Holidays are fabulous!
They allow us time to relax, to read that book waiting on the bedside table, to catch up with that Netflix series, to travel and visit the world.
Unfortunately, we often get sick during the holidays.
Causes are different and vary from exposure to unfamiliar environments to being near other travellers who are also sick.
But, there is more! Dutch psychologist Professor Ad Vingerhoets, coined the phrase ‘leisure sickness’ to define sickness during holidays.
In 2002 he and his team surveyed 1,128 men and 765 women, and asked them to indicate to what extent they recognized themselves in the description of weekend and vacation sickness. Researchers found around 3% of them reported getting colds and flu or having niggles such as headaches, fatigue or nausea when they took a break from work. Interviewed people had generally suffered from leisure sickness for over 10 years and the onset was associated with stressful conditions. They attributed their condition to difficulties with the transition from work to time off, stress associated with travel and vacation, as well as workload and personality characteristics.
So, apparently, people overly focused on their jobs are more vulnerable. Moreover, stress appears to be a possible cause: acute stress may hold off illness; when we relax on holiday our resistance to disease is lowered and we get sick.
How can I reduce my risk of leisure sickness?
- Try to reduce the stress before the holiday: try to finish most of the tasks at work, book your plane/train seat in advance, make a to do list of what you will need to travel.
- Stay healthy: maintain a healthy diet, including food rich in antioxidants and vitamins, get plenty of sleep and exercise.
- Learn to relax: it’s important to transition the mindset from rushed to relaxed. In Vingerhoets’ survey, the group that experienced leisure sickness were not able to adjust to not being busy. Often rest is associated with guilt and therefore it becomes a source of stress.
According to Vingerhoets, leisure sickness is the way of our body to tell us to slow down, to go easier with work and to look for a balance between working and non-working life.
We need to start to listen to our body and learn to enjoy time off.
Vingerhoets et al., “Leisure Sickness: A Pilot Study on Its Prevalence, Phenomenology, and Background”, 2002, https://doi.org/10.1159/000065992
Van Heck et al., “Leisure Sickness: A Biopsychosocial Perspective”, 2007, https://hrcak.srce.hr/20385