There’s a reason why you keep getting ill on holiday

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  • 'Leisure sickness' is a thing

    We love a holiday. What we don’t love though is how our immune system seems to crash as soon as we start to relax.

    Apparently there is a name for this: ‘leisure sickness’.

    According to Dutch psychologist Profession Ad Vingerhoets who coined the term, ‘leisure sickness’ refers to becoming unwell on holiday or at the weekend. Symptoms include colds, flu, nausea, migraine, headaches and muscular pain. Sound familiar?

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    Prof. Vingerhoets started researching the area after noticing the pattern of illness himself when on holiday. Surveying 1893 people across Holland between the ages of 16 and 87, Vingerhoets concluded that around 3% of the population suffers from leisure sickness.

    Most of those who did suffer had endured the condition for over 10 years and could pinpointing its beginning to a major life event, such as a change of job or the birth of a child.

    Interestingly, many sufferers shared similar characteristics, such as perfectionism, a high workload, a real drive to succeed and a heightened sense of responsibility when it comes to their work, which makes it harder for them to switch off out of hours.

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    Although the exact reason for ‘leisure sickness’ is unknown, there are a few theories explaining it. One is ‘mind of matter’ – the idea that we delay getting ill until it’s convenient for us and we have time to spare i.e. on holiday.

    Another is that when the body is under acute stress, it actually has a greater resilience to illness than when it is relaxed, so as soon as we do switch off the inevitable happens.

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    So what can we stop getting sick on arrival if you are part of that unlucky 3%? Here are three simple tips to help keep you healthy on holiday:

    1.Manage your stress levels before you travel.
    Make sure that you leave plenty of time to get your work and chores done before you jet off so that you aren’t left with a last-minute mad dash to get things done. This might mean taking an extra day off before you go to get sorted – don’t think of this as a waste of your holiday allowance. If it stops you getting sick when you’re actually away then it’s worth it.

    2.Do a bit of exercise beforehand
    Vingerhoets suggests that exercising on a Friday night will help your body make the transition from work to weekend mode. According to The Stress Management Society, ‘increased physical activity can be linked to lower physiological reactivity towards stress, building your resilience.’ Simply put, exercise will help you relax and help prevent you getting ill.

    3.Change your attitude
    85% of the 20 people in the study who claim to have recovered from the condition could identify a specific life change that they held responsible for its disappearance. This was either a change of job or attitude towards work or life in general. So basically, you need to get your priorities sorted, sister, and learn to let go.

    And if you can’t do that? Well, holiday are overrated anyway, right? 

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