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In the late 20th century, Ad Vingerhoets and Maaike van Huijgevoort, psychologists at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, first studied the syndrome of leisure sickness. Essentially, they found that many people seem to get ill on weekends and vacations, not from viral based diseases, but from the fact that they are not working. This condition may produce symptoms like insomnia, nausea, exhaustion, cold or flu symptoms, and headaches.
In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, leisure sickness is associated with aches and pains and an overall feeling of fatigue. Those who suffer from the condition may also have lousy vacations, because they frequently feel ill or lack the energy to enjoy the activities they planned to do. This illness is considered psychosomatic, because most people in the midst of it are not suffering from any viral or bacterial infection.
In the early studies done by these psychologists, it appeared that certain personality types are most likely to to develop this condition. People who typically are overworked, expressed a lot of stress around working, or who rarely took time off from work were the most common victims. Others who tended to be affected by it were those for whom planning vacations was viewed as especially stressful. In contrast, those people who did not report being ill while on vacation were likely to exhibit healthy attitudes toward work, had a balanced work and social life, and enjoyed planning their time off, not viewing it as stressful.
For some people, the sudden transition from job orientation to leisure orientation brought on symptoms of leisure sickness. It is as though they really did not know what to do with themselves, even when they had plans, because their central focus was generally on working. This appeared in the body as symptoms of stress, which in turn became symptoms of illness.
When people took long vacations, many reported feeling better after about a week. Still, some reported always being sick on vacations, no matter the length. In the first scenario, it appears that some people are able to shift their focus into a leisure instead of working mode and recover from sickness after being off the job for a while.
It does appear that addressing attitudes toward work can help leisure sickness. Many who reported it also reported thinking about work much of the time when they were not working, and some also noted that they felt guilty for not working in their off time. It’s fairly easy to draw lines between preoccupation with work, stress, and illness.
The suggestion, however, is that curing leisure sickness means changing attitudes about work. This might mean that a person allows himself to feel entitled to vacations, and during his workweek, still participating in social activities so that there is a better balance between work and relaxation. From a stress standpoint, many people are able to feel less stress when they deliberately focus on the present, not allowing their jobs to “come home with them.” This can’t always be mastered, but if every vacation represents another bout of illness, individuals might find it well be worth investigating how to change their attitudes toward work.