Leisure Sickness: Why We Get Sick When We Stop

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Taper Sickness

Back in my triathlon days, I distinctly remember a phenomenon we used to call, “Taper Sickness.” Before a competition, athletes would taper their training from very intense to very easy training in order to “rest up” before the event.

Many of the triathletes in my group became wary of this taper because an inordinate amount of them would get sick or even injured during the taper, and then have to race while sick or injured. Over the years in my practice, I noticed the same phenomenon when people went on vacation – after pushing so hard in their jobs, as soon as they let down their guard and tried to relax, they would get sick.

To investigate this phenomenon, researchers evaluated over 1800 random subjects for what they coined, “Leisure Sickness.” In the study, 3.6% of the men and 3.2% of the women scored positively for the weekend, or vacation, sickness. (1)

The most frequently reported symptoms were headache, migraine, fatigue, muscular pains, and nausea. In addition, viral infections (common cold, flu-like) were often reported in relation to vacations. (1) While the mechanism of this is still unknown, researchers speculate that this phenomenon is due to a difficulty in transitioning from high-stress to low-stress conditions.

The Logic of Leisure and Taper Sickness

According to Ayurveda, when the body is in a high-stress situation, a significant amount of stress hormones are secreted to help cope with the high demand. Once the high demand has been removed, the body is left without the “steroids,” and the super-human, stress-handling ability folds like a deck of cards. In other words, the stress-fighting hormones, which give the illusion that all is well during times of high stress, disappear during times of low stress. This is a natural survival response – to thrive when your life is on the line.

When the “bear stops chasing you,” and the stressful event is replaced by a tapered training schedule, weekend or vacation, the body then goes into repair mode. The wear and tear of being in that high-stress mode or intense training, and its degenerative chemistry are felt, and over-use injuries or strains may be noticed for the first time.

In Ayurveda, getting sick is considered a natural detox process. I remember doing a detox in the winter of 1986 in India, and I got a terrible cold. I remember being very frustrated by the doctor’s response. He was so happy for me and exclaimed, “A cold is the best thing for you; it is the sign of a good detox!”

I have noticed such an experience over my years in practice. People who are very run down, which happens after long bouts of high stress, are more vulnerable to getting sick. This commonly happens right after we let our guard down – in times of low stress such as over a long weekend, during, or just after a vacation.

Getting sick after a vacation is particularly noticeable when returning from a warm climate to a cold climate. I always tell my patients to consider a simple 4-day Short Home Cleanse upon arrival home or take immune boosters with them during the trip, or as soon as they come home from vacation to avoid getting sick.

References

1. Vingerhoets AJ, 2002 Nov-Dec;71(6):311-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/12411765/. PMID 12411765 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

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