The Mindful Approach To The Leisure Sickness Phenomenon
How do we manage our holidays and downtime, when stress symptoms start?
And this is something I've seen a rise in for clients (including myself) over the last 5 years, so I thought it was something to address from a holistic point of view.
So, let’s be clear I’m not talking about catching flu from other passengers on the plane or a bad case of food poisoning.
I’m talking about the over whelming tiredness that hits you like a tsunami as soon as you start your holiday, I’m talking about the feeling of exhaustion with headaches, migraines, aches and pains or a cold that starts before you get a real chance to enjoy yourself.
And perhaps you instinctively know this is different form of tiredness, this is the come down from the constant on the go stress of life when you’ve attempted to balance work and family – whilst at the same time trying to prepare for your holiday or time off.
This form of exhaustion or feeling unwell is sometimes known as leisure sickness highlighted in the study by psychologist Ad Vingerhoets et al. The leisure sickness phenomenon, where you feel unwell on holiday or when you are resting is believed to stem mainly from the mind and bodies inability to manage without the normal stresses - especially when plunged into a different environment, different daily routine and different brain state. Whilst it has not been fully recognised medically it is well known by those who feel it’s effects.
One theory is this is the result of your adrenaline levels falling quickly, this is because when you’re stressed you’re body releases high levels of adrenaline to help keep you going. When we stop, or cut off from this state, our body attempts to adapt in a very short space of time, which in turn affects the immune system - leaving us more vulnerable to illness.
So consider the week or two prior to you holiday or break and ask yourself if you have been pushing yourself that little bit more (even though you’re already running on the last dribbles of energy in your body) because you know you are running out of time to finish things off before you go?
If you’ve been attempting to squeeze in all those little things to an already hectic schedule, it can leave you a bit like butter - spread too thin!
Other theory’s suggest you may have been ill before the holiday and only when your mind is more free does it really begin to notice the symptoms. In essence, our perception may have changed because our priorities have also.
However, there are other factors, and it’s something I’ve noticed from the hundreds of clients who mention they too experience leisure sickness, and they often fall into the same tendencies prior to a holiday or break. And at this point, I should add that this is not exclusive list but just fascinating commonalities which you may also connect to.
A desire to give your best to everyone else – which often means your own self care and needs comes last as your priorities are with others in both work life and personal.
A very busy schedule – as above this links with those moving from one task to another in quick succession with very little time for the mind and body to properly rest. This doesn’t necessarily mean in a work environment, but it usually affects those with lots of demands on their time, energy and attention. This causes the brain to stay in Beta state for prolonged periods of time (see brain state blog for more information) increasing stress levels.
Low self care – during your normal routine, self care (which might be time with friends, chilling out or enjoying your own activities) is sporadic, sometimes months apart. Remember self care is it’s most effective when built into a routine and is also a frame of mind.
The good news is, there are things that may help (aside from making sure your immune system gets a boost with multivitamins) however be warned! You might not like some of the suggestions as the first one is…
Slow down – Because leisure sickness is linked to the sudden decrease of Adrenalin and Cortisol levels, a gradual wind down can help your body and mind adjust to ‘holiday mode’. This does go against many people’s natural instinct and you may even feel your own resistance rebelling against the idea even now!
Essentially, you’re body doesn’t cope well with sudden changes and if you’re invested in yourself at least consider the possibility and more importantly - the possibly better outcome for your health with a gradual slow down. This may include more delegating, or accepting things have to be left until your return.
If you do feel yourself irritated by this idea, I do recommend being completely honest with yourself and recognise if your Thriving on stress which is also the name of my blog you can read now.
Cuddle – Cuddling releases Oxytocin (so does sex – just saying 😊) which is not only the feel good hormone but it may lower your awareness of pain levels as well.
Smiling and laughing – just like cuddling these also release oxytocin as it sends signals to the brain to release stress naturally, but they also release endorphins which help lower pain levels and have been found to boost your immune system. This is true even when smiles or laughter is forced or fake as Dr. David R Hamilton PhD points out, a Duchenne smile uses the muscles of the face, tightening around the cheeks and corners of the eyes which signals to the brain that you are feeling good.
Environment is key - the environment you're in when on a break or holiday is crucial to your well being. If you move from one stressed environment or schedule into another on. Making sure you are in a restorative environment will help your mind and body adjust which is important when we know that Some holiday leave us refreshed, others leave us drained as I've written about when you follow the link.
Nature is also a natural healer so do make sure you use it to your advantage before going on holiday as part of the wind down/slow down process to help reduce stress and prepare for time away. Understanding our response to the natural world for stress relief is another blog I recommend reading whether you consider yourself 'out doorsy' or not.
Deep breathing exercises - whether it’s part of Meditation or a mindful practice, deep breathing improves blood flow, helps the mind and body relax, reduces inflammation, improves digestion, improves energy levels and may help your body adjust a little easier during the transition stage.
Like any exercise or practice, it gets easier the more you practice and it’s ideal to work in to daily life before a holiday to help reduce stress levels but continue on holiday to maintain the benefits and give the mind and body a sense of continuation and familiarity (a bit like a safety net).
For those who do wish to begin reducing their stress, try one of our free Relaxation or Meditation sessions when you opt in to receive regular updates.
Love & Light Jennifer x
Hamilton, D. (2015) ' A laugh before bedtime' Dr David Hamilton March 11. Available at (https://drdavidhamilton.com/a-laugh-before-bedtime/) Accessed 07.08.2019
L Van Heck, Guus & Vingerhoets, Ad. (2007). Leisure Sickness: A Biopsychosocial Perspective. Psihologijske teme. 16.