Your bags were packed, your out-of-office reply was set, and you could finally relax for your much-needed vacation. And all of a sudden...your body ached, your nose was running, and you wound up staying in bed all weekend. Ugh.
There's actually a name for this: leisure sickness. Tilburg University researchers from the Netherlands coined this term in 2001 after surveying 1,893 Dutch people and finding that about 3% of both men and women reported flu-like symptoms, as well as headaches, fatigue, muscular pains, and nausea while taking time off. Many of the survey respondents believed their symptoms came from balancing a heavy workload, stress associated with travel, and having a hard time winding down when they had time off.
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Other than this study, though, leisure sickness has not been widely researched, and not all experts believe it really exists. Haidar Al-Saadi, DO, medical director of Lakes Urgent Care in Farmington Hills, Michigan says that while you may be more susceptible to catching something when you are traveling for vacation, he doesn’t see a connection between sicknesses caused by relaxing alone. “In terms of just taking time off of work and being at home, I don’t see any scientific basis behind that,” he says.
Instead, he explains that the sluggishness and body aches are more likely a result of traveling in the days leading up to your time off. “When people are getting sick, a lot of it is because—especially when they are flying—that you are surrounded by a bunch of people that you haven’t been exposed to before that may have cough or cold-like symptoms,” Dr. Al-Saadi says. “When you get to where you need to be and you suddenly get sick after a few days, it’s probably because of traveling.”
Regardless of whether or not leisure sickness is a real thing, Dr. Al-Saadi says you can ward off feeling under the weather during your time off just by giving your usual sickness protection an extra boost. “Start by washing your hands above and beyond what you would normally do, along with eating healthy and drinking plenty of water,” Dr. Al-Saadi says. “Increase the precautions that you would if you were being exposed to other people who are ill.”