Alaska Jim's Comments of the Day #27: Work, Stress, and Pain. Listen to your body talk.

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Jim Bertelson posted 09-29-2010 10:14 PM 1540 reads 1 time favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 26: One Year LJ Anniversary, Reflections from Paradise............... Part 27 of Alaska Jim's Comments of the Day series Part 28: Progress on the Super Sled…………and the Super-Sizer Panel Sled is finished »

Stress Tolerance, Where is the Breaking Point?

Since my work with clients involves dealing with stress, both mental and physical, I have an opportunity to observe and learn from other people’s misery.

I have another advantage. I am old. Nearly 70. This allows me to recall experiences that relate to this topic that are unique to aging.

This is an amazingly complex and important topic. I am only going to point out a few observations, to stimulate your own personal introspection, and investigation.

I will use the word stress in the most general sense, meaning both physical and mental stress. Stress is the wear and tear, the strain, and the associated discomfort, that results from using the body and mind. When stress increases, or accumulates, we hurt, and if it reaches a critical intensity, we break. Each person’s physical and mental stress tolerance is unique. It is a product of a number of factors, many of which we do not control. It changes throughout your life.

I will use this term to mean both mental and physical effort, whether vocational, avocational, athletic activity, or in the performance of daily tasks of living. We may work in the workshop, on the athletic field, in the kitchen, both for money, enjoyment, and in the management of everyday family life. I will also use the words perform and performance to mean doing work at any task, for money or pleasure.

.........There are no 10 year old or 70 year old olympic athletes. Our physique, and its control, has age limits at either extreme.

Each individual has a unique set of PHYSICAL attributes.
We all have physical stress limits. When we try to exceed those limits, our body speaks to us. The body first grows tired, meaning it cannot perform as fast and as well, you make mistakes. And if you keep going, eventually it will exhibit pain (sore muscles, muscle spasm, aching joints, blisters).........and if you still keep going it will break (arthritis, tendonitis, muscle strain, joint separation, stress fractures). Pain is the body’s way of saying you may be exceeding safe limits, determined by your unique attributes and conditioning. Pain gets even worse, if you break.

Each individual has a unique set of MENTAL attributes.
We all have mental stress limits. When we try to exceed those limits, our mind speaks to us. The mind first grows tired, meaning it cannot perform as fast and as well, you make mistakes. And if you keep going, eventually it will exhibit pain (headache, twitching eyes, increasong errors, drowsiness, irritability).........and if you still keep going it will break (hallucinations, crying, elevation of blood pressure, asthma, colitis, dermatitis, even stroke and heart attack). Pain is the mind’s way of saying you have exceeded its safe limits, determined by your unique attributes and conditioning. Pain gets even worse, if you break (mental breakdown).

What determines tolerance, and how do we know when we are exceeding it?
We learn by experience, and sometimes the advice of others. Physical and mental stress are interrelated and one affects the tolerance of the other. Only experience gives each individual a way to judge his limits. The processes and relationships are too complex for measurement and prediction.

Can we improve, meaning increase, our stress tolerance?
Conditioning, both physical and mental may improve tolerance. Experience improves tolerance. It is stressful to learn something. When we are an expert, a task may be much easier, and less stressful. The reverse is also true, we may lose stress tolerance, if our conditioning lapses, or illness or infirmity has affected our vigor.

What other factors should I be aware of?
We determine safe levels of stress exposure with experience. This can change obviously. But we need to be aware that when we age, especially as we approach our 40’s and 50’s, there is a downward trend in stress tolerance of all types. You can compensate with experience, wisdom, precision, and timing. But for a given ability, stress tolerance has an irreversible downward trend as adult age increases. If you find you are are having pain or reduced tolerance to a familiar task, as age advances, you need to assume that your safe limits for stress are lower, and you must adjust output….......or you will break.

This is the framework I use to diagnose client symptoms on a daily basis. It sounds like common sense. But many of the injuries I have read about here on LJ’s, are the result of forgetting these simple facts.

What is the practical impact of these facts?

1. Most performance is improved with periodic rest times. They also give you a way to measure whether you have reached your stress tolerance for the task. After a rest, if you do not feel like continuing, or you have to force yourself after a rest, then it is best to stop for the day, or a long interval of time.

2. If you detect tiredness or pain, take a rest and analyze the factors in your tolerance, and carefully approach the limits. Getting older, out of shape, too little sleep, etc? Better to quit too soon, than too late, after something breaks.


-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

15 comments so far

View lew's profile


12149 posts in 3808 days

#1 posted 09-29-2010 10:24 PM

So true, So true, Jim!

I am glad you included mental activities in your description of work. As a teacher, no one could understand why I would be physically tired at the end of the day when my “work” was not physically demanding.

From personal experience, I can attest that mental stress- exacerbated by emotional attachment can bring on physical ailments.


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View dbhost's profile


5736 posts in 3284 days

#2 posted 09-29-2010 10:27 PM

Been reading my blog entries have you?

Doc has me on stronger stuff, and I am NOT happy about it. Not blaming the doctor, just having to bump up from basically heavy duty Allieve and resting, to heavy duty pain killers, anti inflamatories, and muscle relaxers has an impact on my head as well as my back. I have to work to make a living, and I need to be sharp and alert on the job to insure the quality of my work, which is very difficult when my head is floating around in the clouds you know?

-- Please like and subscribe to my YouTube Channel

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10152 posts in 4105 days

#3 posted 09-29-2010 10:45 PM

Hi Jim,

Very good information!

I never knew one could get More Tired sitting at desk all day than hard physical labor until I started doing it… working on accounting books all day. After my 1st day I was POOPED OUT! ... and I was in superb physical shape.

Later in life, late 60’s, I was gung-HO on the stock market and was consumed in it every awakened moment…
I could feel the stress BUT didn’t think much about it… drank some wine, etc. and just kept on going… NOTHING was going to stop me!

Until diverticulosis got inflamed in my colon, caused it to expand and CLOSE… That means you can’t poop! :)

Resulted in going to hospital, surgery, etc. etc.

I found out later from a Dr. friend that stress can cause major MAJOR problems and should be dealt with FAST!

I made a change in my life… (read the link above)

The only stress I have today, if you want to call it that, is playing around with wood, designing, building, etc. etc.
I have not traded a stock more than 5 times since!!

No more stress here… at all!
... I do not watch CNBC and the socalled NEWS anymore on TV… I get all the News I want from the internet (just a few minutes a day)... TV is for nothing but PLEASURE now… Radio is nice too, while in the shop.

... and I’m really OLD now… at 74! :)

It’s not worth it…

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 3226 days

#4 posted 09-29-2010 11:21 PM

At first, I felt like you were “writing this directly to me.”

And then … after the moment’s vanity had waned ;-) ... I realized that … it’s just that mellifluous Bertelson writing style.

In this case, a bit like a cheesy horoscope or a Chinese fortune cookie: I’d bet most people reading the above … find personal wisdom, and applicability in it, to.

Well said.

The only thing you left out is the “and … if all else fails” bit. Known, in some circles, as the biplane.

I’ll let Grizz speak to that LOL !

Intellectual work—still—is far more fatiguing for me than physical work, though I’m good at, and inclined toward, neither :-p

You DO wax philosophical, with those Trade winds and that salt air in your face, don’t you. Whatever it is … keep it going :-)

-- -- Neil

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 3226 days

#5 posted 09-29-2010 11:27 PM

Joe Lyddon glad you got wise, and got healthy, before you got dead. Seriously.

I’ve had a couple of doctors, in my life, tell me that they “didn’t believe all that stress nonsense.” They actually did not believe that physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, ... whatever … stress had ANY impact on the body, or on a person’s overall health.

Suffice to say, I didn’t have them, as doctor’s, any longer than it took to hear THAT.

The other thing that’s rather fascinating is the difference between eustress vs. distress.

Though they are rather different, they’re both still stressors ;-)

[NB: I’d never seen the article—linked above—before. I may now read it, in its entirety (yeah, right) !]

-- -- Neil

View Don Butler's profile

Don Butler

1092 posts in 3448 days

#6 posted 09-29-2010 11:51 PM

I can attest to the fact that stress can KILL you.
It almost did for me, years ago, when I was the service manager for a failing auto dealership.
My department was the only one making money. Therefore, I was carrying the entire company.
In the best of dealerships the service manager is in a three way bind between employees, customers and top management.
One night they took me to the hospital because my heart was running a few beats and then stopping a bit, running a few, stopping again. They determined that I did not have heart disease. STRESS.
I’m 40 years older now and I avoid an excess of stress, but continue to challenge my mind. That doesn’t seem likely to harm me ;-)

-- No trees were damaged in posting this message, but thousands of electrons were seriously inconvenienced.

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3168 days

#7 posted 09-30-2010 12:11 AM

shuoldn´t you bee relaxing over there in the mittle of no where :-)
and just having fun with your new computers
It sounds excatly like you have been looking in to some part of my jounal Jim
both the physical and the mental part of it that cover the lastest 10 years ….LOL

thank´s for both the reminder and thinking on us here at L J

now back to relaxingmode and thats an ordre Jim !!!

take care

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4352 days

#8 posted 09-30-2010 12:27 AM

I can relate to how people who have desk jobs. Back in the mid 1970s during the fuel scare, our dept. went to a 10 Hr 4 days a week schedule. I was working in the repair shop. The people that were at their desks could hardly make it through the day, but It was still almost the same to me as an 8 Hr day.
In the past year since I had been diagnosed with possible Mesothelioma, Barb started me on a regime of taking an afternoon nap. I call them power naps, because they only last about 1/2 Hr, & I wake up fresh as a daisy.
I think those little naps may have contributed toward eliminating the lung cancer.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 3226 days

#9 posted 09-30-2010 12:35 AM

Wow, Dick.

Through a close friend, I learned a fair bit about mesothelioma (his father).

It seems as though you’ve done a fair job of getting the upper hand, in all these struggles that have come your way. May your power naps, and whatever else it takes, let you get the best of THIS one, too.

-- -- Neil

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10152 posts in 4105 days

#10 posted 09-30-2010 12:36 AM

Very good Dick! Glad to hear it!

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4352 days

#11 posted 09-30-2010 01:09 AM

Thanks Guys!

Mesothelioma is supposed to be Terminal with a capitol T.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

4187 posts in 3217 days

#12 posted 09-30-2010 01:28 AM

Mental stress is definitely as bad a physical stress. Frequently you have better control over physical stress than mental. I deal with both in the office, slightly more mental than physical. One of the most common complaints is tiredness or fatigue. About 90% of those complaints in my office are linked to stress. Patients seem to accept the explanation well these days, it was not always that way. I always dissect their life issues for them and try to lay out definite choices that are realistic options to allieviate the problem. Why are they talking to me? They hope their tiredness can be solved by a hormone pill…......almost 90% come in with hormone issues as their presenting complaint.

David (dbhost)
Yup, this came straight out of your blog. Your problem illustrates the issue well, and you just added the experience to your knowledge base, and you will avoid it next time. Perhaps the biggest advantage of being old, is that I have had more opportunities to screw up than you have…......(-: (funny one, I left the word “up” out of that sentence when I first wrote it….....fortunately I caught it before the post…...(-: )

The key is to try to analyze mistakes, and not make the same one again. Sounds good, but I admit to making the same mistake many times before finally learning how to avoid it.

Gad zooks, that was quite a mental rollercoaster you were on. Lots of stressors there.

Nope, actually wrote it because of dbhost’s post. This was pretty easy for me to write. I have thought about this topic a lot, and apply this stuff regularly in my life and in my work. Just thought a short blast about it might help someone. I am philosophical by nature….....I can explain away all my faults, mistakes, mishaps, and life circumstances with a few nebulous aphorisms that sound wonderful, and don’t truly explain anything….(-:

Actually, I tried to put a practical bent to it with the last couple of suggestions. There are no universal or easy solutions, but a little structure to the rhythm or work might help. Regarding eustress vs distress….....I have had more trouble with the former than the latter. About a hundred eustressors in a day running till the wee hours of the morning, all of the same nice type, will leave you exhausted and somewhat incapacitated for a couple days. Trust me.

A lot of any stress, however rewarding and well purposed, can lead to the same issues. Witness us LJ’s overdoing it in the shop, working on hobby activities. My job is most likely in the eustress arena, but I can tell you, it can kill you. Physicians have a shortened life span.


-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

4187 posts in 3217 days

#13 posted 09-30-2010 01:35 AM

My work schedule is now 4 days a week instead of 5, but it was a near miss health issue that got me there, as I realized I had to cut back. I give great advice… if only I could follow it…......(-:

Thank for your concern. Actually doing this kind of thing is fun more me. Applying it to clients is much more exacting and difficult. I put this stuff in the category of play, kinda like Don.

Obstetricians invented the power nap. Been doing those for 40 years….......(-:

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View Woodwrecker's profile


4164 posts in 3628 days

#14 posted 09-30-2010 04:52 AM

Finally, my “nap Research” has been verified as a positive stress relief factor.
Thanks Doc.

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

4187 posts in 3217 days

#15 posted 09-30-2010 07:25 AM

Woodwrecker (Eric?)
I will be glad to contribute to your sales pitch, you may quote me. Naps, I enjoyed one today, must increase longevity, vitality, and the enjoyment of life….............right?


-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics