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What is Leisure Sickness?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon941485 — On Mar 23, 2014

It's spring break right now, and whenever I have a break from school, whether Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Summer break, I always get sick the first few days off. I am 100 percent fine the rest of the year, but when I get a break, I get leisure sickness. I hate being on breaks while sick.

By anon331563 — On Apr 23, 2013

People with this "disorder" are clearly a bit insane - and it sounds like they have been driven that way by their jobs. It's a sad, sick world where people are so obsessed with their work that they can't even find joy in the wonderful reward of taking time off.

At any rate, mind over matter, people. The minute you step out of your workplace, imagine it does not exist. This detachment will allow you to have something called a life!

By fify — On Jun 10, 2011

I recently read an article on this. It had some great tips on how to avoid leisure sickness, which apparently is a really common condition.

We are supposed to take some time off for ourselves to do absolutely nothing every week. Things like exercise, yoga, playing with pets, or a trip to the spa are recommended. It's also a good idea to try and wind down work a few days before leaving for a vacation. It might help us adapt more easily and start getting into relaxation mode.

The other tip is to eat healthy and to supplement with superfoods to boost the immune system- like- kefir, probiotic yogurts, green tea and berries.

The tip I would add to this list is to avoid caffeine. I think caffeine makes me more stressed and tense, which is the last thing I need to prevent leisure sickness.

By SteamLouis — On Jun 07, 2011

Oh my goodness. For years, I have been suffering from this and never even knew what it was. I have all of these symptoms. When I go on vacation, I get physically sick and it lasts anywhere between a month to three months depending on how stressful and tiring my work life was before.

It first happened when I went for an internship during college. I basically overworked for five months without pay. When I returned home from the internship, I suffered from a sudden back injury that seemed to happen for no reason. The doctors never found anything. But I couldn't walk for more than two weeks and got back on my feet with some really strong shots of painkillers and muscle relaxers.

It also happened last January when I took a month off from working and classes for a masters degree. I caught a horrible flu, coughed my lungs out and lay in bed for the entire month, literally.

I think I am so ambitious, and work so hard that when I get the chance to relax, all of the pain and stress that has accumulated develops into physical illness. It's such a horrible thing.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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