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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

August 1999, No. 2, Sect. 1

Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!

Table of Contents

Announcements: AOL Chat Group and Q & A Links/Archives Q & A: Confronting the Cyberaddict Shrink Rap: A Stress Doc Riddle and Roget's Bias Main Essay: "The 'S'-Word Is Coming" and College Survival Reader's Submission: Science Exam Quotes

News Flash: Alas, only for AOL members, stop by my online "Shrink Rap (TM) and Group Chat," Tuesdays, 9-10:45pm EST: (Email for the link or go to Digital City--Washington, DC.) 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 Announcements: 1) In order to make the letter more readable and printable for Internet subscribers, I've reduced the graphics and the number of links. Hopefully, the writing will be so colorful that a reduction in background color, links, etc. will hardly be noticed. 2) For all cyberspace travelers, there's the new Ask the Stress Doc Q & A -- Work Stress Digital City - Washington, DC - Ask the Stres... and Love and Relationships  Digital City - Washington, DC - Relations . Also, check the Doc's Q & A Archives: Stess Doc's Q&A and Q&A: Love and Relationships .

Ask the Stress Doc Q & A/Digital City--Washington, DC Love and Relationships

1) When Online Fantasy Baseball Is a Real Problem: Confronting the Cyberaddict.

Q. Dear Doc, my husband sits in front of the computer whenever he can, online, doing fantasy baseball. He doesn't realize how much time he is there. I've told him how I feel, that he is neglecting me and the kids and leaving all household responsibilities to me. He does admit that he has a problem, but this awareness doesn't seem to stop him. He's good for a week or two after I freak out on him, and then like an alcoholic, he starts to slip back, staying up until 2 in the morning, then getting up at 5 in the morning to play fantasy baseball again, before going to work! He's fairly perfect in every other way, but I can't live with this. What should I say or do that I am not saying or doing now??

A. As I suspect you realize, addictive behavior online is a growing problem. >From fantasy baseball and credit card abuse to all night chat prowling and online-offline extramarital escapes cyberspace seduction can be hard to resist...Especially if there's a susceptible individual. Such a vulnerable person: a) exhibits other addictive or compulsive behavior, e.g., excess drinking, gambling, eating, etc., b) often self-isolates, c) tends to bottle up his or her emotions, d) may be overtly depressed or the depression may be unrecognized, e) may use risk-taking or escapist behavior to regulate if not self-medicate an agitated and/or depressed mood cycle, f) tries to numb recent losses, traumas, painful memories or burnout states, and g) may be avoiding confronting unhappiness or may be afraid of challenging role or relationship expectations at home or at work.

Clearly, if a person is grappling with an intense case of one of these dynamics or a mixture of the above, it likely will take professional intervention to set limits on the self-defeating behavior. It's a pattern that also threatens the health of the family.

Now even if your husband is "fairly perfect in every other way" (the jury's still out here) he's jeopardizing his work in addition to his relationship with you. And if he can do his job on only three hours of sleep, then he's definitely understimulated and underachieving professionally. (Maybe he feels unfulfilled job-or career-wise.)

To truly get and sustain his attention, you likely will need to connect with the "higher power" of a healing alliance. This can be achieved by: 1) announcing your intention of seeking individual psychotherapy because of your serious upset about his addictive behavior, that you are frustrated by your inability to reach and help your husband, that you feel helpless and powerless, and that you fear for your health, his health and the health of the marriage. In other words let go of trying to change him and concentrate on strengthening yourself. Find a therapist who at least has experience working with addictive personalities if not a cyberaddictions specialist, 2) attend a 12-step, AA-type group, like Codependents Anonymous (CODA) and 3) with the coaching, if not the direct help of a professional, consider going a group intervention. Assemble a variety of people who care about your husband and who are worried or upset by his destructive behavior. Besides yourself, this collection may consist of extended family, friends, colleagues, etc. Sometimes it takes a unified chorus of concern and confrontation to break through denial. Hopefully, with this group jolt he too will start...Practicing Safe Stress!

Shrink Rap™: Let's start with a riddle: What excites us when we are bored, yet creates anxiety when we're needing security? It may be unpredictable, feel interminable and seem imperceptible. Yet, it thrives on the new, springs from the old and wanders with uncertainty...It's the concept of "change."

Change was in the air or, at least, on the airwaves. Was interviewed on a Canadian radio program today. The subject started out being the challenge of change, the new school year, dealing with downsizing, etc. Reminded me of a radio script I wrote 13 years before as a two minute "Stress Brake" essay for WWL-radio in New Orleans. I opened with the aforementioned riddle, and eventually noted, "The subtle bias against change in our language. I found the words 'changeable' and 'changeless' while looking in Roget's Thesaurus of synonyms. Changeable has such negative words as: fickle, irresolute, weak and irregular. No wonder many fear if they should change their minds people will think they are wishy-washy.

The 'changeless' lineup is short and rock solid: godlike, invariable and permanent. Exploring further, I looked up the word 'permanent.'' The first item was a bit weird -- 'hairdo' -- but the others had classic style: perpetual, persevering and stable."

I'll spare you further groaning. And to give me a little cushion from the already building wave of anxious student email, here are two school-related essays. The first targets students in middle, junior high and high schools. The second focuses on college frosh. Feel free to share with friends and family. Remember, we all need support to...Practice Safe Stress!

The S-Word Is Coming

Stop the presses! There's a major storm front heading our way. It's overwhelming folks coast to coast, and all points in between. Parents are feeling the shock waves, but, based on my psychic seismographic readings (aka email) it's the teens, in particular, that seem most traumatized. As the summer season winds down, you know what's inexorably closing in...The dreaded S-word: SCHOOL!

I'm being flooded with pleadings from students, foremost, in junior high, some in high school and college. It's panic time, as if the Stress Doc is their last hope on death row. The concerns are existential: from will I walk into the wrong classroom and be laughed at or what happens if I can't manage my locker assignment to being harassed by the class or school bullies. (How come so few expressed their concerns about the classwork?) And, of course, so many are worried about not being liked. The girls, especially, mention this fear but, I suspect, boys have some of the same doubts.

Having been the target of some neighborhood bullies in junior high and, back then, not knowing how to handle myself or those skuzzballs, I really do empathize. Here are three Stress Doc "Back to School Stress Tips":

1. Talk to A Responsible Adult. My first mistake was a reluctance to confide in my parents because I was ashamed of admitting I was intimidated. I was afraid they would think I was a wimp. Now if you know your parent will call you a wimp, maybe you need to talk with a school counselor. (Some students say the teachers don't respond to the bullying. And in light of arrogant athletes and bullies at Columbine, hopefully schools will take this issue more seriously.) Still, be careful of premature or global judgments. Let your teacher win or lose your trust. Perhaps speak to another relative or spiritual leader. Don't let anxiety just eat your insides away in a self-imposed prison of silence.

2. Forget About Being Cool. The beginning of school is supposed to be full of awkward moments, doing dumb things, walking into the wrong class, etc. In fact, the latter faux pas brings me back to my freshman year at college. It was the first day of class. I'm sitting in an Intro to Political Science lecture. There are about fifty of us in the room. The Professor, who has been around for a good while, was providing an overview of the class, not being very specific, After about forty minutes, a girl in the back raises her hand, and asks, "Will there be a lab in this class?"

Suddenly, there's this pregnant silence, and then some smirks and chuckles. A laboratory in a poly sci lecture class! (Don't forget, this was way before the days of personal computers.) The Professor, glaring at the young woman, condescendingly states, "A laboratory." The girl now anxiously inquires, "This isn't Biology 101?" Well, of course the room erupted. And then the predatory professorial shark latches onto his prey: "You mean to say you've sat through this class for forty minutes and you didn't realize this wasn't a biology class?" Another deafening pause, and then, as if the storm clouds somehow instantaneously and mysteriously departed, the woman stands up and declares, "You know those Professors, the first day of class, they just say the same old shit," and defiantly walks out of the classroom. Right on, sister!

3. Forget About Being Miss Popularity. A big mistake teens often make is linking esteem or worth to the number of friends they or others have. Hey, maybe I'm a bit weird, but I'd rather be truly connected to one or two friends with whom I can genuinely share feelings -- the good and the bad. I can't get real close to a dozen people at one time.

Find a buddy with whom you can share activities or hobbies that excite you. Those who have read my Teen Depression Series (AOL, Keyword: Stress Doc or http://www.stressdoc.com ) know I strongly encourage adolescents and young adults to explore their creative side. Persisting in solitary pursuits, seeing your skills evolve, builds self-esteem and self-reliance. Note to parents: This kind of self-involvement, and learning to express anger in a constructive way in the home, will definitely help kids "say no" to unwanted peer pressure.

So harness those raging hormones into a passionate pursuit, such as writing, painting or, even, in group performance, for example, theatre or team sports. And, when I mention pursuing one's passion, I'm not talking about going symbiotically steady with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Now's the time to explore and develop your individual gifts, talents and dreams.

In summary, during this trying transition, find an adult you can open up to, make one or two good friends, let go of trying to be "cool" or being overly "good" and accommodating, explore some healthy selfishness and constructive conflict skills, take time to do what you love.

And just remember...Practice Safe Stress!

College Survival: Getting In and Staying In

Brainshowr writes: We are trying to put together a research article concerning the many stress factors involved with choosing a college...any suggestions for any related articles? Thank you.


I'll first throw out some applying for college skills, then followup with an article on surviving the first year of college. To good adventures.

1. Application Process as Historical Determinism. It's hard not to let your self esteem get caught up in the acceptance or rejection process. While getting into Harvard or Stanford definitely has prestige factor, future success is certainly not limited by the school, but by how you learn to learn, how you become passionate, disciplined, risk-taking, persistent, learn to find new ways of looking at or thinking about your area(s) of interest.

Also, try not to get overly caught up in social comparison with peers and the schools they are going to. Again, how you engage in your first couple of years at college will provide much data for next steps.

2. Recovering from Rejection. It's also important to know that if you don't get into a preferred school, or if you do get into a desired school, and things don't work out, it's not an absolute or irreparable failure. You definitely can transfer. And likely after your first or second year, you'll even have a better idea of the school you would like to attend.

3. Reduce Major Impatience. Don't feel overly pressured to know what you are going to major in before you've even started college. Of course, some folks know they were meant to be premed right out of the crib. But most will want to use the first year or two to do some exploration, to get a better feel for your talents, passions, strengths and vulnerabilities in particular subject areas.

4. Reach Out for Assistance. Try to utilize the counseling and advisory services provided by the college both before and after your acceptance. In hindsight, I wish I had taken advantage of the psychological counseling services while I was in college. I was too ashamed to admit I need some guidance, not just in my choice of major, but in helping me to mature emotionally and adjust to being away from home.

I guess the implication here is that this might be a good time for students to speak to a counselor if they are overly anxious about college selection. Some of this anxiety may have more to do with psychological issues, separation from family, self-esteem and confidence concerns, etc., not simply college selection. A few sessions with a counselor or psychotherapist might be like getting your car checked up before embarking on a cross country trip.

5. Also, here's an article I wrote last year that may be helpful: "Surviving the First Year of College."

The "Stress Doc's" First Year Survival Tips

How to survive the first year of college? That's the question posed by Jen Ryden (Snowbun601@aol.com ) Feature Editor of her college newspaper, The Advocate. Jen also asked for some tips on overcoming procrastination for first year students at Bellevue Community College in Bellevue, WA,. First, I'll present some transition to college guidelines. Then, I'll delineate several liberating strategies for discovering life after deadlines. Learn to boldly declare your "emancipation procrastination."

Let me acknowledge that my transition to college was not an easy or smooth one. I started with a lot of doubts about being "smart enough." I also had trouble concentrating on my studies and probably was too pleasing or too nice with my roommates. Finally, having gone to an "all boys" high school before starting a coed university, my testostrone was working overtime. (Too bad my brain chemistry couldn't have been so engaged.) So, if I had to do it over again...here are The Stress Doc's First Year College Survivial Tips:

1. Know It's a Big Transition. Anytime you undertake a major change or new experience, you confront four key losses: a) loss of the familiar past (not that you absolutely cut the ties back home, but former relations may not be quite the same), b) loss of some future predictability (while uncertainty or anxiety may be stirred by this new challenge, this loss can also evoke excitement), c) loss of face or, at least, fears of failure, rejection and shame, and d) loss of focus, that is, how do you make sense of the fluid situation; how can you harness, once again, internal energy and external resources and set goals for surviving and thriving this transition.

Stress and anxiety are natural companions as you embark on this new journey. So too are frat parties. More than one round of excess drinking...consider the following: If you are feeling stress overload, stop by the student health center, and speak to a counselor. If your school doesn't have a peer support group or a peer mentoring/tutoring service, perhaps it can start one. (A therapy group for students at Tulane University helped me survive graduate statistics.) So confront any fear, depression or shame. And tell them the Stress Doc sent you ;-)

2. Enlightening Your Course Load. In hindsight, I don't think I was ready to take five courses a semester my first year of college. Information and task overload. Wasn't able to devote enough time to class preparation, reading, homework, study, tests, papers, etc. I would have done better spreading credits throughout the entire year, that is, using summer school for the fifth course, or even lightening my sophmore load. By cramming to keep up - in my weird way of thinking, it was wimpy to take only four courses - I certainly wasn't able to explore a subject in depth or be a particularly creative student.

3. Setting Goals. I'm not a great goal setter, probably because I value the means as much, if not more, than the ends. For me, the process is what ultimately shapes the output, especially when seeking surprising and uncommon results. (Though I do recall a professor reminding me, when I was into endless exploration as a doctoral student, that the noun that goes with the adjective "productive" is "product!") It's not that I'm against goals. I just find setting up experiments to be more effective. I get quicker feedback this way; easier and earlier course correction. When a new project or procedure is an experiment, the pressure to succeed doesn't seem so demanding. I can take more risks, make more errors, be more deviant in my thinking. Goals should have flexibility, not be set in stone. A rigid focus curtails both exploration and innovation.

Speaking of flexible goals, consider the concept of "selective perfection." Getting As and Bs in all your courses is a real achievement. However, constraints on time, energy and motivation may circumscribe the pusuit of excellence and grade point average. Maybe there's several classes you want to go all out. One or two you will do "good enough." Of course, don't just go all out on the fluff stuff. Pursue with intensity those classes related to long term desires and dreams, including the tough foundational courses.

4. Passion, Priorities and Pathways. It's okay not to have your major down pat. It's often necessary the first year to search out subject areas or courses for which you have a sense of genuine purpose or passion. Or, if you are pre-law because there's a long line of attorneys in your family, but you're tired of lawyer jokes and your heart is into computer programming or you dream of becoming a novelist...DO WHAT YOU LOVE!

Also, if you have a long term perspective, you can mix the practical and the passionate, as well as diverse fields. For example, Anton Chekov, physician and playwright, observed: "Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress. When I get tired of one, I spend the night with the other. Though it's disorderly, it's not really so dull, and besides, neither really loses anything through my infidelity."

If you become really good in a field, and you still have other skills and dreams, you can eventually jump the career ship or reroute the voyage. You usually don't have to live with the choices you make (or don't make) in college for the rest of your life! In an evolutionary process, I've grappled with integrating my calling for psychology and being a therapist with a passion for humor, writing and public speaking. The result: my unpredictable, stressful and joyful journey as a multi-media psychohumorist. There's one caveat (actually, two caveats...I'm about to mix metaphors): you may have to be willing to wander in the creative desert for a number of years before reaching "The Promised Career." (Or, as I like to say, I'm on the verge of becoming a 20 year overnight success. Hey, that's not bad. After escaping bondage from Egypt, Moses and the Jews were lost for forty years! And I've never heard him accused of being an idle or idol dreamer, nor even a drifter. Of course, it probably didn't hurt Moses' resume that Charton Heston played him in the blockbuster movie.)

5. Dealing with Stress Carriers. Ever have to deal with a roommate, friend or colleague who knows it all and is quick to point out everyone else's errors? Usually, this person is feeling pretty insecure. And the person's answer for everything is probably inversely proportional to his or her self-worth. Still, there's a limit to one's patience and understanding. And when that happens...consider these two approaches. First, there's the memorable quote from the French author, Andre Gide, in his book The Immoralist. It's a quote that I memorized years ago when dealing with an all-knowing family member: "One must allow other's to be right. It consoles them for not being anything else." Now I'm not saying to hit your omnicient antagonist with these words. Just hold on to Gide for your self-assurance and sanity.

And second, with practice, you can even come to your own verbal defense. I recall an exchange with my five year younger brother, a research psychologist; not a therapist. One day I was telling Larry about some difficult work I had done with a family, some family interventions that I thought were both creative and effective. Upon hearing my description, my brother pipes in, "You should have said such and such to the father." I was struck by the witty but pretty insensitive suggestion, and grimaced. Seeing my expression my brother quickly pounced, "What's the matter, you afraid the father would punch you out." At this point I counterpunched. "No, I have a higher standard of plagiarism!"

6. Forget About Being Mr. or Ms. Popularity. A big mistake first year students often make is linking esteem or worth to the number of friends they or others have. Hey, maybe I'm a bit weird, but I'd rather be truly connected to one or two friends with whom I can genuinely share feelings -- the good and the bad. I can't get real close to a dozen people at one time.

Find a buddy with whom you can share activities or hobbies that excite you. Those who have read my Teen Depression Series (AOL, Keyword: Stress Doc or http://www.stressdoc.com ) know I strongly encourage adolescents and young adults to explore their creative side. Persisting in solitary or artistic endeavors, seeing your skills evolve, builds self-esteem and self-reliance. So harness those raging hormones into a passionate pursuit, such as writing, painting or, even, in group performance, for example, theatre or team sports. And, when I mention pursuing one's passion, I'm not talking about going symbiotically steady with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Now's the time to explore and develop your individual gifts, talents and dreams.

The Stress Doc Ezine The Higher Power of Humor Section...

August 1999, No. 2, Sect. II

The second section will consist primarily of material -- humor and otherwise -- that filters down from cyberspace. In light of our school theme, some profound scientific insight; alas, I'm not sure I would have answered much differently. Hard science was not a forte.


From: We3and@aol.com

"Water is composed of two gins, Oxygin and Hydrogin. Oxygin is pure gin. Hydrogin is gin and water."

"When you breathe, you inspire. When you do not breathe, you expire."

"H20 is hot water and CO2 is cold water."

"Nitrogen is not found in Ireland because it is not found in a free state"

"Three kinds of blood vessels are arteries, vanes, and caterpillars."

"Respiration is composed of two acts, first inspiration, and then expectoration."

" The moon is a planet just like the earth, only it is even deader."

"Artificial insemination is when the farmer does it to the cow instead of the bull."

"Dew is formed on leaves when the sun shines down on them and makes them perspire."

"Mushrooms always grow in damp places and so they look like umbrellas."

"The body consists of three parts - the brainium, the borax and the abominable cavity. The brainium contains the brain, the borax contains the heart and lungs, and the abominable cavity contains the bowels, of which there are five - a, e, I, o and u."

"Vacuum: A large, empty space where the pope lives."

"To remove dust from the eye, pull the eye down over the nose."

"For Fainting: Rub the person's chest or, if a lady, rub her arm above the hand instead. Or put the head between the knees of the nearest medical doctor."

"For head cold: use an agonizer to spray the nose until it drops in your throat."

"The alimentary canal is located in the northern part of Indiana."

"The tides are a fight between the Earth and Moon. All water tends towards the moon, because there is no water in the moon, and nature abhors a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins in this fight."

"Equator: A managerie lion running around the Earth through Africa."

"Germinate: To become a naturalized German."

"To collect fumes of sulphur, hold down a deacon over a flame in a test tube"

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

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** 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

(c) Mark Gorkin 1999 Shrink Rap Productions