Why you get sick on the first few days of leave… and how to prevent it

Hands up if you’ve ever worked your butt off to go on a fantastic holiday you’ve had planned for months…..only to get sick on the first few days of leave? Yep, you’re not alone. Most people function like this on a daily basis, focusing on just getting everything done so you can relax on that trip, the weekend, or even just tonight! Unfortunately, what its really doing to our bodies is running us into exhaustion, hence why we get sick. If you would like to stop this nasty cycle (and let’s face it, who wouldn’t!), read on.

There is a long standing, science-backed belief that the healthier you are – i.e. positive mindset, eating right, moving your body, getting enough sleep – the less likely you are to get sick. My husband hasn’t had a cold or flu in more than five years, and while I have questioned a few times if he is actually human, in reality he is just super healthy. Now, before the nay-sayers jump in, he has a pretty demanding job – he is a fire fighter. I don’t know about you, but I’m not putting up my hand to do 24-hour shifts, run into burning buildings or drag injured people out of car accidents on all of about three hours sleep! As well as being a fire fighter, he is an athlete and a father. So, what does all of this have to do with not getting sick on holidays? Everything.

The science of good health

Unfortunately, getting sick after a stressful period in our lives isn’t just a coincidence. There is a definite connection between the brain and the body – your brain and immune system are in constant communication, meaning that any psychological upsets can result in physical symptoms or issues. Therefore, your immune system is intrinsically linked to your stress levels.

In periods of stress, like trying to get everything done before going on holidays, we tend to neglect our nutrition and movement to gain every minute we can to complete the work. The closer the deadline of our holiday date looms, the more pressure we put on ourselves to get everything done before we leave. As our stress levels increase, so too does the amount of cortisol we have running though our body. This gives us a false sense of energy, allowing us to continue to push through the workload. Unfortunately, we are not as productive during these periods as we think we are. In fact, it’s actually the total opposite. The work might be getting done but the quality….not so good.

When cortisol is running through our bodies, our pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain that gives us clarity of thought, rational and creative thinking) isn’t actually working. The more we do this, and the longer we do it for, the more cortisol stays in our body depleting our immune system further and further. When we finally do allow ourselves to rest and allow the stress to subside, the cortisol dissipates leaving us with an exhausted immune system that has nothing left but to break down. In these instances, not only are we allowing the cortisol in our body to take over, we’re not fuelling our body to allow it to recover from the stress either.

How do I stop a ‘holiday sickness’ from happening to me?

  • Plan: It sounds simple, but planning is your friend. Most holidays don’t just pop up in your calendar unexpectedly, so planning for the fact you’re not going to be there is key. If you know a deadline is coming up and you won’t have capacity to meet it at the last minute, break the task or activity into small projects and gradually complete it over the period leading up to your leave. The earlier you can start planning for your absence, the less stressful the lead up will be.
  • Eat: eating is also your friend. It may feel like you’re saving time by skipping a meal, but in actually fact your starving your brain from fuel. So, when you really need to be focusing and concentrating, your brain will actually be doing the total opposite and sabotaging your progress. Eat to fuel, not to consume.
  • Move: again, it may feel like you’re saving time, but your body needs to move in order for it to regenerate and kick your brain into gear. The more movement you do, the move oxytocin generates throughout your body making you happier and more productive. That moment you think you don’t have time, that’s the exact time you should get up and walk around the block – you’ll be more productive for it.
  • Rest giving your body an IOU on rest will actually deplete your energy levels and capacity even further. We’re conditioned not to drive when we’re tired these days, and working when we’re tired is exactly the same. The more rest you can get, the more productive you will be for the hours you have remaining in the office. Five hours of 100% productivity is better than eight hours at only 60%.


If you’re interested in learning more about how you can ensure your holidays are spent doing exactly what they are meant for and not recovering from illness, contact us today.


If you’d like to find out more, join the conversation in our next open workshop.