The condition of developing symptoms of sickness during weekends or holidays, more commonly known as leisure sickness, was first identified by Dutch psychologists Ad Vingerhoets and Maaike Van Huijgevoort in 2001.
It is slightly more prevalent in men (3.6%) than in women (2.7%). Most subjects reported having had the symptoms for more than 10 years and that the onset of the first episode could be associated with a specific life event, such as a marriage, the birth of a child or starting a new job.
Leisure sickness is actually a syndrome wherein people develop:
Others, meanwhile, may just feel generally unwell.
Whatever the case may be, the symptoms dissipate once the person returns to work or gets back to their usual routine. This list of adverse events can also describe a similar condition affecting some new retirees.
Risk factors appear to be a heavy workload or stress combined with a very demanding or perfectionist personality type.
These are people who have a very hard time making the shift from work to a state of relaxation, who have a strong sense of responsibility and who are often very ambitious, especially with respect to their careers.
And yet, the point of a holiday, be it the weekend or a vacation, is to unwind and regain a certain balance. So why then are some people sensitive to this kind of transition?
Thanks to the findings of several researchers, including Hans Selye, we now know that it is impossible to separate the psychological from the physical, since what we are is always the result of the interaction of the two.
Our psychological state affects our physiological condition and vice versa. Here is an explanation of leisure sickness proposed by Esther Sternberg, researcher in neuroendocrine immunology at the National Institutes of Health, which clearly illustrates the correlation between the mind and the body.
In times of stress, whether psychological or physiological, the adrenal glands release adrenaline, a hormone that gives us energy and boosts immune function over a short period.
As long as adrenaline is pumping, however, the body is also releasing cortisol. Cortisol is an anti-inflammatory hormone that diminishes our immune function by sending signals telling the immune system to stop working.
Then, as soon as work slows down and the stress associated with it lessens, the adrenaline stops pumping first, leading to a temporary surplus of cortisol, which, as you will recall, weakens the immune system. It is that vulnerable state that leaves a person more susceptible to illness.
There is also the possibility that the body ignores certain information if the person is constantly overworked. When you work at a frantic pace, you don't really have the time to notice the warning signs your body gives you. In a calmer setting, it is easier to recognize the signs before it's too late.
Another theory is that some people may actually have the ability to delay the onset of illnesses to fit their schedule. Think about a dying person who stays alive just long enough to be there for a big event like a wedding, the birth of a child or a Christmas party.
Of the 20 subjects in Dr. Vingerhoets' study who reported having been "cured" of the illness, 85% were able to explain the reasons for the reversal, the most frequent being:
- a change of job
- a change in attitude toward work, or
- a change in attitude toward life in general.
As we make these kinds of changes in our lives, it is important to increase the body's resistance to illness by providing the basic support it needs in terms of diet, sleep, stress management and immunity. The tips provided here may alleviate or even eliminate many of the symptoms associated with leisure sickness.
- Regular meals: Skipping meals causes blood glucose levels to fluctuate, which, in turn, increases the production of stress hormones such as adrenaline.
- Balanced meals: Your diet should consist of 20% fat, 20% protein and 40 to 60% carbohydrates. Eat three to five meals and/or snacks per day, at roughly the same time every day. Our bodies' defenses are stronger when they can draw on a variety of nutrients.
- Nutritious meals: The healthier your diet, the more resources the body has to combat germs and better cope with stress.
- Hydration: Dehydration automatically slows down the body's absorption and detoxification functions. According to the research of Dr. Batmanghelidj, dehydration has a direct impact on brain function and diminishes cognition. It is even associated with headaches and depression.
- Heavy coffee drinkers have to be especially careful, because the short-term stimulant triggers a rebound effect that overworks the adrenal glands.
- Be careful not to drink too much alcohol either, as it can cause dehydration and exacerbate depression.
In all facets of life, balance is key to achieving good health. To function properly, humans need an average of seven to nine hours' sleep every day. Sleep deprivation activates the stress glands (adrenals), which causes adrenaline levels to increase.
If you're having trouble sleeping, try:
- Deep Sleep: A blend of valerian and hops, which are known for their sedative properties.
- A calcium and magnesium supplement before bedtime can have the same effect as a glass of warm milk, and can also help alleviate headaches.
- Meditation, reading and calming hobbies, or any other relaxation technique.
As Dr. Vingerhoets' subjects suggested, changing one's workplace (job) or attitude appears to be the most decisive factor in overcoming leisure sickness. For now though, if you need a helping hand to deal with stress:
- Bio-Strath: A nutritional complex that's rich in B vitamins essential to the nervous system.
- Anti-Stress: Effective in cases of mild depression and for facilitating sleep.
- Avenaforce: An extract that balances and nourishes the nervous system.
- Passion Flower: An effective nerve tonic.
- Essential oils used with a diffuser or during a massage: lavender, orange, lemongrass.
If changing jobs isn't an option or attitude isn't the problem, Vingerhoets recommends exercising regularly, especially the day before the weekend or a vacation.
Physical activity can ease the transition from work to rest more gradually, and it is also a recognized stress reliever.
Taking Echinaforce in stronger doses just before the weekend or your holidays, can give the immune system the boost it needs to increase the body's resistance to infection.
* Be advised that the products listed here may be incompatible with some health conditions or medications. Consult a health professional for more information.
- Leisure sickness : a pilot stydy on its prevalence, phenomenology, and background. Auteurs : Vingerhoets AJ, Van Huigevoort M, Van Heck GL., Department of Psychology and Health, and Research Institute for Psychology and Health, Tilburg University, The Netherlands. 2002
- Los Angeles Times: « Perhaps It’s A Case Of Leisure Sickness », http://articles.latimes.com/2007/dec/31/health/he-leisure31?pg=2
- « Your Body’s Many Cries for Water : You’re not sick; You’re Thirsty. » Dr Batmanghelidj, 1er sept. 2008. www.watercure.com