Have You Heard of Leisure Sickness?

By Diane Driscoll August 23, 2012 07:00 AM
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Have You Heard of Leisure Sickness?

According to the Wall Street Journal, apparently “Some 3% of the population suffers from ‘leisure sickness’ when they go on vacation. Symptoms include fatigue, muscle pain, nausea and flu-like symptoms…and a phenomenon of ‘weekend headaches’ accounts for roughly one-third of all migraines and one-sixth of tension headaches.” Apparently there are a lot of Type A personalities out there.

Part of the issue is that with the advent of cell phones, lap tops and iPads, nobody feels unplugged from the office today. Especially in these difficult times, many workers feel the pressure of going above and beyond to keep their jobs and their clients.

Another issue is that some people are addicted to work just as they would be to a controlled substance. They use the adrenaline and stress from busy work situations to feel more energized…it becomes their fix. But actually the opposite is true–when they are away from work, they feel the real stress that they are under, which they normally cover up with work, and many psychologists see it as a type of withdrawal.

WSJ also notes, “For some people, the withdrawal of stress can be similar to withdrawing from steroids—including changes in glucose metabolism and dramatic mood swings, says Conor Liston, a psychiatry resident at Weill Medical College in New York City who was the lead investigator of a brain study on stress.”

Look for ways on the job to prepare for downtime. Structure some time during your work day to take a break and maybe read the paper, a trade journal or even sudoku and crossword puzzles. Take lunch breaks that aren’t business meetings, but actually lunches with colleagues or friends to talk about things other than work.

If you’re a workaholic, consider other types of vacations than the typical sit back and relax that may just increase your stress.  Look into volunteer vacations, expeditions, cooking classes…anything that includes either physical activity or mental stimulation.

To alleviate the guilt and the stress while you are away, consider other tips such as:

  • Setting up a time every day when you check into the office and then let it go.
  • Learn some relaxation breathing techniques to help you manage some of the stress.
  • Try to bookend trips with days at home so you can begin the relaxation process in a familiar environment.
  • Include exercise as part of your vacation–studies substantiate that higher physical fitness is associated with stress relief.
  • If you’re regimented or organized at work, you’ll feel better if you organize and plan for your vacation too. Schedule in outings and other adventures as much as you can so you still feel some semblance of control.
  • Think relaxing thoughts often like “It’s not a perfect world” or “See problems as opportunities.”
  • Laugh. A lot. You’re on vacation.

*Note that some workaholics may even feel these symptoms on their weekends off. These tips will work at home too.

Check out this deep breathing video from stress management expert Jordan Friedman: