Looking forward to your next break but afraid of getting sick, again?
We asked the experts why it happens and how to avoid holiday sickness…
Becoming ill in the first few days of a holiday is so common that Dutch psychologist Dr AD Vingerhoets, who has investigated the phenomenon, coined the term, ‘leisure sickness’.
In some cases, we catch a bug simply because we come into contact with unfamiliar viruses and bacteria. Airports and planes are hotbeds of germs and respiratory viruses such as colds, can survive at least two days on surfaces.
There’s also the fact that minor symptoms you usually ignore can become more pronounced when you’re trying to wind down.
“It’s not so much a matter of actually getting sick more during time off, but of becoming more aware of symptoms,” says Dr Vingerhoets.
However, there are three ways that the psychological changes associated with holidays can also make us a little more susceptible to illness:
Immune system slump
Stress can activate the immune system so health problems are suppressed during everyday life. The minute you start to de-stress however, the immune system falls apart, says Dr Stafford Lightman, Professor of Medicine at the University of Bristol, an expert on how the brain regulates hormone production. “When you’re stressed, your body produces high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which helps to keep your immune system active,” he says. “But when you de-stress for a short time, because your body is dependent on a high level of cortisol, your immune system functions poorly until it readjusts.” The result? You’re more likely to pick up infections.
When it comes to holidays, this may be as bad as overload. If you thrive on a high-octane lifestyle, time-off can lead to a decrease in feel-good hormones, accompanied by a slowing of metabolism, a reduction in energy, a sluggish immune system, and greater susceptibility to infections. “People who are responsible for others, like teachers, often unconsciously postpone being ill until they break for the holidays,” says Dr Vingerhoets. A classic example of mind over matter.
All too often, we rush around trying to get organised in the week before we go on holiday. By the time we actually go away, we’re frazzled, anxious and prey to every passing bug. Add to this, the anxieties about getting to the airport on time, remembering your passport, and the physical strain of heaving heavy luggage around.. and stress will soar.
The good news is, there are steps you can take to avoid these stresses and keep the bugs at bay…
7 easy ways to stay healthy on holiday
- Pack in good time. This will help to lessen stress. It’s also a good idea to focus on getting enough sleep in the week before you go away.
- Give yourself enough time. Don’t rush to the airport and travel as light as you can. There’ll always be time to shop for essentials on holiday.
- Wash and dry your hands. Especially when you use the airport or plane facilities, and before meals. Avoid touching your nose and eyes to keep germs at bay.
- Pick up a pack of antibacterial wipes. Clean your hands, tray tables and arm rests as often as possible.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol. As much as a glass of wine might help to relax you, it’s best to stay hydrated on board the plane. Dry air in the cabin can dry out the mucus membranes in your nose, a defence against respiratory bugs.
- Save sightseeing trips, for the later part of your holiday. Over the first few days, also avoid too much sun, sea, food and alcohol to give your body time to adjust.
- Get some exercise in. This will help to defuse stress and keep your immune system primed. A gentle swim or brisk walk should do the trick.
DISCLAIMER: Before starting any diet, you should speak to your doctor. You must not rely on the information on this website/newsletter as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.
A freelance writer and editor, with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. With a passion for health and fitness, Tammy loves nothing more than researching the latest wellness trends. And if she’s not running around after her sweet four-year old daughter, you’ll find Tammy on her bike, in the gym or exploring the great outdoors – followed by a good coffee, of course!