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Have you just had some time off, only to fall sick mere days into your vacation? It’s not just bad luck – there is a reason why you get sick over the holidays.

Let’s take a look at why this happens, and what you can do about it.

Why you get sick over the holidays

This comes down to a phenomenon known as ‘leisure sickness’. Yes, this is a real condition with research to back it up – good to know you’re not the only one!

A Dutch psychologist first dug into this back in 2002, and found that just over 3% of the study participants experienced symptoms such as headaches, migraines, fatigue, muscle pains and nausea. They were also more likely to report viral infections such as a cold over a holiday break.

But it isn’t taking a break itself that is making you sick – it’s probably more to do with your stress levels. The research has found that those likely to get sick were high achievers, had a strong responsibility when it came to their work, and found it difficult to get into vacation mode.

What does this mean for the body? One of the major theories is around the impact of stress on the immune system. When you are under acute bouts of stress, your immune system is suppressed via the stress hormone cortisol.

But when you go on leave, your cortisol levels drop, and your immune system bounces back. As a result, it’s ready to fight anything it can! The reason you experience symptoms is that your immune system is actually doing its job.

Can you avoid getting sick over the holidays?

You can certainly reduce your risk of it, but the key is to take action before you go on leave.

Here are a few simple tips to reduce your risk of falling sick over the holidays:

Manage your stress

Since stress is the most likely underlying cause of leisure sickness, it’s where we want to start. Ideally, this is applied to your life in general. But if we’re talking specifically about holiday illness, you want to focus on reducing stress for a few weeks before the break. You can find loads of info, tips and tricks to help you manage your stress levels and support your body to build its stress resilience here.

If you’re going away, make sure your plans are set well in advance (as much as is possible these days!) Doing a staycation instead? Book in your plans a few weeks before and make sure you leave plenty of time for relaxing and enjoying some well-earned rest.

Prioritise good sleep

When we know a break is right around the corner, we tend to want to push through and do all of the things so we can relax. In the lead-up to their vacation, many will push out their bedtime and tell themselves they will make up for it on their break. But unfortunately, skipping out on sleep will increase your risk of holiday illness.

Make sure you’re getting at least 8 hours of quality shut-eye per night.

Keep up healthy habits over the break

I know it’s tempting to eat everything at the buffet or go out drinking until 2am (ok, let’s be real, these days it’s probably more likely 11pm!) while the babysitter is on duty. You can absolutely relax and have fun, but don’t throw yourself straight into the opposite of your healthy habits!

Pick a few habits to stick to such as:

  • Going for a walk every day
  • Drinking 500ml of water when you wake up
  • Eat a big salad with dinner
  • Having a cup of sleepy tea 30 minutes before bed
  • 10 rounds of deep breathing per day

These will help your body to adjust to the time off and support your immune system at the same time.

Take time to transition into your time off

Finally, when it comes to actually being on your vacation, make sure you transition from busy mode to the relaxation zone. People who fell sick over the holidays were more likely to report they struggled with being not busy for once!

Don’t throw yourself straight into a packed schedule with 3-5 activities every single day! Make sure you allow at least one day to unwind, and make sure there are plenty of times for naps, slowly sipping your morning coffee and putting your feet up.

Do you find yourself more prone to falling sick? Maybe you’re struggling to get a handle on your stress?

By improving your stress resilience, you can teach your body not to overreact to stress when it hits. One of the easiest ways to do this is using nutrition that is personalised to your body’s specific needs.

Want to learn more about how personalised nutrition can transform your health? Book your FREE discovery call right here.