This is why you always get sick on holiday

Destressing during the holidays
Destressing during the holidays

It’s the end of the year, which hopefully means you’re getting some much-needed rest these holidays. And whether you’re spending it at some far-flung, exotic destination or at home, you really need this break. But if you find yourself feeling a little under the weather anytime you take vacay, this phenomenon might be why…

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What is leisure sickness?

It’s estimated that more than 1.7 million South Africans may suffer from what is known as ‘leisure sickness’, a condition that strikes as soon as you go on holiday. It often leaves you with nausea, migraines, muscular pains and cold and flu-like symptoms.

“Scientists believe that overachievers and people who generally have a high workload, along with an over-developed sense of responsibility toward work are more susceptible to the condition.

When at work your body is in a state of defence since it requires your complete focus, but when you’re on leave, your defence mechanism relaxes, and you become more vulnerable to illness”, says Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics.

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In 2002, researchers at Tilburg University conducted a study among 1128 men and 765 women between the ages of 16-87. The study concluded that 3.6 and 3.2% of males, and 2.7 and 3.2% of women recognised themselves in the description of the weekend and vacation syndrome.

The study states that “the data tends to point to high workload and person characteristics, namely, the inability to adapt to the nonworking situation, a high need for achievement, and a high sense of responsibility with respect to work”. So, basically, if you’re a workaholic who just can’t seem to sit still, it’s time for you to slow down before you burn yourself out and spend all your vacay days sick in bed.

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How to combat the vacay blues

Set boundaries

If you’re someone that is constantly running from meeting to meeting, is constantly responding to your boss and colleagues’ demands and expectations, and is always skipping lunch while working late into the night — then you need to stop. Okay, not exactly stop but set some boundaries that will help you not be as stressed. 

“Make a list of the things you can say no to, delay or delegate and make room for things that make you happy — every day. This practice allows the brain to focus on important tasks when it needs to, while also relaxing, so your body isn’t ‘shocked’ by the sudden downtime of a holiday”, says Jennings 

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Ease up on the workload

Evaluate whether your workload is too heavy. If your work is constantly interfering with your relationships and life in general, then its time to make a change. Jennings says that aside from leisure sickness, “unhealthy work habits lead to increased stress and burnout, which can trigger high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, accelerated ageing, weight gain and lowered immunity”.  

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Take care of yourself

“Exercise regularly during the week to help your body get into a rhythm of relaxation so when you do go on holiday that your body is accustomed to winding down.  Practice active relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or yoga to avoid piled up stress, rather than vegging in front of the TV or surfing the Internet”, explains Jennings.

It’s important that you set some time aside to do things that you enjoy, this helps you unwind and ensure that you actually know how to relax.

Jennings also advises that you ensure that you get a good nights sleep, as sleeping is essential for is critical for optimal immune function.

This article was originally published on Women's Health

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