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While getting the usual holiday cold, I searched around the internet a bit to find out why/if I/people get sick more often during holidays. Most articles deal with the temperature and the environment, but some of them claim there is a thing called Leisure sickness. Two articles that seem to use the same source are


Your immune system is stimulated by the pressure, so when you have deadlines your body knows you can’t get ill. When you take a break your immune system just thinks - no more pressure. I can get sick now.

This to me does not sound right. As far as I know stress has a negative impact on the immune system, not the other way around.

Question: Does leisure sickness exist?

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I thought that more people got sick around Christmas because they go and visit a bunch of different people who they don't usually visit, and are exposed to more illness. Combine this with increased alcohol consumption, which probably suppresses your immune system. That, and for many people, the holidays can often be more stressful than regular days. –  Kibbee Jan 3 '13 at 14:28
@Kibbee i agree and most articles deal with that. I just find the idea that there is "leisure sickness" that was expressed in some articles to be "funny". –  Stefan Jan 3 '13 at 14:37
Anecdotal, but this happened to me on weekends for a while when I moved to a new city - on Saturdays I would basically collapse and not be able to do anything but sneeze and nap. It went away after I started treating my allergies. –  Tacroy Jan 10 '13 at 16:44
People might perceive that they are more often sick when on holiday compared with when they are at work without there being any actual change, simply because they notice the negative effects more. The question would have to be more specific as to what constitutes "sick" or deal only with self-reported perceptions of wellness. –  amaca Dec 25 '14 at 21:10

3 Answers 3

Leisure sickness appears to be loosely defined. Migraines could be considered to fit the profile.

Migraines have a large number of trigger factors that are different per patient, but include sleep patterns and alcohol usage.

As a result, the incidence of migraines varies by day of the week.

For migraine headaches, there were statistically significant differences only by day of week. Compared with the overall average, for the highest day, Sunday, there was a proportional increase of 11% (95% CI 4% to 18%; P<.001).

Just for comparison: Strokes have an inverted relationship - they are more likely on a workday.

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I agree the term is not well defined. However the quoted description attributes some kind of 'knowledge' to the immune system about when it can get sick and cant. As for your answer i would like to see a clear link between the immune system and migraines. For an example if i hit my finger with a hammer it does not hurt because of my immune system. –  Stefan Jan 15 '13 at 18:09

This meta-analysis indicates that short term stress improves immune response, whereas chronic stress significantly reduces immune response. I suspect that people just "notice" their sicknesses more when they have the leisure to do so.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

This may actually not be far off. Considering that a lot(most?) of symptoms are the actual immune reaction it could make sense that a stressed (chronic stress) and therefore weakened immune system may 'decide' not to react until a 'better' time. However this answer would need to be referenced better and especially the second part about 'notice' explained better. (i will +1 but not accept unless improved) –  Stefan Jan 15 '13 at 18:13
I meant as a form of Negative Bias link. While stressed (busy, working), you might be less inclined to dwell on minor illnesses etc., but when you are at 'leisure' your natural negative bias means you remember those times when illness impinged upon your free time. You might think to yourself "That was a great holiday", but you'd rarely qualify it as "That was a great holiday, I didn't get sick once!" –  Kyudos Jan 16 '13 at 21:11

Here is an other theory to explain the phenomenon. I actually don't know if there is any evidence to back it up as I didn't found much on this "leisure sickness". The idea actually came to me by reading this article on immune system http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2014/12/boost_your_immunity_cold_and_flu_treatments_suppress_innate_immune_system.html

The article does not address leisure sickness, but the misguided idea that a boost to our immune system is a good idea. You can read the article for the details, but in short the point is that what people complain about is exactly the immune system reaction. You are not getting the symptoms because of the virus, but rather because your immune system is trying to "cook" it away, while it waits for the body to figure out the proper antibodies to deal with the intruder.

This does not mean innate immune system is bad, but "boosting" it is not so good either. So, my two cents about leisure sickness: since chronic stress reduces the reaction of the immune system, the body gets along just fine without too much of an issue. When relieving the stress, during vacation, the immune system is boosted, which imply it gets overzealous and you begin noticing the symptoms (which are, indeed, the immune reaction itself).

Of course this does not exclude other explanations, such as a psychological consequence of Negativity Bias, which would simply make us notice more negative events (As Kyudos pointed out: but you'd rarely qualify it as "That was a great holiday, I didn't get sick once!")

Again, this is my own idea which sounds reasonable to me, but I don't possess any evidence about this. Maybe it's total bs, but that's my best shot at this time. Hope someone here knows better.

Of course, it is also possible that, in fact, there is no such a thing as "leisure sickness" at all and we are merely dealing with a biased statistical thinking. It wouldn't be a surprise!

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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

Welcome! This seems like your personal opinion on the matter, but this site is for showing the field expert's consensus on the subject via references. Can you correct (or remove) your answer? –  Sklivvz Dec 21 '14 at 15:39

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