‘Leisure Sickness’ Could Be Why You’re Feeling Tired or Sick on Your Days Off—Here’s What You Can Do About It

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Let’s say you very much need a break from your daily grind, so you decide to go on vacation. But, when you finally arrive at what is supposed to be your relaxing respite, you're met with none other than a stuffy nose and an overwhelming sense of guilt about not being productive. Sound familiar? If so, then you've likely experienced none other than what experts call leisure sickness.

“Leisure sickness is the affliction that arises when time away from work—such as weekends and vacations—does not offer a respite due to an inability to relax and let go,” says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, author of Joy From Fear: Create The Life You Want By Making Fear Your Friend.

“Leisure sickness is the affliction that arises when time away from work does not offer a respite due to an inability to relax and let go.” —Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist

Typically, adds Dr. Manly, this happens to folks because there’s a “need to be productive, which prevents individuals from relaxing fully.” Leisure sickness can manifest in a number of ways, including exhaustion—for instance, being unable to get out of bed on days off—and research has shown that it can also include flu- or cold-like symptoms. “It can be displayed as something as simple as headaches or migraines, sore throats, or body aches and pains," says licensed clinical professional counselor Joanne Frederick, LCPC. "More severe symptoms can include nausea, anxiety, insomnia, and even depression.”

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But, this doesn't mean you need to worry about a lifetime of ruined vacations. In fact, mental health experts say there are several effective ways to combat leisure sickness. Read on to learn four of their tips for doing so.

4 tips to reduce leisure sickness, according to mental health professionals

1. Use visualization to set yourself free

To visualize yourself being free and able to enjoy your vacation without suffering from leisure sickness, Dr. Manly recommends imagining yourself “packing up” any work concerns in a box or case. “You may even need to imagine locking the case and throwing away the key,” says Dr. Manly. “Focus on allowing your mind to make work and life stresses truly off-limits.”

2. Try to shift your mindset surrounding time off

Because leisure sickness often stems from a person’s need to be productive in a work sense, Dr. Manly also says that it’s crucial to “remind yourself that you both need and deserve time off.”

Let’s say you're the type of person who feels badly for not being on the clock. In this case, remind yourself that “you’ll be far more productive and healthier [when you return to work] if you allow yourself to rest and rejuvenate,” says Dr. Manly. “Relaxing and rejuvenating are some of the most truly productive times of all,” she adds.

3. Stay away from your work electronics when you’re not on the clock

“If your expectation is to truly recharge and relax, then bringing your laptop with you or constantly checking your work email is going to interfere,” says psychotherapist Alison Stone, LCSW.

Her top tip to keep yourself honest in this regard? Leave your work computer at home. Additionally, you might leave your phone someplace that you can't readily access it so you don't have the option to check correspondence, even if you wanted to do so.

4. Have an agenda for your days off

If your leisure sickness does, in fact, stem from a lack of productivity, psychologist Selena Snow, PhD, suggests taking a more structured approach to your vacations—like planning a hike, breakfast, lunch, dinner, or other outings.

“The unstructured time of vacation can leave people with uncertainty as to the ‘right’ things for them to be doing…and they may be filled with self-doubt as to whether they are using their days off in a ‘good enough’ manner,” says Dr. Snow. So, if you’re doing something that you deem productive outside of work, you’re less likely to feel the effects of leisure sickness.

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