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The Times-Picayune, New Orleans

Stress Doc Uses Humor as a Healer

Mark Gorkin specializes in the two-minute mental health fix. The "Stress Doc,' he calls himself.

Using his own lingo and made-up words, the upbeat Gorkin, a 39-year-old New Orleans psychiatric social worker, talks about people who have a mental blow out,' and those who are "blameaholics" who spend energy on "acc-you-sations' of others. People need 'incubation vacations' be says, adding, 'a time for waste is not a waste of time.'

They're all quips that go over well with radio audiences that hear him via WWL-AM on Thursday and Friday afternoons.They're also apparently intriguing other listeners in other states. The Longhorn Radio Network of college stations recently picked up his show, "Stress Brakes.' And an audio tape by the same name just has been released to bookstores.

"What's different about what I do? I call it motivational humor. It can be thought-provoking and playful." But Gorkin emphasizes the message behind his humor is very serious. He learned about stress the hard way six years ago while writing his doctoral dissertation at the Tulane University School of Social Work. He says he tried to be creative instead of practical and wound up bust. One day a colleague told him he needed to start again in a new direction. "I realized I just couldn't do it," he says. He never finished.

"In those days I didn't know to call it burnout. But that's what it was. I took time off to heal. I did some jogging and reading and made time for myself.... Then I saw the silver lining and decided to become an expert on stress and burnout." He began doing motivational public speaking and magazine writing, and talked himself into a couple of radio and television jobs, while trying to build a private practice too.

Here is some of Gorkin's advice, beginning with a several-step way of dealing with burnout. It may be needed by those of you who "would rather talk to a computer than to your child, client or customer," who are apathetic, feeling despair and overwhelmed. have headaches and chronic fatigue and who wonder if you simply can make it through another day.

Come out of the burnout closet. "Confront the John Wayne or Rambo style of stress management. Strong silent types get a lot more ulcers than Oscars. Follow the advice of Olivia Newton John: 'Listen to Your Body Talk' and 'Get Physical.' Walk a mile or do sit-ups. Also get 'unphysical.' Try my daily homegrown meditation. I close my eyes and chant a three-letter word, n-a-p, 10 to 20 minutes in the afternoon or evening. And remember, what goes in, can do you in. Confront the caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and jelly-bean cycle.

Avoid over-stress by finding your natural SPEED. That's a five-letter reminder for Gorkin's five-step plan.

S-Sleep. Get plenty of it.
P - Priorities. Accept you don't have to get everything done at once. Do what's most important first.
E - Empathy. Find friends who empathize with you and let you be yourself.
E - Exercise. Set an exercise goal to give you satisfaction.
D - Diet. Avoid sugary foods, heavy meals, alcohol and caffeine.

'Thrustration' can turn you on. "It's a vital part of creative thinking," he says, borrowing the term from psychiatrist Richard Ralikin. "Thrustration occurs when you're torn between thrusting ahead with direct action and the frustration you feel because you haven't quit put together all pieces of a puzzle. Allow this internal pressure to transform your sleepy subconscious into an active psychic volcano - memories, novel associations and dream images will overflow into consciousness. You'll be in a position to generate more fertile problem-solving alternatives."

Good grief. "There is a difference between feeling sorry for yourself and feeling your sorrow. When you're feeling sorry for yourself, you're blaming others; when you're feeling your sorrow, you're understanding and accepting your pain. It's not uncommon when dealing with loss to feel your old self dying.... In mystical fashion, like spring upon winter, the seeds of dissolution bear fruitful renewal."

Yuppie love. "When it comes to sex and your career, just a dash of mystery and variety can help steam up a one-track life. I've encouraged couples to occasionally steal away at lunch hour for rendezvous at their house and share the fruits of passion. While lunch-hour loving may seem like a quick snack, it can be quite fulfilling."

Teenage garbage carriers. If your teen-ager has a case of amnesia about taking out the garbage every night about 9. try this strategy. "Tell him you want him to take out the garbage after dinner, and that you'll check to see if it's been done at 9. If it isn't,, interrupt what he's doing and escort him while he takes it out."

Blameaholics. "Much of the time, the phrase, 'You're making me angry' is a myth. An injured party may try to hold the other party hostage with guilt. So if you're trying to provoke someone by saying, 'What's wrong with you? or 'You disappoint me,' you're expressing frustrations with 'acc-you-sations.' Don't be a blameaholic. Use "I" messages. State how you feel. 'I'm angry right now.' Then explain why you're upset: 'I get angry when you say you'll do the dishes and then leave them.' Finally, tell the person what you want him to do. And be firm sometimes. A good 'no' a day keeps the ulcers away, and the hostilities, too."