How many times have you killed yourself preparing to go on a vacation only to get sick the minute you arrive on that faraway island and start to relax? You are not the only one. It’s called ‘Leisure Sickness’ and it’s a real thing.

The Collins English dictionary describes Leisure Sickness as ‘a medical condition in which people who have been working become ill with symptoms such as fatigue or muscular pains at a weekend or while on holiday.’ Other sources extend the definition to include migraines, nausea and flu- like symptoms.

In terms of who is susceptible to the illness, Ad Vingerhoets at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, conducted a study into Leisure Sickness and concluded that it is a ‘relatively common condition’. He went on to outline the risk factors as follows: ‘Concerning risk factors, the data rather point to high workload and person characteristics, namely, an inability to adapt to the non-working situation, a high need for achievement, and a high sense of responsibility with respect to work.’ *

So, evidence suggests, if you are a workaholic, you are likely to ruin weekends and vacations with Leisure Sickness every time you go on vacation or, at least some time during your career. As a recovering workaholic, I have experienced Leisure Sickness first hand on the Big Island, Hawaii; in Mirissa, Sri Lanka and; on a ski resort in France. It is not fun. For a start getting any kind of drugs, even Panadol, in a place like Sri Lanka ranges from being a total pain (no pun intended) to being a downright nightmare. Secondly, I find it infuriating looking out at a beautiful beach and not being able to swim or looking out at snow capped mountains and not being able to ski. Finally, when I’m sick, all I want to do is be at home so the vacation is a total waste of time and money. Given these horrid experiences, I suggest you do all you can to reduce your risk of acquiring leisure sickness while on vacation.

The Five Key Steps to Take To Avoid Leisure Sickness:

Step 1: Prepare to be offline during your vacation: Whether you plan to check your emails every hour or every day or not at all while you are away, plan to be offline for the entire trip. This means putting an alternative contact on your out of office messages, delegating approval rights to someone else, handing over cases, client queries or work of any kind to someone else. If you feel like checking your email or voicemail while you are away you can, but you won’t be compelled to do so. For normal people this seems like an obvious thing to do. For workaholics this is a hard, but important, step in the process.

Step 2: Hire a cleaner to clean your home and change your sheets a day before you leave on vacation: It is strange that parts of the house that never get cleaned for months, absolutely have to be cleaned before a vacation. It is as if the dust is going to have too much of a party while you are away so you have to make sure it is eradicated before you go. I have spent far too many nights before a vacation cleaning the house or changing the sheets. It is an added stress that is not required. Hire a cleaner and focus on packing for your trip!

Step 3: Book an activity for the first day of your vacation before you leave home: If you are going on a surfing vacation, book a surfing lesson; if you are going on a cultural trip, book a tour of some museum; if you are going on a spa vacation, book a massage. When you are exhausted before a vacation, the natural tendency is to think, I’ll figure that out when I get there. This is not a good idea. The problem is that it then takes a day or two to get the first activity booked in and, during that time, your body might be on holiday but your brain is effectively still at work. Speed up the time it takes for your brain to get into vacation mode by getting it to focus on something totally different from work.

Step 4: Prepare for any time zone changes you are likely to have: The sooner you get into the time zone of your vacation destination, the more you will be able to enjoy everything that the place has to offer. Do not fall asleep the minute you get on the plane due to exhaustion after the hell week you have just had without any plan. If you are arriving at night in your destination, stay awake for the flight. If you are arriving in the morning at your destination, take a sleeping pill and make sure you get some sleep.

Step 5: Pay for a good night’s sleep: When booking your accommodation for your trip do not book it in a run down place that is quaint but has cardboard walls or is above a nightclub. It is already difficult to sleep in a new bed in a foreign land. If you only have a week to enjoy the place pay for a good night’s sleep. This will give your body a chance to recuperate properly from the last month so you can enjoy everything the vacation has to offer.

I hope you have a fabulous vacation and leave the Leisure Sickness in the departure lounge!

Elwin xx

*See “Leisure sickness”: A pilot-study on its prevalence, phenomenology, and background; Vingerhoets, Ad; van Huijgevoort, M.; van Heck, Guus; 2002 if you are interested in reading further on this study.

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