Have you ever endured a manic period of work or study and are about to enjoy a few well-deserved days off unwinding, only to find that as soon as you stop you come down with a cold, flu, fatigue or nausea? This happens to me in the form of migraines and always in the ‘downtime’ after a period of stress.  I stumbled across the phrase ‘leisure sickness’ for the first time a few days ago. Given that the holiday season is only a skip, hop and a headache away, it’s a phenomenon to be aware of.

The condition of becoming ill during weekends or holidays was first researched by Dutch psychologist Ad Vingerhoets in 2001. His research showed that around 3% of people suffer from ‘leisure sickness’ and those at risk tended to have both a stressful workload and a perfectionist personality – people who take their professional responsibilities very seriously and have a hard time leaving their work behind to unwind.

Leisure sickness is thought to be caused by changes to routines and the body’s reaction to stress. If you’re on holiday you may travelling, eating different foods, drinking more alcohol, and doing activities you don’t normally do. Your body is overloaded and unable to cope with so many changes at once. Stress also depresses your immune system and there’s science to prove it. During times of stress your body releases adrenaline to give you energy but also the hormone cortisol which weakens the immune system’s function. When you slow down the adrenaline stops pumping but you are left with a surplus of cortisol, making you susceptible to illness. It is also possible that when you are frantically working, your body can ignore the warning signs. Then, when you finally calm down, your body hits you over head with it and you collapse in a heap. Frustratingly for some, people who get sick on a weekend have usually recovered by Monday and feel fine once back in their usual routine.

What can you do to prevent leisure sickness?

Some of the subjects in Dr. Vingerhoets’ study overcame leisure sickness by changing their job, or by changing their attitude toward work and life in general. It is also wise to increase your body’s resistance to illness. Manage your stress levels and do some exercise to reset the body’s fight-or-flight (the adrenaline/cortisol) reaction. Give your immune system a boost with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and healthy oils. Stay hydrated, get plenty of sleep and when you do go on holiday leave your work phone and text books behind!
For more helpful tips on overcoming leisure sickness see: http://www.avogel.ca/en/health/stress-anxiety-low-mood/leisure-sickness/

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