This year I have been fortunate enough to do a little travelling. Not the type that involves backpacks and hostels for months on end, just the typical brief vacation that many find beneficial in their lives. In April I went to Brazil for a friend's wedding, and then in August I spent a delightful week in Budapest.
These were my first holidays since I started my training, many years ago. I had not really had the opportunity to get away. I immersed myself into the culture, enjoyed the relaxation, and realised what I had been missing all these years. Until I suddenly noticed, when I landed back in Heathrow after the trip to Brazil my sinuses flared up and I had to make a trip to boots to take immediate aversive action. I couldn't stop sneezing and I felt as though I had a cold. This stopped pretty quickly. I thought nothing more of it.
That was until my final day in Budapest. On the 7th day I started to experience flu-like symptoms. I have had the flu jab so I knew it was not flu. All sorts of things were running through my mind - maybe I have an allergy to air conditioning! I do often hear of people getting dry tickly throats from air conditioning (1). When I arrived home the symptoms persisted and are only starting to ease off now - over a week later.
I spoke to friends and family about this and noted that some family members, especially those that rarely travel at all, got cold and flu-like symptoms, chest infections, and suchlike following a holiday.
A holiday is supposed to refresh you, isn't it?
I posted this concern into a group of fellow psychologists and someone piped up with a diagnosis. You have "Leisure Sickness!"
I have never heard of this, how on earth can I have that?
So, what is leisure sickness?
Interestingly (maybe not), the term 'leisure sickness' was Webster's Word of the Year for 2010. Although technically it is not a word!
Leisure sickness is where some people report feeling or becoming ill during weekends, or vacations/holidays. This generally occurs for people classed as 'workaholics' according to the dictionary definition, although nobody I know would class me as a workaholic.
Whilst leisure sickness is a new term to me, it has been floating around for many years now. Dutch Health Psychologist, Professor Ad Vingerhoets, is probably one of the most prolific researchers in this area and has found that, based on Dutch populations, around 3-4% of the population experience leisure sickness either at weekends or when they go on holidays. It is something that tends to occur more frequently in males than females too. It is thought that the challenges arise in the transition from busy workloads to stress-free environments with those experiencing leisure sickness displaying an 'inability' to relax (2).
There are numerous possible explanations for people experiencing leisure sickness. Some possibilities are as follows (3):
How can I prevent this?
My recent travels have taught me a few things.
I am a self-employed psychologist & coach and as such it is my responsibility to earn a living for myself. To put a roof over my head. I have noticed that I am 'always on'. All of the books I read are work-related. When I am attempting to relax, I am thinking about work, strategies, developments, products, etc. How to create a sustainable business and income.
The key point I was missing was my health. Pretty ironic for a health psychologist! If I do not look after my psychological and physical wellbeing then I am unable to work, thus unable to earn.
My trip to Budapest was based on the insight I had during my trip to Rio - the insight that I need to have more holidays. I need to have more time away from work. That was not sufficient though. I have now booked myself piano lessons to give myself time each week where I am focusing on something totally different. A sacred space where I am not thinking about work.
So, for me this is still a work in progress, yet my tips to avoid leisure sickness would be:
If you still struggle then consider engaging in some mindful activities, mindfulness meditations, or if you are really struggling with stress then consider making some time to see a psychologist or a coach. We can often help you to look at your life from different perspectives so you can make changes to lead a more healthy and prosperous life.
I'm a doctor of psychology, born in Guernsey, educated at a tertiary level in Bristol, Bath, and London. Having worked and trained with some of the leading Health Psychologists in the UK, and having a passion about how Health Psychology can truly benefit many people, I now want to spread the word, as well as offer consultations to people wanting to make changes in their lives.