Editor’s Desk: The frustrating curse of ‘leisure sickness’ and why it makes me dread going on holidays

Headshot of Kate Campbell
Kate CampbellGeraldton Guardian
Booking a holiday is an invitation to get sick for some people.
Camera IconBooking a holiday is an invitation to get sick for some people. Credit: AndreyPopov/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Going on holidays? Get sick.

That seems to be my body’s automatic response when it senses I am about to take some time off work. As soon as the work-induced adrenaline starts to reduce, my immune system decides to go on strike and lay down all defences.

I am not prone to sickness very often. But more often than not, when I take a rare holiday I get stricken down by some illness.

I know I am not alone in this frustrating correlation. And like clockwork, just as I was winding down to enjoy a few days of rest and relaxation between Christmas and New Year I spent four days bedridden with a nasty virus (not COVID).

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It’s not every time I go on holiday, but more often than not the two go hand-in-hand for me.

It’s even more frustrating when I think about taking big trips for upcoming holidays and knowing that I’ll probably get sick while overseas (it’s happened before and there’s something especially nasty about being sick in a foreign place). The only time I have ever fainted was when I was dragging my sick self through markets on a sweltering hot day in Vietnam.

I thought I had broken the curse during a trip of a lifetime touring the US. It wasn’t until I arrived at my ultimate destination — New York, the last on my itinerary — that my body decided to come down with a monstrous cold. Yep, I spent much of my time in the city I had dreamed about visiting most of my life a snotty mess, coughing and spluttering across the streets of Manhattan and at most NYC landmarks, looking like a walking zombie (I have photos to prove it).

Whether I actually go somewhere on holiday or stay at home during my break, it doesn’t seem to matter.

There’s actually a term for this curse and it’s called “leisure sickness”. The phrase was coined in 2001 by Dutch researcher Ad Vingerhoets, which he used to describe the incidence of when some people, usually workers in high-pressure jobs, get sick as soon as they take leave.

It’s an anecdotal phenomenon but one that has not been studied in depth.

Does it depend on what type of job you have? Or how often you go on holidays? Or how exhausted you are at that stage when you actually take a break?

I for one would love to know and be aware of the dos and don’ts to avoid leisure sickness in the future.

Just to make it even more bewildering, I somehow get leisure sickness regularly but after almost three years I still haven’t had one case of COVID. Go figure.

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