Unable to Unplug: Why Do We Get Sick When the Holidays Come?

Mondays can be detestable, and after a more or less long period of rest, even more so.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
29 March 2024 Friday 17:04
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Unable to Unplug: Why Do We Get Sick When the Holidays Come?

Mondays can be detestable, and after a more or less long period of rest, even more so. Whoever has not experienced the so-called syndrome or post-holiday depression, let him cast the first stone. It is very common, but it often lasts a short time, a couple of days or three, until the routine is assimilated again, this reaction of disenchantment, sadness or anxiety that can mark the return to work.

What is not so common is pre-vacation syndrome. The weekend arrives and the headache begins, the Easter holidays begin and a cold appears or a feeling of stress, disorientation, boredom... "The second day of the holiday is enough for me", says a woman in one of the many testimonies on social networks that link rest to discomfort.

Ad Vingerhoets, a Dutch psychologist from the University of Tilburg, coined the term leisure illness, which would not be a pathology, but an alteration caused by the difficulties that some people have to adapt to changes. The author of Why do only humans cry? he was always well, except for the days between Christmas and New Year's, a circumstance that made him start to investigate.

After almost 2,000 interviews with citizens of the Netherlands between the ages of 16 and 87, he came to the conclusion that 3% may have what he calls leisure sickness. Half attributed the discomfort to the transition period between duties and holidays. A further, more in-depth study, with 114 individuals, determined that the most common symptoms are headache and muscle pain, fatigue, nausea and viral infections that cause cold or flu symptoms.

According to Vingerhoets, at the origin there may be the prevalence of the mind over the body: the illness is postponed to a time when it does not interfere with work. The stress hormones that help us perform at work are decompensated and leave us exposed to infections. The adrenaline that helps us with stress also strengthens the immune system.

In any case, the prevalence is quite low, despite the proliferation of testimonies, and Vingerhoets syndrome has not yet been established in the medical literature. According to the clinical psychologist María Jesús González, it is an alteration of the level of anxiety that has to do with the difficulties of some people to adapt to changes.

"I miss doing work", "I get stressed doing nothing", "I'm bored, I don't know what to do with the time I have", "I'm embarrassed to tell people that I don't want a holiday because they tell me that I'm crazy"... According to the psychologist's opinion, these pictures usually correspond to people with a high level of professional self-demand and with specific personality characteristics: driven by goals, perfectionists and, above all, very controlling. "Going on vacation is leaving the square of routine, which is the comfort zone no matter how stressful it is", he said in a conversation on social networks.

"I wouldn't talk about illness," says epidemiologist Fernando García Benavides, professor in the Department of Medicine and Life Sciences at Pompeu Fabra University. "We don't study it not because we don't hear about it, but because we consider that this discomfort is the result of dissatisfaction, which can be a dissatisfaction with work, but also with life in general", he says. Changes in rhythm between work and rest can aggravate or improve this level of dissatisfaction, she points out.

For García Benavides, on the one hand, the medicalization of these symptoms must be avoided. However, if they persist, they should not be trivialized: "A person who is sad, tired, with anxiety, who cannot sleep, irritable, who does not want to get up are symptoms of a disease recognized as depression, and that is serious".

Leisure-related illness is not recognized or objectified as a professional illness or accident, that is to say, it would not be a reason for absence from work or compensation. "From the workplace, this health problem is very difficult to prove. There is still a long way to go with other more obvious psychosocial illnesses," says Laura Ramírez, occupational physician. Work-related psychological problems are more or less relevant depending on the person's ability to manage the situation. The best option, he says, is to prevent them: "Healthy work environments, good organization of tasks, healthy leadership styles, good communication, fairness, adequate workloads...".

Gradually introducing moments of personal leisure into daily life is a good system to prevent the break when the break comes, according to the specialists.