I got sick this past week, and I should have seen it coming. I have less than optimum sinuses. Two surgeries and a lot of OTC meds later, I live a mostly normal life, but from time to time I miss the clues, fail to care for myself, and end up with a sinus infection. Like last week. While I recuperated at home (so as not to disturb others with my cough), I contemplated the way I got to the place I found myself.
Recovery is an important concept that is unfortunately often ignored. This past weekend was the 21st running of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, a race I help found and ran 17 times. Even with all the training and preparation, runners must rest and recuperate after the race. If they start running to soon or push too hard after the race, they risk injury. The body needs time to recover after the stress of the race effort.
We all know intuitively that being tired or worn down increases our chances of getting sick. I can remember my grandmother telling me that if I stayed wet in cool weather I would “catch a cold.” Many of us had experiences in college or early in our careers where we went for long periods without enough sleep and found ourselves sick. All this relates to the stress of our circumstances reducing the effectiveness of our immune system, a well-researched and documented fact.
The principle that stress reduces our ability to ward off an attack is true in systems other than our immunity. We all have a built-in ability to handle some amount of injury. Our physical bodies, given time and proper nutrition, will heal torn muscle fibers and repair cellular damage. Our minds, given rest and the proper tools, will overcome trauma and adapt to change. Our organizations and communities, given care and even momentary relief from pressure, will find ways to heal.
So how do we know when we have physically pushed too hard for too long? How do we know when trauma or concern has damaged our mental or emotional health? How do we know when our organization or community is susceptible to injury or division? What are the clues we should be looking for, the signs that we are about to get sick?
As a mechanical engineer, I learned about systems. While my education was mostly related to mechanical systems, I can easily figure out an electrical system or hydraulic system too. Once you see the “systems” concept, the rest is just understanding components. The same is true about the signs or symptoms that indicate we are likely to become sick or injured. They are similar for individuals and for organizations. If we can recognize the signs in ourselves, we can see them in our communities too.
When I find myself “bothered” by little things, it is often a sign that I am running out of depth. In a physical sense, this can be aches and pains, feeling “off,” or very mild symptoms of illness. In my mental and emotional world, this can be loss of focus, an inability to think clearly, or unhealthy behaviors. In the community, this can be an increase in complaints, resistance to change, and conflict over small or simple things.
Loss of drive or even ability can be a sign of impending failure. This can be muscles that feel wooden, loss of desire to move or exercise, or, for me, eating things I know are bad for me. In the mental and emotional realm, this can be disengaging from friends and family, isolation, and loss of interest in stuff I’m normally excited about. Finally, in an organization, this can be indifference to project changes, people no longer asking questions, or teams completely disengaging from other teams.
Unless I am really paying attention, this one is sometimes hard to see until it gets more significant. In my body, it feels like I’m just tired all the time, and I feel weak. Mentally and emotionally, I experience mood shifts that are not connected to what’s happening and a lack of emotional control. In the community, we see cynicism, anger, and unreasonable responses.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives a good example of how we can look for clues that indicate our bodies, minds, or communities need rest and recuperation. If we pay attention to our own signals and the signals we get from the people around us, we can be intentional about finding space and time for ourselves and our teams to recover.
I need to remember that I cannot live my best life unless those around me are living their best life too. Taking responsibility for my health gives me the physical, mental, and emotional resources to help others rest and recuperate. Being part of a community that understands the cycle of stress and recovery moves us from being sick and tired to living healthy and fully, and it is The Kimray Way.