently, he has been
quoted and/or featured in such publications as Cosmopoli tan Magazine, Bloomberg
Report/News, Forbes Magazine, FoxNews.com, Dallas Morning News and The
Washington Flyer. The Doc also leads his national "Shrink Rap and Group
Chat" for AOL/Digital City and WebMD.com. Check out his USA Today Online
"Hotsite" Website -- www.stressdoc.com . For info on his workshops or
for his free newsletter, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-232-8662. Summer
2000, look for Practice Safe Stress with the Stress Doc, published by
(c) Mark Gorkin 2000 Shrink Rap Productions