Emotional Baggage Claim

Emotional BaggageIt’s an all too familiar scene after each flight we take. No sooner do the wheels hit the tarmac, and travel weary passengers erupt into life as if each seat injected its comatose passengers with 5cc’s of epinephrine. Nervous apologies are made as people compulsively burst from their seats and start yanking their bags and belongings from the overhead compartments. Throats nervously cleared. Passive aggressive (some outright aggressive) elbows are thrown. Knees are knocked. Heads are clonked. The frenzy is just beginning.

Eyes glazed over, the dazed and confused passengers stampede toward the baggage claim like hogs to the slaughter. I think I’ve even heard a few oinks and squeals along the way! The first few to arrive look a little bewildered as they attempt to confirm which magical carousel will jettison their precious cargo. With anticipation that rivals Christmas Morning, passengers feverishly alternate their glances between their watches, clocks on the wall, and the screens above. While some have transfixed their gaze upon their hallowed cellphone as if it were a crystal ball revealing the lottery numbers from this week’s Power Ball.

Welcome to Baggage Claim!

I’ll admit it’s difficult not to get swept up in the excitement, and even the competition of disembarking the plane to get to your meeting, start your vacation, or to fall into the warm embrace of those who may be anxiously awaiting your arrival.

While this scene alone is ripe with allegories, analogies, and metaphors, I’d like to share some thoughts about a baggage claim of another sort.

Your Baggage is Heavier Than You Think

Baggage comes in many shapes, sizes, and capacities. This holds true for physical baggage AND emotional baggage. Somewhere along your life’s travels, you’ve acquired a great many “souvenirs.” Events, both good and bad, all leave unique imprints upon you, your mind, your heart, even your entire outlook on life. Unresolved pain, unresolved issues, and pent up feelings of anger, resentment, or bitterness, can start to become part of the baggage we carry around. The sad irony is, this baggage can subtly grow so heavy over a period of time, that we don’t even realize the weight we’ve been carrying around until, and this is important, we set it down.

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

“Setting it down” can mean a lot of things. For the purpose of this post’s theme, we will call it “checking our baggage.” When we “check” our baggage, we present it before someone; an attendant. They inquire about the contents, they determine the weight, you pay a price, and they whisk it away until you reach your next destination.

We’ve personally checked in baggage before that exceeded normal weight limits. Of course these limits are established by the airline, but our own capacity to carry things we have no business carrying seems to grow. It’s often not until we place it on a scale, that we realize the true weight of what we’ve been carrying for who knows how long.

Checking your baggage every once in a while is healthy. In fact, we’ve had so many surprises at the airport check-in, we purchased a scale of our own to determine how heavy our baggage is. We don’t like surprises. Routinely checking in on your own baggage with a trusted friend, counselor, pastor, or mentor, are excellent ways of ensuring your baggage isn’t interfering with your ability to grow, thrive, and even excel.

Airlines use a pre-flight checklist to check and re-check every safety aspect of their planes. Our lives, and the lives of our loved ones depend on it. They check it so they don’t wreck it! Being excessively weighed down by baggage (and too many passengers – life has those too) can inhibit an airplane’s ability to safely take-off, reach altitude, and safely land. The emotional weight of your baggage can in like manner adversely affect your ability to take-off, reach your potential, and to safely arrive at your destination of a fulfilled and purposeful life in Christ.

“Let ‘er Rip!”

old luggage cartNow in our mid-forties, there’s a terrific service at some of the airports we frequent, that we’ve started to use. These big strapping fellows who are all too willing to toss your bags up on these luggage carts and push them right up to the counter, your shuttle, or your car. For a nice tip, they’re friendly enough and will point you in the right direction of a good restaurant, hotel, or area attractions.

1 Peter 5:6 – 8 instructs us, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: 7 Casting all your care upon him; for he cares for you. 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour…”

The Greek word here for “casting” comes from the root word “rhipto” or phonetically said, “rip-toe” which means to hurl forcefully. I like to think Peter was saying, like we would in our post-modern vernacular, “Let ‘er rip!” This phrase is a little dated, but basically is said when someone is about to launch something.

Could it be that Peter, a couple thousand years earlier would have realized our propensity for carrying things around we have no business carrying? Could it also be that Peter, during his early days with Christ, realized his own innate inclination toward carrying around things that interfered with his walk with the Lord? These verses provide us with such tremendous spiritual insight into how best to handle the baggage that causes us so much heartbreak. But, according to Peter, one of the preconditions to being afforded this powerful privilege is humility.

Lower Before You Launch

Before we can ever expect to launch, we must be willing to lower ourselves; humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. When you humble yourself under His Hand, it will literally allow God to give you a hand, not just any hand, His Hand! It will be His Hand that will carry the seemingly insurmountable weight of your grief, your pain, your sorrow, your anxiety, your fears, your worries; all your care! And, it will be His Hand that will “exalt you in due time.” That word “exalt” means to restore your dignity, your honor, and your rightful place in Him.

Like those big brawny lads at the airport that magically appear at your trunk as you’re unloading your baggage, Jesus is lovingly there saying, “Hey toss that over here! I got this!” You may wince, like we do sometimes when we think about how heavy our bags are before the guys pick them up, but you never for a moment have to doubt that Jesus can take it. He’s more than proven Himself. He overcame Death and Hell…it’s safe to say Jesus can handle anything else you “throw” His way!

Music to Your Ears

When we check our baggage with the Lord, it would behoove us all to, in the in the now infamous and lyrically addictive words of Elsa in the Disney Movie “Frozen,” Let it go…let it go!

Upon your arrival to God’s Divine purpose and calling for your life, don’t compulsively run over to baggage claim like a moth to a flame to look for your bags to pick them up again. The words of the old spiritual song are never truer than at this moment, “Leave them there…leave them there. Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there!”

Once we give it to God, don’t lay claim to it any longer. Peter warned, “Be sober, be vigilant.” The enemy is diabolical and deceitful. He will try to deliver the old baggage of your past in a brand new fancy bag with a bright red bow. Do not take delivery. Do not sign for it. Don’t let your neighbor sign for it. Don’t even allow Satan to leave it on your front porch! Since I’m apparently closing with a musical theme here, the words of that 1962 Elvis Presley song come to mind, “Return to sender…address unknown!”

You may think you’re fooling everyone by nap-sacking your issues and trying to inconspicuously tote them around, but like the little child who covers her eyes thinking no one can see her; someone sees. That someone is Jesus and He’s given us all an invitation today, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28 – 30)

Stress – Causes, Effects, and Coping by Rodger Mangold

Time Magazine in its June 6, 1983 issue calls stress “America’s No. 1 Health Problem.”[1] Fast forward 26 years and the problem of stress is still plaguing the United States and doesn’t show signs of giving way anytime soon. With the scarcity of funds and negative economic indicators it is no wonder the American Psychology Association states that 73% of Americans name money as the number one factor that affects their stress level according to a 2004 APA survey[2]. Couple that fact with the leading source of stress being “job stress[3]” and with one directly affecting the other we can draw the conclusion that anxiety and stress are quickly becoming the psychological staple of the American family. It will be the intent of this paper to ascertain the causes, effects and strategies for coping with contemporary stress in our lives. The primary reason for specifying “contemporary” stress is that stress has become more pervasive and insidious as decades unfold and each generation is presented with unique challenges from a psychological perspective that can drastically differ from their predecessors. We will be defining stress, discussing the types and various sources of stress. A large portion of this article will be devoted to the importance of coping with stress as well some modern strategies for dealing with stress. Lastly, the author will share the results of a personal stress assessment and his intentions on implementing some coping skills learned from the research for this article.

Stress Defined
Defining stress brings with it a myriad of views. Simply put stress can be defined as an organism’s total response to environmental demands or pressures. Stress in humans results from interactions between persons and their environment that are perceived as straining or exceeding their adaptive capacities and threatening their well-being. The element of perception indicates that human stress responses reflect differences in personality, as well as differences in physical strength or general health.[4] One online source points out that in the field of stress research there is the difference in defining stress as “an external response that can be measured by changes in glandular secretions, skin reactions, and other physical functions, or is it an internal interpretation of, or reaction to, a stressor; or is it both?”[5] 

Top 10 Causes of Stress
From an externally identifiable source there have been attempts to identify the top ten stressful events in an individual’s life as follows: Death of a spouse, Divorce, Marital separation, Jail term or death of a close family member, Personal injury or illness, Marriage, Loss of a job due to termination, Marital reconciliation or retirement, Pregnancy and Changes in financial state.

The causes of stress largely depend on the individual and their ability to adapt and or their genetic pre-disposition to dealing with or coping with stressful situations. These stressful situations can range from births, deaths, reunions, to weddings. Personal relationships are a constant source of contention and stress as well, as an individual is called upon to balance the responsibilities of work and project deadlines and quality time with the family. More time at work could mean less time with one’s family while more time with one’s family and less time at work could add economic stress.

Medical View of Stress
From a medical perspective stress has deadly consequences. As our bodies attempt to maintain the state of homeostasis, the ability or tendency of an organism or cell to maintain internal equilibrium by adjusting its physiological processes (American Heritage Dictionary), stress sets in motion a series of chemical and hormonal changes that make homeostasis difficult. The survival instinct that is purported to be genetically implanted in our DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) is called “fight or flight.” This condition causes the following biological responses to take place, A) Heart rate and blood pressure increases the flow of blood to the brain to improve decision making B) Blood sugar rises to produce more fuel for energy. As a result there is a breakdown of glycogen, fat and protein stores C) Blood is diverted from the digestive tract where it is not needed for digestion and sent to the large muscles of the arms and legs to provide more strength in combat (fight), greater speed in retreating (flight) from the scene of danger D) Clotting takes place more rapidly to prevent excessive blood loss from cuts, scrapes or internal hemorrhaging. The endocrine system plays a vital role in “fight or flight” by setting in motion a cocktail of hormones including adrenaline, cortisol and other stress-related hormones. These internal mechanisms are intended as life saving measures to facilitate our ability to deal with physical dangers. With our sedentary lifestyles and lack of perilous situations on an ongoing basis our bodies are still prone to this “fight or flight” response in stressful situations. Repeatedly activated without the outlet of escaping the perils of the “fight or flight” we are at greater risk for a host of medical conditions that include hypertension, strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, ulcers, neck or lower back pain, to name a few. For a pictoral of the medical effects of stress from the Washington Post click HERE.

Coping with Stress
Now that factors leading to stress have been identified a very important element in the discussion of stress that will be covered is coping. As there are a variety of sources and causes of stress so too are the strategies for coping. There were some intriguing findings in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology[6]. This article assesses how people cope with stress based on five scales with four items each that measure distinct aspects of problem-focused coping (active coping, planning, suppression of competing activities, restraint coping, seeking of instrumental social support). Within the scale there are two general ways in which people cope with stress. First is problem-focused coping which can be described as problem solving or doing something to alter the source of the stress. This method is often exercised when it is believed that something constructive can be done to eliminate or reduce the stress. Problem-focused coping has unique properties in that is centers on planning, taking direct action, seeking assistance, screening out other activities, and forcing oneself to wait before acting. 

Secondly, is emotion-focused coping that centers around reducing or managing the emotional distress that is associated with the situation. This method is predominately used when people feel that the stressor is something that must be endured. Emotion-focused coping typically revolves around denial, others embrace a positive reinterpretation of stressful events and still others involve seeking out social support.

 As we delve deeper into the coping aspect of a sub-element of problem-focused coping we find Active Coping. Active coping is a process in which steps are taken to remove or circumvent the stressor or to at least minimize its effects. Just as the name implies this style of coping tends to involve direct action on the part of the individual coping with the stress by increasing one’s efforts or involvement in an attempt to reduce or eliminate the source of stress. Also under the umbrella of problem-focused coping is Planning. Planning is thinking or dwelling on how to cope with a stressor. An additional element of problem-focused coping is Suppression of competing activities. This enables the individual who is attempting to cope to avoid dealing with competing and conflicting events that will enable them to better focus on dealing with the stressor.

Restraint coping involves the individual waiting until the appropriate opportunity. This requires that an individual would be holding back and deferring any action until either they are better equipped to handle the stress or if acting prematurely would simply aggravate the situation further. The last element, Seeking social support, is the process of seeking out advice or assistance in coping with stress. Essentially, this is seeking “moral support” or seeking knowledge and understanding about the source of the stress. Other more traditional methods for coping with stress include the following; medication, stress management programs, behavioral approaches, massage, cognitive therapy and mediation.

My Stress Assessment
As promised the author of this article will now reveal the results of an online stress assessment[7]. Personal Results of Test as follows: HIGH

A high level of stress puts you at increased risk of serious health consequences, including obesity, heart disease and depression. Take steps to lower your level now.

Stress is what you experience when the level of your stressors exceeds your ability to cope. To lower your stress level, you have two options.

You can start by identifying sources of stress that you can eliminate. Consider internal stressors, such as fears or unrealistic expectations, as well as external stressors, such as family or work demands. Next, seek out effective strategies for coping with stress, including exercise, painting, humor or simply saying no. If you need help identifying stress management strategies, talk to your health care provider.

In Closing
Upon review of the results of this research, which only scratches the surface, the author hereby intends on making lifestyle changes that are better suited to not only coping better with stress but preventing it. Another stress assessment put the author at risk for hypertension, stroke and even genetic predisposition for a heart attack unless measures to improve coping with stress are immediately taken. Taking this all into consideration from a generational standpoint we are training out children on how to identify and cope with stress now. It is our hope that they are better equipped to handle the stress of their day. As stated in the opening paragraph 26 years ago stress was the number 1 health problem – let’s hope 26 more years from now the problem that generation has is how to handle all their “stress-free time!”  – By Rodger Mangold 

[1] Time Magazine: June 6, 1983 “Stress! Seeking Cures for Modern Anxieties

[2] www.apahelpcenter.org/articles/topic.php?id=6 – American Psychology Association Website

[3] www.stress.org – Article from the American Institute on Stress

[4] Encyclopedia of Medicine

[5] Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine – Article by Paula Ford-Martin: Rebecca J. Frey, PhD

[6] Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1989, Vol. 56, No. 2, 267-283

[7] Mayo Clinic Stress Assessment – http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-aassessment/SR00029

How Christians Can Thrive in Any Work Environment

1.  Don’t expect to be appreciated.  Your only expectation should be to get a paycheck.  Don’t come to work to have personal relationships.  Don’t allow what you do to affect who you are.

2.  Do your job well, but remember your mission.  God put you there to be a Light.

3.  Seek opportunities to change the atmosphere without commenting on the problems.  You have a God to talk to.  You are on an assignment.  Quietness and competence shall be your strength.

4.  Don’t let your environment get inside of you.  You should influence it, not let it influence you.  Stop going to work to be fed.  You didn’t come to receive, you came to give.  Remember to Whom you belong.

5.  Increase your capacity to work with different personalities.  (They are doing this with you.)  God will often bless you through people you don’t even like!

6.  Remember where you are does not define where you are going.  This will deliver you from frustration.  God has a plan for your life.  Keep your eye on the prize. When Peter did this, he was able to walk in what made other people sink!

7.  Get the optimum results with minimal confusion.  Be effective without making the environment worse; don’t deliberately cause commotion with your personal issues.

8.  Don’t be associated with one group or clique.  Labels limit your usefulness.  God wants you to work with everybody but be labeled by nobody.  Use all your God-given gifts.

9.  Always keep your song near you.  Do what you should when nobody is watching or will ever know.  Hold on to your Priority and let it shine!

10. Understand that God anoints you for trouble.  Put on the whole armour of God before going to work.

Also remember…

  • Psalm 75: 6-7 For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.
  • Proverbs 18:16 –  A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.  
  • Matthew 25:23 – His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
  • Galatians 6:9 – And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.