Leisure Sickness: Why we are often ill on vacation

Leisure Sickness: Why we are often ill on vacation
Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / Danganhfoto

Just in time for the weekend, coughs or headaches appear: “Leisure Sickness” is the name of the phenomenon in which illnesses follow the drop in stress. You can find out what you can do about it here.

After stressful weeks, the long-awaited vacation is finally here – and suddenly you’re lying flat with the flu. Or you want to enjoy the well-deserved weekend to the full, but that’s when you get a headache. The fact that you always get sick when you actually want to enjoy rest, vacation or free time is often no coincidence, but a phenomenon called leisure sickness.

What is leisure sickness?

Tea in bed instead of ice cream in the sun: leisure sickness can ruin your vacation.
Tea in bed instead of ice cream in the sun: leisure sickness can ruin your vacation.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / NoName_13)

As soon as the pressure from job, studies, household or other stressful obligations has eased off your shoulders, you start having a cough, runny nose, headache or muscle pain. Leisure sickness ruins the holiday or weekend for many people in need of relaxation.

In 2017, the opinion research institute YouGov, on behalf of the International University of Applied Sciences Bad Honnef Bonn, examined how many people are actually affected by leisure sickness: 22 percent of the more than 2,000 respondents stated that they had already suffered from leisure sickness in their lifetime – i.e. one in five .

The term “leisure sickness” comes from the Dutch psychologists Ad Vingerhoets and Maaike van Huijgevoort. In her view, the phenomenon is a psychosomatic illness that arises from the fact that those affected, mostly “workaholics” with a high sense of responsibility, cannot switch from work to leisure mode.

Other experts see the cause of leisure sickness in the immune system, which is negatively influenced by prolonged stress. According to general practitioner and psychotherapist Dr. Thomas Weiss, the body releases stress hormones in challenging situations, which help to master the exertion full of energy. According to Netdoktor, cortisol inhibits the immune response to possible infections.

But when the stress drops, the body also slows down and reduces hormone production. The immune system is no longer suppressed as a result, but works at full speed again and reacts to pathogens as usual. The result: the body has to deal with colds and other infections again.

This is how you can prevent leisure sickness

Leisure sickness is therefore not caused by leisure time per se, but by the stress before the rest phase. (Recreational stress, on the other hand, really has something to do with how you spend your free time.) So to prevent leisure sickness, you should do something about it during stressful times.

Stress experts recommend the following tips:

  • Don’t try to work everything off in the last few days before your vacation. Short breaks are important in order not to increase your stress level.
  • End the workday consciously and realize that you can always do tasks the next day or after the weekend.
  • Get to know your limits and say no when new tasks are presented to you for which you no longer have the capacity.
  • Learn how to handle the pressure to perform better. We often cause ourselves more stress than necessary because we have ever higher expectations of our own performance.
  • According to Netdoktor, it can help to impose a few rules on yourself on vacation to create inner distance from work. Therefore, avoid taking your work cell phone with you on vacation in order to still be able to process one or two work e-mails.

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