Chaos to Calm

Vacation blues: Why you always get sick on holidays

January 21, 2024 Sarah McLachlan
Chaos to Calm
Vacation blues: Why you always get sick on holidays
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ever wondered why you feel under the weather the moment you start your holiday? Is it just a coincidence or bad luck? Spoiler alert: no! 

In this episode of 'Chaos to Calm', Sarah the Perimenopause Naturopath, delves into the world of 'leisure sickness'. It's a real thing! And we're diving deep into why it happens whenever you have a break from life. 

Through a blend of personal stories and research we'll explore why you might be feeling like you've got a cold or flu as soon as your time off comes around, even more so since you hopped on the hormonal roller coaster of perimenopause. I'll guide you through this intriguing phenomenon, why it happens, and share lots of tips on how to stop it from happening. 

Ready to turn your next vacation into a relaxing holiday session? Tune in to learn how to prevent leisure sickness and sail through your holidays feeling energetic and healthy. Listen in and let's transform your holiday experiences together!

FREEBIES:

  • Caught in a hormonal storm? The Perimenopause Decoder is the ultimate guide to understanding if perimenopause hormone fluctuations are behind your changing mood, metabolism and energy after 40, what phase of perimenopause you're in and how much longer you may be on this roller coaster for.
  • Been told your blood test results are "normal" or "fine" while you feel far from your best? It's time to dig deeper and uncover the missing piece of the puzzle. Discover the power of optimal blood test analysis with The Blood Test Decoder: Optimal Ranges for Women Over 40.

To connect with Sarah and learn more about her services, visit her website at www.theperimenopausenaturopath.com.au, follow along on Instagram at @theperimenopausenaturopath.

Sarah McLachlan:

Hey there, I'm Sarah McLachlan. Thanks for joining me on the Chaos to Calm podcast, a podcast designed for women over 40 who think that changing hormones might be messing with their mood, metabolism and energy and want to change that in a healthy, sustainable and permanent way. Each episode will explore topics related to health and wellness for women in their 40s, like what the heck is happening to your hormones, what to do about it with nutrition, lifestyle and stress management, and inspiring conversations with guests sharing their insights and tips on how to live your best life in your 40s and beyond. So if you're feeling like you're in the midst of a hormonal storm and don't want perimenopause to be horrific, then join me on Chaos to Calm as I share with you how to make it to menopause without it wrecking your relationships and life. You are listening to Chaos to Calm with Sarah, the perimenopause naturopath, episode number 32.

Sarah McLachlan:

So I'm going to start by asking you a question today. How many times have you found yourself finally away on a long-awaited holiday, somewhere nice or somewhere at home, only to be greeted by feeling like you've got a cold, a headache, just feeling really blurred and under the weather? So this has happened to me in the past many times. I can't tell you the number of times I've kicked up my feet in my camping chair ready for a great holiday, picked up my book and then been rudely interrupted by the itch of an expert outbreak on my fingers. It absolutely happened so many times and it's not just a coincidence or a stroke of bad luck For me. I can't blame it on the chemical storm that is the caravan park, so I can't even blame it on that, because it happens at other times when I'm not exposing myself to lots of chemicals.

Sarah McLachlan:

There is an actual phenomenon and it's known as leisure sickness, although I think it should be called something else, but I'll tell you that later. But it's an actual, real thing and I know I'm not the only person going through it. I know there's so many women and maybe your partners or family members. Maybe they go through it as well. Because, yeah, it's an actual real thing and today that's what we're going to talk about. We're going to dive in deep into why it happens, what you can do to prevent it and maybe why you're noticing it or it's feeling worse now at this phase of life. So grab a drink, get a comfy spot and let's go through this together and you work out why your holidays are making you sick. I mean, like we wait for so long for holidays or time off and then we get sick. It's you know. It's time to undo that and stop it. So what exactly is leisure sickness that's hijacking your time off, your holidays? Maybe you've just experienced it.

Sarah McLachlan:

It is January when I'm recording this, so it could be that you notice this at Christmas time, when you finish up work for the year, or if you're not in paid work finished, the massive load that is getting ready for the festive season here in Australia and around the world. In our Western culture, it's a massive time. Anyway, you know you've been grinding away. You're juggling paid work, unpaid work, life, socializing kids. Man, it's a lot. You mind your body, it's all been overdrive, right. And then, woohoo, you get on holidays, you're on the plane or you survive the drive to the holiday spot and shout out to everyone with little kids because that holiday drive is a lot. Maybe you're just chilling at home, you know, but the point is you've made it, you're there, you're on holidays.

Sarah McLachlan:

Then, as soon as you hit pause, you feel all kinds of icky, you know, and that feeling if you're getting a cold or the flu in summer, is that not the worst? It's so bad. But that is leisure sickness in action. And yeah, like I said, it's not something I just made up. If I'd made it up, I would have given it a different name. But this is an actual term, actual phenomenon that research has been done on and the phrase was coined back in 2002 by a Dutch psychologist and he found that there was a large number of people experiencing symptoms like headache, fatigue, even colds or flu, like symptoms during their downtime, their holidays. So it's not the holiday itself making you sick Definitely don't stop doing those but it's more about how your body's reacting to the sudden drop in stress and stress hormones, and often for people it might be things like, for me, eczema or those headaches and stuff like that.

Sarah McLachlan:

So those stress hormones impact your immune system and suppress your immune system. Specifically, that's what cortisol does, because you know when you're really stressed or if you're being chased by a saber tooth tiger or whatever. Your body doesn't have time for you to be sick. So cortisol suppresses your immune system. So the moment that you switch it off, that cortisol is reduced, adrenaline's reduced, your immune system springs back into action. It's ready for everything, anything. It's like a drunk cat or something, I know. It's just so misdirected.

Sarah McLachlan:

So, essentially, this leisure sickness is really like an overreaction. You might think of it as self preservation. So your body saying, oh, actually I need a bit of a break here, so I'm going to make you feel sick. So you lie down in your cave and be quiet. Now I want to talk about one of the biggest blockers to our health, our happiness, our weight loss, and that stress. So we know that the main factor in leisure sickness is stress and busyness. It's the real culprit and that's why I think it should be called like stress sickness, not leisure sickness. It's not the leisure making you sick, it's the stress and the busyness that's doing that. So, yeah, your body is constantly producing cortisol when you're in the thick of work, life demands, and it is really important.

Sarah McLachlan:

We do need cortisol, and little bits of it are really necessary each and every day to get us up or to stop us having a hypoglycemic attack, any of those number of things. And along with adrenaline there as well, adrenaline giving us that jazz, that Raz, that run away from the saber tooth tiger. So they keep you on your toes when the pressure's on. They help you get what you need to get done and not die. But the thing is, while it's useful in those small doses, like I said, the larger doses are not so beneficial for us. They do suppress your immune system but also, over time, can lose that effect of suppressing your immune system, which can also contribute to that sort of drunk cat springing out effect that your immune system can have, especially when you're on holidays.

Sarah McLachlan:

So yeah, finally, on holiday, cortisol levels drop, bingo, you're feeling rubbish, your immune system is kicking into high gear. You know it's going a bit overboard, overreacting there and you're feeling sick. So, and as I said, that drop in adrenaline is really a big hitter here too, because your body gets quite used to different levels and relying on adrenaline and it also can change your neurotransmitter, those brain chemicals that help with your mood and how you're feeling. So yeah, you've been raised up on adrenaline for so long. Take that away and you can feel really flat and it's hard to get out of bed, really lethargic.

Sarah McLachlan:

So I wonder for you is that do you notice a pattern of feeling unwell when you're on holidays or in your downtime? I'd love to hear your experiences and if you think that leisure sickness is part of the problem there for you as well. So let's talk about how you recognize that leisure sickness, and so some of the things that you might feel are headaches, muscle pains, that fatigue, lethargy, and you might, as I said, even feel like you're getting a cold. You know, runny nose, sniffy, congestion or the flu. You know like those aches and pains and shivers and that.

Sarah McLachlan:

So lots of my clients, you know, like me, like you, we're hard workers, you know, always busy on the go, and I particularly have one person in mind, bernie, and she works so hard and when she take a break, though, she'd feel worse, so it's like she was one other holiday is even worth it. But once she realized how her hormones were working cortisol and adrenaline, particularly how they were contributing to those health issues she realized it was that I don't even want to call it leisure sickness here that stress sickness that was impacting her, and so, yeah, then she had to do some stuff to help resolve that or prevent it. So let's talk about some of the things that you can do to prevent that stress sickness from impacting you. So, first of all, obvious place to start is managing your stress, because stress, you know, like mental, emotional, physical stress comes from being too busy, doing too much, and we all tend to do that in the lead up to time off, like we might have months to prep, but we're doing it all at the last minute and literally doing it all on our own. So that's where I would start, and ideally this was applied to your life in general, not just in this situation, but if we're talking about specifically about holiday illnesses or getting ill when you're away, we want to focus on supporting a body, reducing that stress for a few weeks before the break at least you know.

Sarah McLachlan:

So that could be starting to think about what you need to do, you know at work, or what do you need to do to be ready for the holiday? Who's going to do those tasks you know for work? Do you need to leave training or instructions? Do you have all the clothes or the camping items you need? So start planning and prepping in advance.

Sarah McLachlan:

I use my calendar on my phone so much for scheduling in all sorts of stuff, so don't have to carry it in my head. It's there. It reminds me when I need to do stuff. So why not schedule in your calendar a little bit of time each week so you can start thinking about those tasks or doing those tasks associated with your holiday or the time off, so you're not trying to jam, you know, like weeks of work into a few days. So, whether you're going away or you're staying at home, just set your plans in advance and start prepping and booking things in so you've got plenty of time or you can go into your holiday not feeling completely depleted and burnt out, because I think that's where many of us are, isn't it?

Sarah McLachlan:

So thinking about this chair as a sideways rant. This is why I really loathe that view of self care that is like those grand gestures, you know, like self care equals having a weekend away. Or, you know, dinners out, many petties also those sorts of things it takes so much energy to get ready or get your house ready for them and then to recover when you get back. So like all the washing that you have to catch up on or do when you get back, or the mad meal prepping that you might do for the family before you go away. So they just create more work and holidays can do that too. But one of the ways that we can help reduce the stress of that extra work is to start prepping in advance. I know it's not glamorous at all, but looking after ourselves and self care really isn't that glamorous. Okay, so we've talked a lot about stress management in the past on the podcast and on my blog too, and I will link to a blog in the show notes that is helpful for you in building your stress resilience.

Sarah McLachlan:

But essentially, have a think about what you can delete or delegate or relegate or automate in your life and yes, that does take a bit of work to set up, but that investment of thought and time will pay dividends for you for years to come. And I think like it's a natural time of year the new year to be thinking about things like this what do you want from the year ahead? What do you want your schedule to look like? How do you want to feel each day or each week? What can you get rid of? So, and think about your expectations as well, because this is often where we come undone as well. We might have really unrealistic or unachievable expectations around what we can do or even what's needed or warranted for the situation. I find this idea of what we should do or be is the biggest killer of joy and the biggest creator of stress in our lives Hands down 100%, and especially when those expectations are unsaid to other people, so much discomfort and stress comes from that there as well.

Sarah McLachlan:

And something else I want to just touch on here as well is about stress resilience in perimenopause. Because in this phase of life, in perimenopause which, remember, can start as early as your mid 30s so you might be starting to notice the changes or the impact of those hormone changes in your mid 30s. So another contributing factor there to that leisure sickness, or the stress sickness as I like to call it, is that you're built in stress resilience hormone progesterone. It starts to decline in early perimenopause. So managing stress becomes harder but also more crucial.

Sarah McLachlan:

It's really important and you know you might have been fine juggling everything in the past, but now, like the struggle is real, it can feel so much harder to do all those things that you used to do. And that's not a sign of failure, a sign of you know it's not a reflection of you as such or your ability to do things. Modern life demands coupled with that, how we're conditioned to be hyper independent and you know, do it all, have it all, can be really overwhelming for us physically and mentally at that time and it also just creates a massive amount of work for us trying to do everything on our own. So I know many. You know you might become really critical of yourself in these situations. You have that expectation that you can and should be able to do a certain amount of things and then you're not able to do that now. But I hope you can see, yeah, it's not from doing anything wrong. It's actually just a symptom of a ridiculous culture and the massive mental load that women are expected to carry, and also a sign that your body does need a bit more support.

Sarah McLachlan:

So one thing that I do for myself and for all my clients as well, is I use the magic, as I like to call it, of personalized nutrition. I find it a really critical tool to support and nourish our body, but to help build this stress resilience, as it's naturally declining and that's really what we need is that toolkit and this is part of my toolkit. And by tailoring, you know, my diet to my body's needs, my phase of life, my blood biochemistry, I address the physical stress that can be caused by nutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies maybe not eating enough protein or not enough fats, that kind of thing and we're also addressing how foods can irritate us. Food and drinks can irritate our body, our gut, our immune system, and reducing consumption of refined foods is really important here too, because they are a stressor on the body and particularly when it comes to your blood sugar level there. So focusing on maintaining balance blood sugar and insulin levels by eating balanced meals and eating more of the foods that work really well for your body and not, you know, what works well for other people, you'll get consistent energy across the day and the week. You get a clearer head, you're less likely to have those brain farts or forget things and or have a meltdown.

Sarah McLachlan:

So the way we eat is really important too. So not just what we're eating, but the way we eat or when we eat, because that helps support your and optimize your digestive system and your immune function there as well. Now we already know in leisure sickness our immune system is getting a bit dysregulated from the cortisol and adrenaline. So we really want to help optimize or modulate your immune system so it isn't overreacting or underreacting, and the same with your digestive system there as well. So you know you want to be able to tolerate a nice wide range of foods and be able to break down and use the nutrients in them. Otherwise, there's really no point to eating. You know, a beautiful organic diet.

Sarah McLachlan:

If your body can't get the nutrients out of it and use them, and if the foods that you're eating are triggering your immune system and causing more stress in your body, well, again, and you know, it can be. I'm not just talking about refined foods here. That can be for some people, you know, protein rich foods or vegetables or fruit there may be irritating you or subtly irritating and impacting your body and your immune system without you sort of realizing. So you know, I encourage people to think about personalized nutrition as not just another diet but actually an essential part of your self care toolkit, and it's about developing habits that reduce the stress in your body, alongside of ones I'll talk about in a minute. I've talked about already. With regard to your mind, and, from my experience, people who embrace you know your nutrition and thinking about the way that you eat, how you eat, when you eat really, you know you can't really tell what you're eating. You can't really find a boost to their stress resilience. They just have more capacity in their body and their mind. So, yeah, that was just a note there about personalized nutrition, and it's one of the main things in my self care toolkit is eating foods that work really well for my body most of the time, at least sort of 85% of the time for me.

Sarah McLachlan:

So tip number two sleep. You know we tend to want to push through and do all of the things in the lead up to time off or holiday and you know that ties back to that first thing about thinking about planning and prepping earlier in the picture if you can. So you know so often you'll push out your bedtime or we're having less sleep and that might carry over into your holiday as well. But you know you really need your good quality sleep each night. So we're aiming for seven to eight hours. You might need more. Everyone needs a different amount of sleep, but trust me when I say you do not need less than that. You don't. And please don't stay up past midnight. I know I've talked about this a lot before on the podcast. Try and get to bed, be working, to go to sleep around by 10, 30 if you're getting up at like, say, 6, 37. So on that. So we're maintaining our sleep habit.

Sarah McLachlan:

We want to maintain other healthy habits as well. So you know when you're out or you're on holiday, maybe you're at a resort and you get to eat whatever, whenever, wherever. Maybe there's more alcohol and partying and you're out till probably not 2am these days, let's be realistic it's probably like 10pm. But anyway, absolutely relax and have fun. But don't throw yourself under the bus and do the opposite of your usual healthy habits. So stick with your basics.

Sarah McLachlan:

Move your body, you know each day Go for a bit of a walk or go for a swim, or you know just something, and keep up with your water. At least you know like. Try and smash out half a litre when you get up in the morning and keep drinking that adequate filtered water across the day, and it's probably more than you think. So remember it's 35mls, or an ounce, for anyone listening in America per kilo of body weight per day. So 35mls per kilo of body weight per day, or an ounce per pound of body weight. So water, drink more. And don't abandon veggies or fruit. So if you're going to have that burger or you're eating you know some kind of other meal, that's fine, but make sure you've got some veggies on the side and have some veggies with most of your meals.

Sarah McLachlan:

Don't over-caffeinate. I know we can want to go out and do lots of coffee dates during holidays, but please keep your usual guidelines in check. One a day is good to max, and I suggest not after lunch or not after like 1pm, because it'll keep you up at night. Maybe switch to a herbal tea and, especially in the lead up to going away, when you might be busier and more stressed, definitely harness those herbs and relaxing tea blends that you can buy everywhere these days. Have some quiet time, sitting without a device. Do some daydreaming, let your brain wander, no thinking about you to do your list either. If this is before you go away, just do some deep breathing. Maybe you do a meditation. You've got an app that you know Insight Timer or Budify. I really like Turn on one of those and just give your brain some quiet time Really important in the lead up to going away, when you might be busy.

Sarah McLachlan:

So, speaking about herbs and supplements, in the lead up to going away, you might like to supplement with magnesium or B vitamins. It can be really useful for helping to relax your body and mind and also give you the energy B vitamins are used for making energy in your body. There's lots of herbs that help build your stress resilience. They help your nervous system adapt to the level of busy and they are called, unsurprisingly, adaptogens. So there are some that have a wide safety profile so they're quite safe to use. Withania you might see that as ashwagandha, kamemaw, motherwort, lemon balm, gotukola, holy basil and green oats or oat flour and skullcap. So they're all really safe to use, really useful to help your body adjust to stress.

Sarah McLachlan:

But please do check in with a naturopath or a herbalist before you start taking things. Herbs aren't like pharmaceuticals anyway, so you don't just take a certain one for a certain issue. They are multitaskers and they do have like a personality or a person picture that they're suited to. So it's really best to get a personalized blend or stick with the preblended herbal teas, the ones that say that maybe it's stress related or sleep related. And don't forget that medications can interact with herbs. So if you are taking any over the counter or prescribed medications, please do check with a herbalist or naturopath first, because we don't want that impacting your medications and your health.

Sarah McLachlan:

Okay, lastly, when it comes to actually being on holiday, make sure you transition from busy mode to relaxation. People who fell sick in the studies on leisure sickness over the ones that fell sick over the holidays. They were more likely to report. They struggled with being not busy, so it is hard to adjust if you've been super busy and then you're not. You can feel unsafe for our brain and we can start to just want to do all the things. So don't throw yourself straight into a packed schedule with multiple activities on every day. While you're on holidays, give yourself some time to unwind and sleep some more and have some naps and sit with and sip your morning coffee and put your feet out there as well. So what are your go-to methods? How do you unwind before your holidays or on your holidays? I'd love to hear how you prep or how you really get deep into relaxation and holiday mode, because actually there is an art to it, for sure, and it can be really difficult there as well.

Sarah McLachlan:

All right, so that's all for our journey through leisure sickness today. I hope you have a better understanding of why it happens and what to do to help prevent it. Just a quick recap of what we've talked about. So leisure sickness, or stress sickness as I like to call it, is that feeling of being unwell, or actually being unwell as soon as you go on holidays. It's an actual, recognized and researched thing. It's often rooted in how your bodies react to that sudden drop in the stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which is made worse by the natural hormone changes of perimenopause when our inbuilt stress resilience hormone of progesterone starts to decline.

Sarah McLachlan:

So things that are really helpful are managing your stress, easing into the holidays, prioritizing your sleep, maintaining your healthy habits while you're on holidays, use your herbs and supplements wisely and, yeah, start prepping early so you can move smoothly into that time off. They're the key strategies to prevent it, in my opinion. And don't forget the power of what you eat most of the time and using those principles around food to help your body adapt to the natural changes in your hormones and perimenopause so it has less impact on your metabolism, your mood, your energy and how you feel in the lead up to holidays and going on holidays. If you would like some guidance or you want to dive deeper into what's underlying how you're feeling, please do feel free to book a clarity call with me. They're free and you can also explore other podcast episodes.

Sarah McLachlan:

My blog and I have a free masterclass as well to help you understand what the heck is happening with your hormones and in your body in perimenopause there as well, and what you can do to help your body adjust to those natural changes there as well, because it's not necessarily about trying to balance your hormones. At this phase of life, we can't necessarily work against that tide. The problem, as I see it, comes when our bodies are not adjusting or adapting to the changes, and that's what I'm all about helping you do that with food as medicine and herbs and other things like that. So next time, on Chaos to Calm, we're gearing up to tackle hot flushes and sweats in summer, which can be a challenge, so I'm going to give you lots of tips and tricks on staying cool in that time and avoiding the hot flushes.

Sarah McLachlan:

So thank you so much for sharing your time with me today. It's been an honor to have that and until next time, stay healthy, nourished and informed. It's really common for women over 40 to experience the chaos of changing hormones, mood, metabolism and energy, but I hope you know now that common doesn't have to equal normal for you or them. You can help others understand they aren't alone in feeling this way and that perimenopause doesn't have to be horrific by subscribing, leaving a review and sharing this podcast with other women in their 40s and beyond. Thanks so much for listening and sharing your time with me today in this Chaos to Calm conversation.

Understanding Leisure Sickness in Women
Preventing Stress Sickness
Personalized Nutrition and Self-Care Importance
Navigating Perimenopause