First of all, the numbers: In the holiday months of July and August, the number of people taking sick leave decreased, according to numbers from ArboNed and Human Capital Care. Fewer people get sick when they are on holiday, and vacation numbers are low because, for example, education is suspended for this period anyway.
After the holidays, the number of people who take a vacation increases again, but it is difficult to say whether this is because people came back from their vacation sick: post-holiday dips.
Headache, bad sleep
“This is not a medical phenomenon, but rather a psychological reaction,” explains Ridemer van Wijngaarden, company physician and ArboNed’s Chief Medical Officer. “It can be annoying for sure, but it’s a natural process. Something that’s fun and you want to keep it going until the end. This can make the person feel a little frustrated or afraid of things. But also reactions like headaches, irritability or weakness. Sleep.”
Ad Fingerhoyts, Professor Emeritus of Emotions and Happiness, has done research in the past on what he calls “leisure sickness”: the phenomenon in which people get sick specifically when they are on holiday.
“On the one hand, there are people who say, ‘I’m just tired and I have pain all over,'” says Fingerhouts. “And another group includes other people who are really sick, with flu-like phenomena like fever.”
“Those vague aches and vague fatigue may be a result of the fact that you’re only paying attention to the signals from your body when you’re not so busy,” Fingerhoyts says.
“Our brains have a finite capacity, and they have to process what we see, hear, taste, and think. When people are so busy at work, they don’t perceive those signals from their bodies. Then they’re on vacation, then they have no more busy distractions, and then they notice, ‘Oh my God,’ I’m tired, or I’m in pain.”
But this does not provide an explanation for people who fall ill when they return from vacation. So Fingerhouts wonders if this phenomenon really exists. “People get sick sometimes, even when they’ve just come back from vacation,” he notes. “But that doesn’t mean there is a connection.”
By the way, he mentions that change, such as changing the rhythm of your work or your environment, causes stress, which makes you more susceptible to disease.
“Whether this change is positive or negative, it doesn’t matter,” Fingerhouts says. “Of course that’s one thing. Our body needs a stable environment. You see that with weather changes, that’s where people are susceptible. If the shift from vacation to work is accompanied by adjusting your sleep rhythm, adjusting your coffee consumption or your alcohol consumption that could be a factor.”
Otolaryngologist Dennis Cox also mentions that stress is a possible cause of post-holiday swimming. “Stress also reduces resistance,” he says.
In addition, there are also medical explanations for feeling sick after your vacation. For example, travel itself can violate the resistance, for example if you take a flight. “When you talk about upper respiratory complaints: they arise more easily when you are around other people. And the likelihood that you will catch something on the plane is much higher.
A remote car vacation, where you spend entire days in the air conditioner, is also not conducive to your health. “You don’t get sick from air conditioning, but air conditioning makes you more susceptible,” says Cox. “Your nose is busy warming and humidifying the air all day long. An air conditioner makes the air cool and dry. So your nose has to work harder, and that causes swelling of the mucous membranes. This can make you feel cold.”
Finally, according to Cox, it is possible that your body may react differently to local variants of the virus. According to him, you don’t even have to travel far for this: “In principle, you can even experience problems in a different area of the Netherlands than where you live, because the viruses there are a little different.”
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